“Once you replace negative thoughts with positive ones, you’ll start having positive results.”—Willie Nelson
What Are Thoughts?
A thought is “an idea or opinion produced by thinking or occurs suddenly in the mind.”—Oxford English Dictionary
Brain function produces thoughts, but beyond this fact, neuroscientists do not know where they come from. How the brain works as it relates to the creation of thoughts is still a fascinating topic of scientific discussion.
But we all have thoughts.
Every day and throughout the day, we constantly think, whether it be a thought, an idea, a memory, an event, an opinion, or a belief about ourselves and the world around us.
These thoughts take longer to arrive.
Emotions, on the other hand, are experiences of different feelings, such as grief, anger, happiness, and fear.
Emotions are specific to the individual, as we do not all experience them the same way.
You can change negative emotions by talking about positive things and seeking the company of positive thinkers, for instance.
What about thoughts?
We all feel depressed occasionally, but every awful feeling or emotion you have results from your distorted negative thinking.
“Let a man radically alter his thoughts, and he will be astonished at the rapid transformation it will effect in the material conditions of his life.”— As a Man Thinketh
So, What Are Automatic Negative Thoughts (ANTs), and How Do We Get Rid of Them?
Automatic Negative Thoughts is a term coined by Dr. Daniel Amen, a psychiatrist and brain disorder specialist.
One evening, he arrived home late after challenging sessions with suicidal patients and discovered a colony of ants on his kitchen floor.
The sight reminded him of his patients, whose negative thoughts seemed like ants that infested their brains.
Thus, he came up with the acronym ANT, short for Automatic Negative Thoughts (ANTs).
Dr. Amen wanted to help his patients who were depressed, anxious, and negative to eliminate these thoughts and replace them with feelings of joy, hope, and peace.
Could this be done?
Yes. According to Dr. Amen, “just as there are many species of ants in the world, there are different kinds of negative thought patterns.”
He outlines five of these thought patterns:
- Fortune-telling. You assume the worst outcome, even when there is no evidence of such an assumption.
- Mind-reading. You assume to automatically know what someone else is thinking without asking the person or the individual telling you; therefore, you do not have a clue.
- Blame. You see yourself as a victim. Anything negative that happens in your life is never your fault, and there is nothing you can do to change your situation.
- Labeling. You lash out and call someone else a dirty name.
- Guilt beatings. Hypotheticals or words such as “should,” “ought,” “must,” and “have to” only make you feel worse.
Controlling negative thoughts, or destroying the ANTs, will give you relief.
ANTs that invade our minds can control how we feel about ourselves and the world around us. Positive thoughts lift us, whereas negative thoughts tear us down.
However, some negative thoughts appear so quickly that we do not notice them.
All we only know is that the thoughts make us feel bad.
“How do I get the person I am caring for to treat me with kindness and respect—and maybe even appreciation? It is hard for me to continue giving her all this care especially being patient and kind to her.
“She blames me and criticizes me for so many things all day. Please note that she is my twenty-year-old daughter.
“She is sick and highly depressed, but so am I!
“I’m giving of myself. It feels so depressing and empty.
“This is intolerable.
“I’m only human and I can only take so much.”
What Do Therapists Say?
Therapists reveal that depressed and anxious people often suffer automatic negative thoughts.
Anyone experiencing severe depression may require professional treatment.
If this is your situation, please contact a mental health therapist at once!
However, not all negative emotions are harmful to the extreme.
For example, you may express remorse when you make a severe mistake. If this moves you to correct it and avoid repeating it in the future, then the emotion has had a positive long-term effect.
But this is not the case with Sophia.
Sophia has feelings of worthlessness; her situation makes her miserable.
Sophia feels depressed.
Sophia also feels anxious, thinking negatively about her situation and saying, “I can’t cope.”
With Sophia’s responsibilities as a full-time caregiver, it is hard for her to prevent having these thoughts.
What can Sophia do?
Sophia should consult a trained mental health professional.
However, if Sophia believes her symptoms are not severe enough to contact a therapist, as she is not clinically depressed, she must develop a new way of thinking.
Effect of Thought on Health and the Body
According to James Allen, author of As a Man Thinketh:
“The body is the servant of the mind. It obeys the operations of the mind, whether they be deliberately chosen or automatically expressed. At the bidding of unlawful thoughts, the body sinks rapidly into disease and decay; at the command of glad and beautiful thoughts it becomes clothed with youthfulness and beauty.”
