Happy Holidays, everybody. We are between Thanksgiving and Christmas, one of the happiest times of the year. A time when we remember all the things we are thankful for (we should be doing this daily, but that is a different article) and a time when we look forward celebrating the birth of our savior Jesus Christ. If you are of another faith, I hope you enjoy this time of the year all the same.
This article is going to be addressing a problem that can plague people, not just during the holidays, but all year long. This article is going to be addressing ANTs.
ANTs are Automatic Negative Thoughts. They are those thoughts that come up, out of no where, that tell you that you aren’t good enough, or that everyone else can do it, why can’t you? They tell you that you will never measure up and that you should just give up. For students, it could be the thought that you aren’t going to get a good grade on your mid-term, so why even try? For a mother, it could be that they want to help a friend in need but “You know what they say, no good deed goes unpunished”. For the elderly, the ANT of “They don’t love me enough to call” could come into their mind. They manifest themselves in a variety of ways, each as individual as the person who has them.
So, how do we deal with them?
Hopefully, you have already read the Foundational Principles to Change article that I wrote about a month ago. If you haven’t, or need a refresher, click Here to go to that article.
We need put into action step two, we need to admit that we have ANTs and recognize when they are happening. One way to recognize them is to look for their symptoms. To paraphrase Dr. Daniel G. Amen. When you have a thought, your brain releases a chemical, that chemical will tell your body either to be happy or to be not happy. Happy thoughts will decrease your heart rate and blood pressure, it will slow your breathing and relax your muscles, it will also cause your hands to be warmer and dryer. Not happy thoughts will do the opposite, you will have an increase in heart rate and blood pressure, breathing will be come quicker and muscles more tense, your hands will turn more cold and clammy. These are some of the things that people look for when they administer polygraph tests. You can use these same signs to recognize when you are having an ANT.
Even if you don’t realize it in the moment, you can look back after a situation is over and evaluate how you felt and how your body reacted during different moments in the situation. In fact, it is probably necessary to do this retrospective evaluation at first. It is often difficult to start recognizing, in the moment, the signs of ANTs unless you have spent some time evaluating them by looking at past situations. Think of it like a professional sports team. They study game film constantly so they can recognize different cues in the game that help them to respond in the way they want. You are doing the same thing, in your mind’s eye review what happened and find the cue that started your ANT, then evaluate how you felt when that ANT appeared. Do this enough and you will be able to start recognizing the ANTs in the moment.
Now that we are recognizing our ANTs, we are ready to kill them. There are a few different ways to do this, we will discuss one way and I will provide some links that will help you figure out different ways. Remember to do this even if the moment of the ANT is passed. ANTs are harmful and do damage to our confidence, love, and willingness to try. We need to undo that damage before it spreads.
When you recognize an ANT, the first think you need to do is stop. If you have a pen and paper write down the ANT and then read the ANT out loud. If you don’t have a pen and paper you can just say the ANT out loud. This may seem odd at first, but vocalization and handwriting are powerful tools. They help your brain recognize and comprehend what you are doing. Now say your ANT out loud again, but this time say it knowing that either it isn’t true or it doesn’t matter, depending on the ANT. For instance, if I was trying to make a holiday cake that I saw on Pinterest and I had the ANT “This will never look exactly like the picture on Pinterest, I should just give up”, then I would say my ANT out loud while thinking “Of course is isn’t going to look like Pinterest, the person who posted this picture is a professional baker, and has probably made this cake a thousand times.” Next, laugh at the ANT, laugh the ANT to shame at the absurdity of its existence. Then, start talking back to your ANT, and don’t pull any punches. “Who are you, ANT, to tell me that I can’t make a good cake?”, “This cake is going to taste amazing.”, “If you’re so good at cooking, ANT, why don’t you bake this cake and show me how it’s done? Oh, that’s right, you can’t”.
Give that ANT everything you’ve got, OUT LOUD!!! Yell at it if you need to. If you aren’t a verbal person, use your pen and paper to write down your rebuttal, but even if you aren’t the type to yell and scream, verbalize what you have written. Depending on if your neighbors can see you, use physical gestures. If you need to get feisty with the ANT, do it. Then like a fighter standing over their fallen foe, start to calm down, and give the ANT an “I told you so.” Lastly, always end your verbal and/or physical beat down of the ANT with a positive statement about yourself, one of those thoughts that causes happiness like we talked about a minute ago. In my example, I would end with “I love making cakes, and I get better at it every time I try.”
Sound crazy? It works! And one of the reasons it works is because you just took charge of your own brain. Your conscious self is now more in control than a minute ago. Your conscious self is the self that you want to be and who you can influence. Obviously, different ANTs require a different intensity of response, but always make sure your response is bigger than the ANT, and always finish with that positive statement about yourself.
Sometimes, people are so conditioned to listen to their ANTs that even right after going through this process, the ANT will come back at them immediately. That is okay, you are working on a process. Let me ask you this, what would you do if this attack was physical? Would you fight off your attacker only once and if they come back at you, you let them win? No! You fight them off again, and again, and again, and again. You do the same thing with the ANTs. You keep fighting.
You may not win every battle, but if you fight, you will get better and better at killing ANTs. Eventually, the ANTs will surrender. Eventually, you will win this war. Remember steps four and five if our foundational principles. Keep consistently fighting the ANTs. Fight every time. With patience and consistence, you will overcome.