The power of an ant to lift and carry is miniscule compared to the power of your ANTs. They can't lift even ten times your weight, but they have absolute power over your behavior, your ambitions and your happiness.
What are ANTS?
The other stream of thought is an unconscious one. It keeps a running evaluation of our performance. In response to “What are you thinking,” you may not be aware of thinking, “I'm going to bomb this presentation. I look awful today. I never understood what I was supposed to do. He picked me to do this so he could humiliate me. I'm going to get fired.”
Those unconscious Automatic Negative Thoughts have the power to deprive you of joy, to fill you with fear or anger, and bring about the failure you feared. That is the power of ANTs.
In therapy we bring to light the automatic and negative thoughts that unconsciously determine behaviors and moods. There are several kinds of ANTs that can plague thinking. Here are just three.
- Anticipating the worst case. These thoughts dwell on future catastrophes, the “what ifs” that keep you so fearful that you never step out of a painful situation toward a better situation. They lead to seeking safety through avoidance or distraction or constant reassurance. They are at play in anxiety disorders.
- Self-criticism. These ANTS are your harshest and most unforgiving faultfinders. It's unlikely that you would think the same of anyone else yet you obsess over past mistakes with an “all or none,” an “always or never” judgement. The consequent punishment is often depression, guilt, shame and low self-esteem.
- Blaming. When you blame others for your problems, feeling that you've been treated unfairly, you stay trapped in anger and resentment. Not only do these negative thoughts affect your mood with irritability or depression, they also keep you from taking responsibility for finding positive solutions to your problems.
Identifying specific ANTs can be tricky because without even being aware of them, we believe them. We can train ourselves to disempower them when we know how they affect us. We usually try to ignore unpleasant feelings, but they have a lot to tell us. Whenever you have a distressing emotion, pay attention to what you're feeling. Name it out loud or write it down: anger, fear, sadness. Then ask yourself what silent commentary or judgement is passing through your head. Are you being too harshly critical of yourself, or blaming someone else, or creating a doomsday outcome?
Once you identify the specific beliefs that perpetuate feelings of hopelessness and worthlessness, you can learn to counter them with different thoughts and actions. From there you can begin moving toward new goals with self-confidence and independence. Your can change the power of Automatic Negative Thoughts to Automatic Positive Thoughts. Such power you have!