Allen is one of many to make this mind-body connection.
There are numerous articles on WebMD, for instance, that discuss the mind-body connection:
“The biological functions of everyday life that the brain and body work together to maintain are influenced by our conscious feelings and thoughts and our unconscious emotion. Our mind is influenced by the action (or lack thereof) of our bodies.”
Thus, the mind-body connection impacts mental state and physical health.
In other words, “The interconnectivity of the mind-body is apparent in these benefits since the mind impacts the body and body impacts the mind.”—WebMD.com
How can you deepen the mind-body connection?
One way is through meditation.
Yoga, Pilates, and Tai Chi are thought-focused activities that calm your mind and body.
These activities will surely benefit your desire to rid yourself of automatic negative thoughts (ANTs).
What You Can Do About ANTs in Three Simple Steps
Step 1: Think seriously about the circumstances and consider the evidence. In Sophia’s case, rather than thinking, “I can’t cope,” she could replace this automatic negative thought with a new one: “I have a sick daughter. I’m going to take some deep breaths and not take her attitude personally. She probably can’t help herself.”
Step 2: Think critically about your automatic thoughts; ask yourself if you may be jumping to conclusions.
Sophia’s reaction to her daughter’s behavior was immediate. She didn’t stop to consider if what she perceived was the reason for her daughter’s response was a reality.
Because her daughter snapped and yelled, Sophia assumed her daughter’s behavior meant she did not appreciate Sophia’s loving care.
But Sophia herself admitted that her daughter was “very sick.”
Step 3: Ask yourself how your thinking affects your emotions and behaviors.
Sophia wanted her ill daughter to respect her and honor her.
But what effect did it have on Sophia’s feelings when assuming her daughter was ungrateful and disloyal? These automatic negative thoughts made Sophia feel depressed, unworthy, and wanting to lash out!
Challenge Automatic Negative Thoughts
Learn how to kill ANTs and thus take away their power.
Give yourself control over your thought, moods, and behaviors.
Automatic thoughts are often negative.
If you can identify these negative thoughts (usually incorrect) and replace them with logical reasoning, you can improve your state of mind.
Use the following chart to challenge negative thoughts:
- Briefly describe a situation or fear
- Identify the automatic thought
- Replace ANT with alternative thinking
|I spilled Mom’s food all over her dress.||I’m not good at caring for her; she’ll want my sister’s care instead.||We’ll probably laugh at my clumsiness; I’ll be more careful.
Keep a “thought” record every day for a month in your journal or notebook.
Once you have compared your thought processes in your records, you will be amazed to realize how you have always assumed the worst.
You will begin to appraise each situation more realistically.
Your goal: challenge your habit of automatically thinking negatively and train yourself to stop and see situations more balanced and objectively.
The benefits: In the words of Dr. Amen, you will ‘lessen stress, anxiety, and negativity from your life and discipline your mind to get rid of ANTs.”
You will begin to live a more balanced, peaceful, and joyous life.
- There are different kinds of Automatic Negative Thought (ANT) patterns.
- Control ANTs with training.
- Lack of control in ANTs can lead to severe depression.
Six Easy Ways to Rid Yourself of ANTs
- Think about the circumstances and consider the evidence.
- Understand the five harmful thought patterns; fortune-telling, mind-reading, blaming, labeling, and guilt beating.
- Ask yourself if you are jumping to conclusions.
- Consider the effect your thinking has on your emotions and your behaviors.
- Replace negative thoughts with logic and reason, improving your state of mind.
- Be your therapist by keeping a daily “thought” record. Examine the development of our thoughts from negative to positive.
According to Dr. Amen, your goal should be “to lessen stress, anxiety, and negativity from your life and discipline your mind to get rid of ANTs.”
So, what will you do?
Are you determined to rid yourself of negative thoughts to the greatest extent possible?
You will be much happier and your life much richer by doing so.
In this article, you have learned several techniques to eliminate automatic negative thoughts.
You also now have an effective tool you can use daily to challenge negative thoughts when they appear in your mind effectively.
But most importantly, you know the benefits to your health and well-being of getting rid of ANTs and the negative consequences of not doing so.
I implore you to begin today!
Get rid of Automatic Negative Thoughts (ANTs) now!!
I based this article on my book: A Family Caregiver’s Guide: 7 Secrets to Convert Negative Triggers to Positive Emotions (2019)