Defeating Negative Thoughts
We all have them.
Some may have them more than others.
Some may "hamster wheel" them and let them take over, while others brush them off and let them pass by.
Some may allow them ruin their day, while others use them as a catalyst to do something great.
Some may allow them to cripple and hinder, while others actively defy them.
THEY are that rush-to-judgment. Those painful nagging thoughts. The ANTS (automatic negative thoughts) in your pants that irritate and exasperate and leave you feeling awful. They can creep up when you are about to experience something new. Or when your imagination kicks in and you perceive events (present or future) as totally horrible. They are the “what if’s” and the paranoia that we sometimes feel when we are less-than comfortable or less-than confident in a setting or situation.
THEY are a problem. Unless you know how to either squelch these ANTS or transform them into a positive energetic thought (a PET), they can lead to all sorts of drama and unnecessary rubbish.
So what do you do? How do you keep these intrusive and just plain crappy thoughts from ruining the moment? The day? The week? The chance to try something new or to do something great?
How to Avoid the Automatic Negative Thoughts Trap
“Just STOP IT.”
A classic skit that one of my professors shared once shared. Just…stop it. Makes sense, right?
Your thinking “Ha, if only it were that easy”, right? In some ways, it is. You just need the right tools and practice to do so! Tools and strategies such as:
One of the first things that you can do to stop these unwelcome thoughts it to simply notice when they arise. Oftentimes, we do notice them, but do not acknowledge them for what they are, ANTS. Therefore, we let them fester and snowball until they take over. The simple act of noticing these thoughts for what they are is powerful.
2.Recognize effects on your mind, body, emotions, and actions.
Along the lines of noticing these thoughts immediately and calling them what they are, it is important to notice and recognize the effect that these ANTS have on you. Ask yourself:
a. What is my body feeling right now as a result of these ANTS?
b. What am I experiencing emotionally as a result of these ANTS?
c. How are these thoughts impacting my behaviors? Actions? Motivation?
d. What will happen if I keep thinking this way?
3.Take them in, then let them go.
That last question, “what will happen if I keep thinking this way?” is pretty powerful. Think about it. What will happen if you let these ANTS linger and persist? Just like picnic ants, one ANT will lead to more, and more, and more…and before you know it, they have taken over your entire picnic spread! You don’t want that same thing to happen to your thoughts, right? Ew.
Once you recognize an ANT, call it out for what it is! Tell yourself “Oh, that’s just an ANT trying to creep in and steal my thunder. I won’t let it do that!” Maybe even visualize a can of bug spray drowning your ANT until it’s just a sad little lifeless heap. Notice the thought, then let it go. This skill could be strengthened by practicing mindfulness. Check out Rachael Kable's site to learn more about the benefits and practice of mindfulness.
4.If you cannot let go, play detective.
Sometimes, we cannot let go of ANTS. They just come back linger and fester and refuse to leave. In that case, you need to play a little detective work. Ask yourself questions like:
1. What evidence do I have that this thought is true?
2. What evidence to I have that this thought could be false?
3. If I were talking to a friend in this position, what would I say to them?
4. What is a more positive and helpful way of looking at this? A PET! Morph your ANT into a positive energizing thought!
5. What will happen if I think about this from a more positive and PETalicious standpoint?
6. Even if this thought is true, so what? What of it? Will I really care about this a year from now? Will anyone else really be hurt by it? Does it REALLY matter in the long run?
**If you have a trusted friend or significant other, bring them in as your Watson! Ask them to help you think about this in a more positive light and to challenge the ANT!**
5.Do some exposure therapy. Be adventurous. Carpe Diem!
Turn on your motivating and pump up playlist, read some inspirational and bad ass quotes, do what it takes to boost yourself up and be driven to partake in whatever is causing your ANTS. If you need to, take baby steps. If you are in the middle of the experience, take a step back and go at it slowly. Do not miss out on opportunities just because your ANTS are trying to be Debbie Downers and cramp your style.
6.Follow up with an internal reflection with questions like…
1. Was it really as bad as I thought it was going to be?
2. What went well?
3. What can I do next time to make it even more awesome?
4. How did I become so brave and powerful and boss?
SO GET OUT THERE AND KICK ANT BUTT! If you have tried any of these strategies, I’d love to hear about the experience and your success! Please let us know about it in the comment box below.