emotional intelligence

Can You Train Your ANTs?

Train your ANTs with Michelle Bakjac

Train your ANTs with Michelle Bakjac

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:

 Over Generalising

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”.

Mental Filter

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”.

Mind Reading

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 michelle@bakjacconsulting.com 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 michelle@bakjacconsulting.com



4 Steps to Increase Your Emotional Intelligence.

We have all have heard the SWOT acronym to assess the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats for any given situation, goal or plan of action. But when did you actually last do a SWOT analysis on yourself? We are at the start of a New Year so now would seem the perfect time to review your potential opportunities and assess any challenges you may have which will get in the way of effective goal setting.

A SWOT analysis is also a fantastic thing to do with your staff and/or your team heading into the New Year. Individuals and teams can gain a great deal from undertaking some self-awareness which can lead its way to self-management, the first two cornerstones of Emotional Intelligence.

So where do you start…… with Strengths of course.


Many of us can not clearly articulate our own strengths. A strength is defined as “an underlying quality that energises us, contributes to our personal growth and leads to peak performance” (Brewerton and Brook, 2006). In other words, if you are not energised by what you are doing it is unlikely you will reach peak performance.

Raising your self-awareness and recognising your own strengths can be a huge opportunity to increase your life and work satisfaction. Did you know that people who use their strengths daily are six times more likely to be engaged on the job according to research by Gallup and are also likely to experience less stress and anxiety.

In 2002, the Corporate Leadership Council did a study of over 90,000 employees across 135 organisations which concluded that reinforcing performance-enhancing factors can lead to better performance outcomes. They found that Managers who reinforce performance enhancing behaviours, increase employee engagement and promote stronger ties to work. They also discovered that the biggest factor that has the most negative impact on employee performance was focussing on employee weaknesses. When Performance Reviews put emphasis on performance strengths, employee performance increases by an average of 36.4%. But when Performance reviews put an emphasis on weaknesses, employee performance decreases by 26.8%.

Peter Drucker states “strengths are our true opportunities”


First of all, I would like to suggest that when you get to this stage of your SWOT analysis either for yourself or for your team, you change the focus from “weaknesses” to “Non Strengths”. I have a theory that there is in fact no such thing as a weakness, just opportunities for continuous improvement.

A Non-Strength is anything that does not energise us. In our life and at work, this can be many things that are parts of our everyday routine. However there are many ways we can look for opportunities to still implement our strengths to work with our non-strengths. For example, I am terrible at networking and socialising. Networking at a big corporate breakfast is my definition of hell on earth. However the way I have gotten around this is to tap into one of my top three Strengths, which is “Love of Learning”. When I am presented with a huge group of people, my goal is to change my focus from “networking” to meeting people with the goal of “what can I learn from you?” This approach makes me feel more confident, and more energised by the challenge.

So when assessing your “Non Strengths”, what are your opportunities for continuous improvement? Confident vulnerability sounds like a paradox, but it is actually the mindset that can bring about the greatest accomplishments. If you can hold your strengths in one hand and your non-strengths in the other hand, you can achieve amazing things.


Many dive straight into assessing opportunities before first clearly understanding their goal. Having a clear goal in mind for what it is that you are looking to achieve gives you the chance to clearly start unpacking how you are going to get there and what the opportunities are along the way. Otherwise, without a clear goal, you are just hoisting the sails in your boat without a rudder.

Consider what resources you have around you. Do you have a network of people or colleagues where you can tap into a skill base to get some good advice? How can you take advantage of any trends around you? Where are the opportunities to use your skills and strengths in your personal and working life?

Sometimes the goals we set ourselves can take us out of our comfort zone. What opportunities do we have to build our Mental Toughness to embrace challenges and raise our confidence levels even if we have to “fake it till we make it”?


And finally we can assess our threats. What is getting in the way of us achieving our goals? What are the obstacles getting in the way?

But it is not enough to simply be aware of the threats and obstacles, we then have to consider an action plan. What are we going to do about the threats?

When we consider our Mental Toughness we often ruminate and feel threatened by problems and issues that present themselves. One of my favourite questions when coaching is; “If you are going to spend time staring at the ceiling at night losing sleep, you might as well spend your time wisely. You can spend your time ruminating the problem, or you can spend your time ruminating the solution, which will be the most productive for you?


So if you want to start raising your self-awareness and increase your prospects for self-management? Give the simple SWOT analysis a go. Some may consider it a little out dated, but I think there are golden opportunities in its simplicity.

