A friend sent me an article by Dr. Daniel Amen who is a physician, psychiatrist and best-selling author http://ahha.org/selfhelp-articles/ant-therapy/ The title is "ANT Therapy." By that he means "automatic negative thoughts" or "ANTs." These are the cynical, gloomy and complaining thoughts that just seem to keep coming all by themselves. He makes the point that every time we have a thought, our brain releases chemicals with an electrical transmission going across our brain. Thoughts are real and have an impact on how we feel and behave. Our body reacts to every thought we have. He says we know this from
polygraphs and measurement of bodily reactions. Most important, thoughts are very powerful. They can make your mind and body feel good or make you feel bad. Our thoughts impact our ability to enjoy our life. How we think moment by moment plays a large role in how we feel at a deep Limbic system functional level. Negative thoughts cause us to feel internal discomfort. The challenge is to change our moment to moment thought patterns and the chemical – electrical signals that are given in our brain.Because thoughts are powerful they can affect physical symptoms such as headaches or stomachaches or even enhanced disease processes.
However, the fact is that our thoughts are not automatic, but learned and they are not always truthful. Our thoughts often lie to us. The author discusses different ways in which our thoughts lie to us and make the situation seem worse than it actually is. Being able to identify these types of negative thoughts
allows us to reframe the thought. Here are the most common negative false thoughts we have:
- "Always or never thinking." This is the thought that a negative experience will "always" repeat itself. Or the thought that positive experiences "never" occur. These are thoughts using words like "always, never, no one, everyone, every time, and never." These are the thoughts that tell us "he's always irritable with me. I never get credit. Everyone takes advantage of me. She never listens to me." When these thoughts come, consider the truth of the claim: "always?" Really? There's never been an exception? "Never?" it really has never happened? These blanket negative exaggerations must be seen as the untruths that they are. They are over generalizations that anchor negative blanket beliefs.
- "Focusing on the negative." This is a habit that we can develop where in every situation instead of seeing the good and positive we look for the bad and negative.The author uses the example of public speakers who review the audience evaluation forms and instead of focusing on the majority that are praising the speaker they anguish over the one or two negative evaluations. Learning to look for the positive instead of searching for the negative is a learned behavior. Monitor your thoughts and learn to change focus.
- "Fortune-telling" This describes the thought process where we evaluate a situation and predict the worst possible outcome. The author calls it "fortune-telling" because that's what it is when we try to predict the future and do so in a negative way without knowing what the outcome will be. Furthermore our negative thinking about outcomes directly impacts our state of mind and there are those who argue it can actually negatively impact the outcome as well.
- "Mind reading" This describes us when we think we know what the other person is thinking even when they are saying something else or haven't said what they are thinking. The author says that it is a common cause of problems between people. Thoughts like "she's mad at me. He doesn't like me. They were talking about me." The truth is we can't read anyone else's mind and we don't know what other people are thinking. Most importantly stop trying to read other people's minds as being negative when we have no knowledge of what they are thinking.
- "Thinking with your feelings." This can happen when we have negative feelings which, without questioning them, we accept. Feelings are not inherently truthful or reliable. Too many people believe their feelings when they have no evidence. "I feel like you don't love me. I feel stupid. I feel like a failure. I feel no one ever trust me." If you have a strong negative feeling the author says we should evaluate the evidence behind the feelings. Are you feelings based upon events or things from the past which are unreliable? Where do these feelings come from? Don't think with your feelings.
- "Guilt beatings" Guilt happens when you think with words like "should, must, ought or have to." These are feelings of guilt based upon our seeing the action as a duty we must fulfill. The author says it's better to replace thoughts that make us feel guilty about having to do something with phrases like "I want to do this. It would be helpful if I did this. Reframe the thoughts of guilt with beneficial goals to complete, not blame and guilt.
- "Labeling" Negative labels are very harmful because they anchor a negative label to someone else or something else instead of an objective evaluation. Labeling people as "jerks, arrogant or irresponsible" are examples. Avoid thoughts which create generalized negative labels.
- "Personalization." This happens when innocuous events are seen by us to have some personal meaning. These are the thoughts that tell us things like "my boss didn't talk to me this morning, so she must be mad at me." In fact we never know why people do with the do and we should not try to personalize their behavior with negative thoughts that are not based upon any reliable evidence except our negative speculation.
- "Blame" The author says that blame is the most poisonous of the negative thoughts and is very harmful. He says that when you blame something or someone else for the problems in your life you therefore become a victim of circumstances that you cannot do anything about. Relationships are ruined by people who blame their partners when things go wrong and won't take responsibility. When something goes wrong at home or work they blame someone else. They rarely admit their own problems. These are the people who say to themselves "it wasn't my fault. That would've happened if you had not or how was I supposed to know? The author says: "Whenever you blame someone else for the problems in your life, you become powerless to change anything. The "blame game" hurts your personal sense of power. Stay away from blaming thoughts and take personal responsibility to change the problems you have."
There are some powerful ideas in this article. Volumes have been written about "positive thinking" but these observations are directed at being aware of the negative thoughts that drift into your thinking in order to evaluate and re frame them. Shakespeare said: "There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so" and he was right. Become a positive thinker.