Killing ANTs (Automatic Negative Thoughts) 🧠
Learn what ANTs are, and how to destroy them! (8min Read)
What are ANTs & where do they come from?
The 3 C’s of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Catch it, Check it, Change it
The ACTION Wheel
Hello, welcome back! Last week we went extremely in-depth on the Kava, Natures Xanax, so this week I wanted to give you a quick tool you can start using today!
This is a tool I use with every one of our clients, and that I use personally as well, I hope you enjoy it.
What Are ANTs?
ANTs stands for Automatic Negative Thoughts and learning to destroy these bad boys has been shown to be as effective at treating depression as traditional anti-depressants.
You’ve probably dealt with ANTs yourself, they pop up most often in response to a subconscious trigger.
For example, an ache in your chest (feeling) makes you think something is wrong, which triggers fear (feeling), which makes you think it could be a heart attack, which makes you feel anxiety/terror… You get the point.
Another example is getting assigned a new project, you might think, I’m not smart enough to do this, which makes you feel nervous about the project, which makes you think, I can’t do this, which makes you feel anxious, which makes you think I’m going to fail which…
Once triggered, you spiral down a feeling & thought track that gets worse and worse almost automatically.
Everyone has different ANTs because we all have different past experiences & brains.
Where Do They Come From?
Believe it or not, ANTs are a protection mechanism. Evolutionarily, the world wasn’t as safe a place for us as humans!
Our imagination became our most powerful tool in predicting things that could harm us, like wild animals, nature, spoiled food, etc.
This superpower helped us become the dominant species of today, the only issue is that today we don’t have as much to fear!
ANTs come from this very old part of our brain trying to help us survive.
The other place they come from is our habits. Thinking is a habit!
Each day you have about 71k thoughts, and about 90% of the thoughts you have today, are the same as the ones you had yesterday.
ANTs like “Everyone is going to hurt me” or “I’m a bad wife/partner/spouse” become habits, we think them over and over daily creating the same emotional spirals… Yikes.
The Most Common ANTs
I always fail, I’ll never be successful, no one will ever love me, everyone, every time, everything…
Predicting the worst outcome for any situation or assuming that things won’t work out
Taking someone’s silence as “They’re mad at me” or “They hate me”
Thinking With Your Feelings
Believing your negative thoughts without questioning them
Shoulding on Yourself
Also known as “Guilt Beating”, it sounds like I should, must, have to, do a certain thing
Believing you’re the cause of random events or situations like someone not talking to you
Blaming others or something else for your problems. This puts you in the Victim role, instead of the Player role and can make it harder for you to change your circumstances
So, what can we do?! How do we destroy ANTs like these? The rest of this blog will focus on exactly that.
The 3 C’s of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
We recently posted a Tiktok about this tool, you can check it out here if you’d like.
#1 Catch It
The first step in destroying ANTs is to catch them! Remember the feeling/thought loops we talked about earlier?
If you’re feeling a certain way, can you think back to the thought that lead to this feeling? Was it one of the ANTs we describe above?
Naming your most common ANTs is another great way to catch them earlier.
For example, my “Mind Reader/Fortune Teller” is named Jerry.
#2 Check It
Next, become curious about the thought. Start to question these thoughts, think about what you’re thinking about!
This process is called Metacognition and is an extremely powerful tool when combatting ANTs.
Is this thought helpful?
Where it came from?
Is there another way to look at this?
When did I start believing this?
What proof do I have that it’s true?
How could I change this thought?
#3 Change It
Finally, change the thought into a PET (Positive Empowering Thought)! This is not about toxic positivity, and just pretending the thoughts are not there.
There are 3 keys to changing ANTs to PETS:
“No one will ever hurt me.” is an unrealistic thought, “I can handle being hurt because I am strong.” is based on real evidence & a great PET
Meaning it’s based on facts, not assumptions or interpretations
It helps us move forward in a productive way, this doesn’t mean it has to be positive, neutral might be the best you can get to
The last tool I’d like to give you, we’ve covered before! The Belief Wheel is a Behavioral Activation tool I use extensively with my clients.
Behavioral Activation is a fancy way of saying that our Actions have a profound effect on our Beliefs.
For example, before you go skydiving you hold the belief, “I shouldn’t jump out of airplanes.” Makes sense.
This belief creates the ANTs you think & feel before skydiving for the first time.
However, once you do it and you survive, what happens?
Your belief shifts, it might be small at first, something like, “I can jump out of planes with a parachute & instructor with me.”
This tiny shift changes ANTs you feel & think the next time you go, so you're less anxious.
After your 100th jump, you now believe, “I can jump out of a plane with a parachute safely.”
By this time, your ANTs are PETs, and you’re excited about your next jump!
This is an extreme example, but it demonstrates the power ACTION has in changing our Beliefs & ANTs.
Our brains were made to learn through actions, which is why most of my work focuses on shifting beliefs that prevent action.
The most common mistake people make in relation to action is that it’s 1 single thing when in reality, it’s a process.
You didn’t learn to walk by trying it once and it working out, you went through the process above.
This is how our brains are wired to learn, so when we sit in inaction, we don’t learn anything and stay stuck, always afraid to jump out of planes.
Something else to notice is that no matter what action you take, you can’t fail, you can only learn and then act again. It’s feedback, not failure.
This process of action is Behavioral Activation at work, as you start to take tiny new actions, you start to put the Belief Wheel back on your team, and you start to reinforce new, more empowering beliefs through ACTION!
These don’t need to be actions as intense as jumping out of a plane, in fact, to start, make it laughable!
For example, if you believe you’re not healthy enough, could you do 1 push-up to prove that belief wrong & shift your ANTs?
If you believe you’re not disciplined enough, could you commit to waking up 1min earlier tomorrow?
Once you’ve acted, you’re in the Action Wheel, you’re learning!
I hope you enjoyed today’s Heroes Digest, if you did, please send it to a friend you think would benefit from it, we’re trying to grow this community!
I will see you right back here next week, until then… Live Heroically 🧠