Every time you have a thought your brain releases chemicals. Think about that. (You just released some chemicals, by the way.)
What if many of your thoughts are negative? Yep, negative chemicals, going through every one of your bodily systems. If you struggle with many negative thoughts, you may have a case of the ANTs, or automatic negative thoughts. Dr. Daniel Amen coined the acronym many years ago in his book, Change Your Brain Change Your Life.
Amen has found that ANTS are the seeds of depression, anxiety, overeating, and being weak minded. Does this sound like you or someone you love?
Amen identifies 9 types of negative thoughts which infiltrate our mind if we allow them to, like ants at a picnic, and make situations seem worse than they are. (As you read through this list, don’t lose hope. Keep reading for the healing solution!)
1. All or nothing – These are the ANTs that infest your brain when you think everything is good or all bad. It’s also referred to as black or white thinking.
When things are going well, “She loves me.” When things are not smooth, “She doesn’t love me.”
2. Always thinking – This is when you think in words that over generalize, such as “always,” “never,” “every time,” or “everyone”.
“I’ll never get in shape.” “Everyone at work hates me.”
3. Focusing on the negative – This ANT makes you see only the negative aspects of situations, even when there are plenty of positives.
“I know I lost 10 pounds, but I wanted to lose 15, so I’m a failure.”
4. Thinking with your feelings – Thoughts like this occur when you have a feeling about something and you assume it is correct, so you never question it. Feelings can lie too.
“I feel like my skin is never going to clear up.”
5. Guilt beating – Thinking in words like “should,” “must,” “ought to,” and “have to” are typical with this type of ANT, which involves using excessive guilt to control behavior. There are certainly things in life that we should and shouldn’t do, so don’t mistake your conscience keeping you on track for guilt beating ANTs.
6. Labeling – When you call yourself or someone else names or use negative terms to describe them, you have a labeling ANT in your brain.
“I’m a failure”. “I’m lazy.”
Beware of the red ANTs!
Amen call the last three the red ANTs because they can really sting.
7. Fortune-telling – Predicting the worst even though you don’t know what will happen. No one is safe from fortune telling ANTs.
“I just had a biopsy. I am sure it is cancer.”
8. Mind reading – When you think that you know what somebody else is thinking even
though they have not told you, and you have not asked them.
“You weren’t thinking about me.”
9. Blame – Of all the ANTs, this one is the worst. Blaming others for your problems and taking no responsibility for your own successes and failures is toxic thinking.
“It is your fault I’m out of shape because you will not go with me to exercise.”
Whenever you begin a sentence with “it is your fault…” it ruins your life because you are thinking like a victim.
What to do
All of us get many crazy thoughts, and we do not have to give power to everything that crosses through our minds. All is not lost. You can create an “internal anteater” to kill the negative thoughts coming through your brain.
1. Is it true?
2. If yes, Can I absolutely know that it’s true, with absolute certainty?
3. How do I feel when I believe that thought?
4. How would you feel if you didn’t have that thought?
Lastly, take the original thought and turn it to its opposite.
It just makes sense that if you don’t have the thoughts that are bothering you, you feel more peaceful, hopeful, fulfilled. If you have ever said or heard someone say, “I can’t help how I feel,” that is a flat out lie. What we think will inform our feelings, which will likely inform our behaviors.
So, write the troubling thought down. Investigate the thought. Turn it around.
We can all learn to think differently, and if we don’t take charge of our thoughts we are susceptible to being blown around like leaves in the wind. Taking charge of your thoughts (or regaining control of them) is the key to a fulfilling and enjoyable life.
Practice makes positive thoughts!
Rev. Greg Griffin is a Board Certified Pastoral Counselor, Amen Certified Brain Health Coach, and Forgiveness Coach in private practice in Marietta, GA. His specialty is relationship repair and rescue- helping partners, spouses, and parents and their adolescents. He’s also the author of Dungeon Times Survival Guide, and Vital Faith.