You had a job interview but think, “why bother, I won’t get the job.”
You assume you’ll NEVER get married and you’ll ALWAYS be alone and lonely.
You tried snowboarding/knitting/piano playing once and you didn’t do well so, therefore, you will never do well at it so why bother trying.
Your coworker is laughing so he must be laughing at you.
What do these scenarios have in common? ANTs: Automatic Negative Thoughts. Just like the insect, these ANTs are unattractive, seem to multiply, and easily invade our thoughts.
ANTs can be crippling and prohibit healthy resolutions to problem solving and life’s many opportunities. If we don’t question our negative thoughts they can have a paralyzing effect on us and snowball into a never ending cycle of deprecation and even depression. Negative thoughts release a chemical in our brain that make us feel stressed and sad, thus perpetuating the ANTs.
ANTs can take many forms but psychologists list the following ten as the more common types of negative thoughts (as referenced on thehappinessinstitute.com):
3. All or Nothing Thinking
6. Emotional Reasoning
7. Mind Reading
8. Fortune Telling Error
9. Should Statements
We all have a negative thought or two during the day but those who suffer from ANTs have these thoughts that seem to multiply and consume as well as distort rational thinking.
How can you combat an ANT infestation? Recognize the negative thought as just that, a negative thought–it doesn’t have to come to fruition. To aid in recognition of these thoughts, catch yourself when the words “can’t”, “never”, “always”, appear in your vocabulary and write down the negative statement and combat it with a more positive, proactive one. For instance, instead of saying, ”I’m going to fail this test tomorrow” replace it with “I’ve studied for the test and I’ll do my best.” Psychologists refer to this as Cognitive Restructuring (methods used to help people think differently about a situation or belief). These include such methods as worksheets, diaries, and role playing various scenarios. Ask a trusted partner to help you see the reality of a situation, not the distorted perceived reality.
Just like at a picnic on a summer day, ANTs may seem to take over and crowd out our enjoyment. Become proactive and stop them in their tracks. Let the ANTs continue to march right on out of your life.