Stop Automatic Negative Thoughts (ANTs) in Just 6 Steps!
If you’re faced with a conundrum, what’s the first thing you think of? Is it a positive thought or is it the worst-case scenario that pops up first in your mind? An average human thinks about 70,000 thoughts in a day and while all these thoughts are not positive, they aren’t all negative either.
However, there’s a thought psychology that I think you should know about – ANT or Automatic Negative Thinking/Thoughts. This psychology says that if the first thought you think is automatically negative, then you might struggle with ANT. Thinking thoughts is OK, but when your automatic thought is negative, then it’s not OK.
We all, whether we like it or not, like to dwell on our experiences, replay past interactions in our minds, and try to come up with different scenarios for our experiences. Similarly, we all spend an unhealthy amount of time thinking (more like worrying) about the future too.
What we fail to realize is that the automatic thought that comes to our minds is more or less negative. Now, what will happen if we can change this perspective and use our minds to frame automatic positive thoughts?
In this blog, I’ll help you understand what automatic negative thoughts (ANTs), how they affect our thinking and emotions, and how you can stop automatic negative thoughts.
What Are Automatic Negative Thoughts (ANTs)?
Automatic negative thoughts are the thoughts that come to your mind unbidden and suddenly, without you being aware of forming them. They are mostly negative and irrational thoughts and can leave a negative impact on your overall well-being.
Of course, your automatic negative thoughts might differ from mine as they’re usually related to your life experiences. Not everyone can have the same life experiences, after all. Moreover, the fear we feel in our hearts, especially when it comes to the future, and uncertainties.
Here are some common examples of automatic negative thoughts:
Automatic Negative Thoughts Examples:
- “I won’t ever find a job where I can be happy.”
This is catastrophic automatic thinking based on specific information. This is when we’ve come to an automatic conclusion about what will happen.
- “I am not a good partner.”
This is a type of selective thinking where we’ve taken one part of the information and ignored the rest of the context. Here, the focus is on one mistake you’ve made as a partner and taking it to heart without focusing on the other positive aspects.
- “I’m always going to be left behind.”
This automatic negative thought is a type of generalization thinking where we assume that we’re going to experience the same thing without consulting that the contexts are different. This is an automatic negative thought based on one or more negative experiences in the past.
How ANTs Affect Our Thinking And Emotions?
Our emotions are an outcome of our thoughts. So, what you think, you’ll feel. An automatic negative thought can trigger negative emotions such as anxiety, sadness, frustration, guilt, feelings of worthlessness, and even anger.
Here’s an example; if your automatic negative thought is, “I am a failure”, then you’re more likely to feel depressed and unworthy, instead of brushing it off as a learning opportunity. Not being in a happy emotional state is bound to project your feelings in other aspects too. Now, this ANT can directly cause you to feel distressed about going to work the next day.
Even though you may experience negative emotions, it should be kept in mind that even negative emotions shouldn’t be avoided. However, no one needs an ANT to add to the negative experience, right?
Negative thoughts, automatic or not, can increase our stress levels and change the way we think too. It’s like a domino effect. One negative thought will create a wave of negativity. We don’t need that.
Here is how automatic negative thoughts affect our well-being;
- Reduces the production of happy hormones such as dopamine and serotonin
- Slows the production of BNDF or brain-derived neurotrophic factor, a protein we need for new brain cell development
Increases the activity in the amygdala, our brain’s fear response
- Increases the risk of psychiatric and psychological disorders
- Speeds up the brain’s aging process
Why do ANTs Exist?
One of the reasons why ANTs exist is because it has become a habit. Automatic negative thinking means that the first response you’re used to is negative and this has been going on as long as it has become a bad habit.
Did you know that 90% of our thoughts are repetitive? So, there’s a chance that the thought you’re having at this moment will also pop up tomorrow or that you might have had this thought yesterday.
After all, if you do something regularly, even self-talk, it’s bound to become a habit. Now it’s up to you if you want your automatic thoughts to be negative or positive.
How To Stop Automatic Negative Thoughts?
1.Challenge Your Negative Thoughts
The first thing to do to stop automatic negative thoughts is to challenge your thoughts and ask yourself, “Is there a reason why I’m thinking this way?” “Is there a different way I can reframe this thought?” “What kind of thinking am I following?”
The answers to these questions will help you formulate a way to stop automatic negative thoughts. This allows you to pause and think rationally before moving forward with the thought, allows you to brainstorm other, more positive thoughts, and gives you a chance to recognize the kind of thinking you’re following in general.
2.Replace it With a Rational Thought
While I believe in the power of positive affirmations, they are not always enough. But, reframing a negative thought into a rational one can help. This step also allows you to build a new thought pattern. Just keep in mind that this new and reframed thought must be;
- Uplifting, and of course,
3.Write The Thought Down
Once you’re done thinking a reframed rational thought, write it down. This will help you become aware of your thought pattern and how you hold yourself accountable for reframing them. This will also help you develop a new habit of thinking and eventually stop or change the way your automatic thinking works.
4.Ignore The Negative Thought
Now if someone comes up to you and repeats a complaint again and again, will you pay attention to it? Probably not, right? The same applies to automatic negative thoughts. Try to tune out or completely ignore the ANT that pops up in your mind. Acknowledge the thought but then swat it away. Learn to understand that not every thought needs to be interesting and important.
5.Go PETFrom ANT
Now this is interesting. Go PET from ANT. PET refers to Positive Empowering Thoughts. So, for each automatic negative thought (ANT), think a positive empowering thought (PET). You do this to reframe your automatic thoughts. The more you use the PET technique, the more you’ll find your automatic thinking pattern changing into a more positive and rational one.
6.Give Meditation a Try
There are many benefits of meditation and one of them is controlling your negative thoughts. When you’re deep in meditation, you can learn to identify your negative thoughts and let them go without giving much attention to them. Now, meditation mixed with gratitude can work wonders to stop automatic negative thoughts.
It can be hard to think negative thoughts while you’re expressing gratitude, right? Practicing gratitude can reduce negative thoughts and give a boost to your happy hormones such as oxytocin, endorphins, serotonin, and dopamine.
We often tell ourselves to think positively, even when we’re drowning in despair. It’s not helpful if you’re wondering about it. Automatic negative thoughts or ANTs are the automatic thoughts that we think when faced with a difficult situation. If left unchecked, ANTs can heavily impact your daily life, and not in a good way.
The above-listed steps can help you stop automatic negative thoughts but if they don’t then it is recommended that you speak to a professional about it. A therapist might suggest cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) to help reframe negative thoughts into positive ones and give you coping techniques to use when you feel negative thoughts taking over.
I hope this blog helped you learn what automatic negative thoughts are, how they affect your emotions and thought process, and how to stop automatic negative thoughts.
For more, you can write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org or DM us on social media. You can also share the tips you find helpful to fight ANTs in the comments below.