Michelle Bakjac is an experienced Organisational Consultant, Coach, Speaker and Facilitator. As Director of Bakjac Consulting, she is a member of 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, behaviour and wellbeing.  You can find her at www.bakjacconsulting.com or michelle@bakjacconsulting.com

The Future Of Leadership

I recently attended the Future of Leadership Series in Melbourne and wanted to share some of the key insights from a great day of knowledgeable speakers including Dr Jason Fox, Shivani Gupta, Darren Hill and Patrick Hollingworth. The day was all about the key themes emerging from workplaces regarding their challenges and how these could be managed moving forward.

So…. following are some of my key leanings from the day.

1.   More and more we are being told that “more is better”. Work more hours, get more clients, more direction, more outcomes…… we are constantly told to keep doing and aiming for more. But this can be contradicted. Think of a great chef. A chef knows just the right amount of spice to add to a dish. You don’t add too much, or it will drown the dish and throw it out of balance. And every dish has just the right amount of spice. So for every individual, for every team and every organisation… what is the “right amount of spice”?

2.   VUCA was mentioned a lot during the course of the day. What is VUCA you ask. It is the acronym for the fast paced environment we now find organisations are attempting to manage (some better than others). VUCA stands for Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity. A very apt acronym for the environment leaders are managing. One of the skills identified to manage through VUCA was “Sense Making”. How do we assist people to make sense of all the information and not provide either a “mega saga” or “make their ears bleed”? How do you present the information so that it makes sense to people. How often do we use bullet points and lists and graphs only to be confronted with yawns from a team. The insight to provide a “map”, a “model” and the “mojo”. Show people where you are going, give graphic representation and a message they can see and understand and that is exciting.

3.   Something that I feel will resonate with many people was the insight about recognising your Passions. It was identified that there are predominantly 7 Passions – Family, Friends, Spiritual, Work, Health, Mind, and Money. However what was interesting is that we can only have 3 passions at once that we can Master. We may be ok at the other areas/passions, but we should only try to focus on our top 3 and not worry too much about being average at the others. The key message was to know your passions, embrace them and start recognising when you need to say “no” to something that is not one of your passions.

4.   It was identified that “experience” can often be a burden to meaningful progress. Let me explain. Often when we come across a situation of adversity, we often go to our default position and do “what we’ve always done”. We tend to only do something that has been tried and worked before. But in this VUCA world, many things we have tried before don’t work any longer when we are dealing with such complexity. So the challenge…. how do teams move past their default thinking and really challenge themselves to spend the time to embrace genuine discussion about new pathways? They need to take a risk. Unfortunately the “cult of productivity” often means that we don’t spend the time we require to have these insights and take a risk and consider new ways of thinking. But “Only that which can change, can continue”. (James Carse) and this “Once a mind has been stretched to a new idea, it can never return to its original shape” O. W Holmes.

5.   We only have the ability to choose one state – courage or comfort. When leading teams we can either “do it the way we have always done it” or we can be courageous and “push” the team to always consider news insights. This is often painful for a team to experience. There is a point when we push past the pain that makes us feel so uncomfortable with the unfamiliar, a critical point where we recognise that we are still safe. As leaders, we need to encourage a team to take this “hero’s journey”.  

6.   Leadership has been a “linear beast” for over 150 years. However it was recognised that technology is exponentially impacting on people and places and that teams are dealing with significant uncertainty in this VUCA environment. It was considered that old style organisations with heavy emphasis on hierarchy and heavy infrastructure may be slow to respond, can be risk adverse and only outcome driven. But…consider UBER. This is an organisation with absolutely minimal infrastructure and was now worth as much if not more in global income than BHP. It was considered that agility and innovation was an organisation’s opportunity for growth and survival moving forward. In other words an organisation needs to move “light and fast”. Consider self-reliance, fast response, risk embracing, relinquishing external control, being quality driven, intrinsically motivated and prefer (not avoid) VUCA.

7.   And finally what will be the top 10 skills in 2020:

1.           Complex Problem Solving

2.           Critical Thinking

3.           Creativity

4.           People Management

5.           Coordinating with others

6.           Emotional Intelligence

7.           Judgement and Decision Making

8.           Service Orientation

9.           Negotiation

10.        Cognitive Flexibility.

So….. if you are in leadership, interesting times lay ahead. The responsibility falls to you as to how you will assist your team to move through volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous times. How will you rise to the challenge?