“The best use of imagination is creativity. The worst use of imagination is anxiety.” Deepak Chopra
Think of ants at a picnic. There you are, settled with a feast of deliciousness and an ant comes along, it’s alright, moving with a particular determination that only ants seem to possess, antennae waving about tasting the air. Quite fascinating really, so you let it be. Then another appears … and another …. and another and before long there is a whole trail of them and when en masse, that one quirky creature becomes rather unpleasant. They are persistent, they won’t go away and more and more join, they are crowding the picnic. They are irritating and make you cross and flustered. They have the potential to spoil a lovely occasion.
I really don’t mind ants, in their place – in the garden and away from my picnic! But this blog is not about the invasive, sweet-treat hunting insect it’s about those other persistent and irritating ANTS – Automatic Negative Thoughts.
Everyone has them. Children, teachers parents, professional footballers, philosophers …. Everyone. But we all deal with them differently.
So what are these ANTS? Those negative thoughts that pop into our heads that sometimes don’t go away; they stay there and we keep thinking them, the same thought over and over and over again. We get stuck in the thought, like a spider’s web, and the more we struggle to get out of it the more we sometimes feel trapped by it. They can cloud our thinking in the daytime and keep us awake at nights.
These negative thoughts can crowd in and are a nuisance, just like the ants at the picnic, they can make us feel all manner of negative emotions such as being afraid, feeling anxious, they make us suspicious. Perhaps they will make us feel inadequate or irrational, maybe even angry.
The thing about ANTS is that because we are telling them to ourselves they are always very believable, but unfortunately they are also always negative. We might jump to conclusions without having all the facts, or we are scared- we catastrophise – focusing on what could be the very worst outcome; maybe we beat ourselves up about something telling our selves that we could, or we should be better; we might worry about the future the what ifs and the uncertainty can cause us to stop even trying. Sometimes the worry is what we think other people are thinking about us – how can we know, are we telepathic? Or we may worry about what we have done, and how it could have been different the “if onlys” , the regret………… the list goes on.
ANTS make us feel bad, they can stop us from seeing a bigger picture, they can stop us from problem solving, they can prevent us from being happy, they can interrupt our sleep and they can certainly hinder learning and our relationships. ANTS are always unwanted. And as I said, because we are telling them to ourselves, we believe them – we can be very convincing. The person who talks to you most, is yourself and if this self-talk is negative it will change the way you feel not just about yourself, but about also about other people, and the world around us.
I think we all know people who are trapped by ANTS, some are affected in the short term until the get their thoughts together, but others are trapped by them. ANTS can fill us with self-doubt and make us question our own ability, because they make us worry about the future – this means we don’t focus on, and enjoy, the present – the here and now.
So what can we do? We need to learn to be proactive and swat them out.
- Recognise the thought – Catch and challenge it. Where did it come from? Is it true?
- How is that ANT making me feel?
- Do I want to feel like that?
- Is this thought helpful or not?
- What evidence do I have for this thought?
- Is it a rational and sensible thought?
- If the answer is that it is unwanted, unhelpful, unwarranted, irrational, false …… swat it away. or squash it.
Finally, be kind to yourself, listen to that powerful inner voice and ask, would you speak to your best friend, colleague or stranger the way you speak to yourself? If you are being harsh on yourself because of a mistake or an error of judgement, acknowledge it, learn from it, refine your behaviour. You can’t undo it. Try not to allow your future self to stumble or fall on the rocks and branches that were in the past. Look forward and enjoy the view.
And remember, just because you think it doesn’t make it true!
Don’t allow your future self to stumble or fall on the rocks that were in the past.