ANT: Automatic Negative Thoughts
These are negative thoughts that come to our mind during our daily life, which we experience regularly. The level of these thoughts defines our emotional state and balance. Let’s quickly discuss the 9 categories of ANT:
1) Overgeneralization: Thinking that one negative life experience is part of a never-ending cycle of events, and/or blowing a situation out of proportion.
2) Black-and-white thinking: Seeing the world as good or bad, right or wrong. The tendency for those who use this thinking pattern is to view one mistake as a total failure. For example, if a friend does not call you back once when they said they would, you write them off as untrustworthy and unreliable.
3) Future-telling: Predicting something bad will happen, even though you have no evidence for the prediction.
4) Reading people: Believing you know what others are thinking without any evidence.
5) Labeling: Saying something bad about yourself or others.
6) Mental filter: Focusing on the negative in a situation and neglecting the positive.
7) ‘Should’ Statements: Telling yourself that you should or must act a certain way in a situation. For example, telling yourself “I shouldn’t be crying about this” when faced with a difficult situation.
8) Personalizing: Taking responsibility for something that’s not your fault. Thinking that what people say or do is some kind of reaction to you, or is in some way related to you. For instance: Ahmed is in a terrible mood. It must have been something I did. It’s obvious he doesn’t like me, otherwise he would’ve said hello.
9) Emotional reasoning: Believing that what you feel about a situation determines how the situation actually is. For example, if you feel anxious on a plane, you believe that, “if I am feeling anxious it must mean that it not safe to fly.”
Which of the above thoughts affects you?
Pattern Interruption to Handle ANT
The good news is these unhelpful thoughts can be changed. Now that you learned about ANT, let’s learn 3 strategies we can apply to interrupt the pattern, so you become free (or less immune) to these challenging thoughts:
Technique 1 – “Immediate Reply”
Immediately ask yourself back: “Is this true?” Asking this question really puts you in a thinking position and immediately interrupts the pattern. Look for the answer you get internally. Asking this question from the mind makes it think for a moment. It sets doubt for the ANT statement you just said. During this time, the pattern would have already been interrupted.
Technique 2 – “Opposition Statement”
Say the opposite: Go from “I am stuck” to “I am not stuck.” Just tell yourself the opposite and see the magic that happens. If your mind tells you – “I am bad,” reply back “I am good.”
The mind just believes what we say to it. Responding to an ANT thought with an opposite thought immediately negates the effect of the thought. Not only that, it also makes the mind start believing the new thought you are feeding to it. You will be surprised how powerful this technique is.
Technique 3 – “Look-Around Strategy”
When you get an ANT thought, immediately look around and find an object – it could be a book, or a car, or a person – and ask a question specific to that. If you see a blue car, you can think – “How will that car if it was painted red?” If you see a book, you can ask “What would I ask if I had a chance to meet its author?” These are pattern-interruption questions.
When we apply the pattern-interruption technique, our mind shifts its focus to the new object/person/event and it takes time for the mind to return back. And slowly, you will see the ANT pattern itself cease to come in.
ANT Thoughts Summary
In this part we discussed and categorized negative thoughts and learned 3 techniques to handle it. Try the strategies yourself, and see how it works for you.
In the next and final part, we will discuss forgiveness. Stay tuned!