Automatic Negative Thoughts (ANTs)
What are automatic negative thoughts?
Automatic Negative Thoughts (ANTs) are distorted and limiting thoughts that can be a significant obstacle—perhaps even a roadblock—in moving forward with your plans.
Automatic negative thinking is the process of repeated pessimistic, self-doubting thoughts that can occur in response to normal every-day life situations.
This unhelpful and limiting thinking is a form of personal self-harassment that can prevent you from taking healthy risks, being productive, or following through with your plans.
And these ANTs can leave you feeling depressed, anxious, and frustrated.
What causes automatic negative thoughts?
Here’s where we can find a lot of circular references. There are some who believe that ANTs cause depressed thoughts, while others believe depressed thoughts cause ANTS, and so on.
What does seem to be true is that many people have automatic negative thoughts that affect them and, however they got them, they are thoughts that can be managed to have a much less negative effect and impact on your life.
So, if you are affected by ANTs, regardless of how they started, the general outlook is they can be managed by working to change your thinking.
How to identify negative thinking
Again, ANTs are pessimistic thoughts that seem to pop-up in your head automatically when faced with situations that you see as challenging, worrisome, or fearful.
In nature, the purpose of fear is to keep us safe. Without a degree of healthy fear in our lives, our species would likely have become extinct a long time ago. For example, if we didn’t have fear of tigers, we would at best be somewhere else on the food chain.
But if a fearful outlook is applied when you’re attempting to make positive changes or even simply going about your day, this (misplaced) fear is no longer a life-saver.
If you’re experiencing fear you might ask yourself if that fear can be justified, or if the dread you’re experiencing is misplaced. A situation that feels fearful doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s dangerous.
If it’s not truly a threatening or dangerous situation, perhaps your fear is simply some ANTs in your thinking.
Misplaced fear from pessimistic thinking seems common enough.
I’ve had a lot of worries in my life, most of which never happened.
— Mark Twain
Examples of negative thoughts
“I failed – I’m such a loser!”
“I’m no good.”
“I can’t deal with this.”
“I’m not good enough to _________.”
“I’m too afraid to try this. I can’t get started.”
How to start managing your ANTs
The first step is recognizing and becoming aware of the persistent negative thoughts you’re having about yourself, the situations in which they occur. Make a record of your automatic negative thoughts for a short period of time to see what you’re telling yourself about situations.
You might be surprised by all the negative thinking and self-harassment you’ve been wrestling with on a daily basis. Perhaps you’ve been giving yourself a daily beat-down with negative and unhelpful thinking.
Being mindful and aware of these thoughts allow you to simply observe and acknowledge them, rather than going along with the old habit of engaging with them. These self-harassing thoughts don’t need to be a continued source of upset for you as you work to change your thinking. Observe them as an old habit you’re now recording.
Once you’ve looked at what you’ve been telling yourself, you can start to debate these gloomy negative thoughts and begin the process of replacing these ANTs with more helpful, self-supportive thoughts and beliefs that more closely match with reality.
Then, when you have an ANT attack, you’ll be prepared to counter it with your new and healthy thinking.
Debating your ANTs
Challenge your negative thinking by asking questions like: “Where’s the proof that this is true? “
You can also change some thoughts by adding a reference about your planned changes to the end of your ANTs, like “While this might be the case right now, better things are coming because I’m working on it!”
You’re likely never as bad or as good as you may be rating yourself in any single given moment. If you really think about it, the thought that you’re a “total failure” cannot be (and is not) true. If it were, you’d never get out of the house in the morning and would likely die in a tooth brushing accident or some other non-typical way.
ANTs and other unhelpful, irrational thinking might be contributed to an anxious, worried mind that is feeding you stories filled with mistaken, exaggerated beliefs and misperceptions.
Don’t believe everything you think!