Ok admit it, that little voice inside your head is constantly talking to you right? And often that little voice is not very helpful at all. In fact, that little voice often stops you from stepping outside your comfort zone and achieving your goals.
Just this week, I can think of several clients I have seen who have had negative counterproductive thoughts about what they have been experiencing in their lives. One client with a shoulder injury announced to me that she felt a shoulder twinge as she reached for the vegemite at breakfast and stated “I know I’m going to have a bad day now”. Another stated “why doesn’t anyone listen to anything I have to say?” and how about this one “I don’t want to attempt it. What if I fail?”
I can hear their ANTs crawling all over them.
What are ANTs you ask? Well everyone knows what an ant is. But an ANT is an Automatic Negative Thought. Basically, it is an unhelpful thinking style.
When we experience an emotion, it is normally preceded by a number of unhelpful self-statements and thoughts. Often there is a pattern to these thoughts and we have usually been thinking them over and over again in response to the same or similar situations. In other words they have become automatic, so we call them Automatic Negative Thoughts or…. ANTs.
So ask yourself……….Do you let your ANTs crawl all over you?
How many times a day do you say counter-productive things to yourself or hear others say things like:
· I can’t believe I did that!
· I'm never going to get all this work done!
· There’s so much to do! Where do I start?
· Why do these things always happen to me?
· No one cares what I think!
· No one will support me!
· What’s the point of all this anyway?
Our thoughts are created by our mind, which is constantly helping us to make sense of the world around us, describing what’s happening and trying to help us interpret events, sights, sounds and feelings.
Without even realising it, we are interpreting information and giving our own meanings to everything happening around us. We then make decisions based on these interpretations.
Consider some of the categories of typical Automatic Negative Thoughts we engage in:
Draw conclusions on limited evidence and make sweeping negative conclusions that go way beyond the current situation. “Nothing good ever happens to me”, “nothing ever works”
All or Nothing Thinking
You view situations in only two categories instead of on a continuum, often called “black and white” thinking. “If I’m not a total success, then I must be a failure”, “either I do it right, or not at all”
You predict the future negatively without considering more likely outcomes “I’ll be so upset, I won’t be able to function at all”.
Only paying attention to certain kinds of evidence. Always noticing your failures, but never your successes.
Disqualifying the Positive
Discounting the good things that happen or that you have done for some other reason, “that doesn’t count”, “I was just lucky”.
You believe you know what others are thinking, failing to consider other possible scenarios, “he’s thinking I don’t know the first thing about this project”.
“Should and Must” Statements
You have a precise, fixed idea of how you or others should behave and overestimate how bad it is that these expectations are not met, “it’s terrible that I made that mistake, I should always produce the best work”.
Consider your ANTs from the list. Which three are you “most guilty” of using when responding to scenarios?
Now, if we recognise that our thinking and our automatic thoughts lead to our emotional response, our challenge is to manage more successfully our thoughts and modify or “reframe” this first “automatic” thought.
Basically what we want to do is turn our ANTs into PETs.
PETs are our Performance Enhancing Thoughts.
Notice the P in PETs does not stand for positive. It’s going to sound strange coming from a psychologist, but we can’t always put a positive spin on everything. What we can do is think realistically about a situation rather than negatively.
Consider a situation in which you experienced an extreme emotional response. How did you think and feel? Where you engaging in an automatic thought you can now identify? Could you turn your ANT into a PET?
Want to know more about turning your ANTS into PETS? Send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org to enquire about psychological counselling or coaching to manage your inner critic.
Michelle Bakjac is an experienced Psychologist, Organisational Consultant, Coach, Speaker and Facilitator. As Director of Bakjac Consulting, she is a credentialed Coach with the International Coach Federation (ICF) and a member of Mental Toughness Partners and an MTQ48 accredited Mental Toughness practitioner. Michelle assists individuals and organisations to develop their Mental Toughness to improve performance, leadership, behaviour and wellbeing. You can find her at www.bakjacconsulting.com or email@example.com