ANTs= Automatic Negative Thoughts
Automatic is the involuntary, reflex, instinctive, unconscious, or programed thoughts or things that you do. The Automatic definition is: working by itself with little or no direct human control, like setting your coffee pot to start it has automatically starts and stops. Automatic is done or occurring spontaneously, without conscious thought or intention.
You have automatic physical functions, such as breathing. Automatically is the ability to do things without occupying the mind, or at least with the low-level details required. Allowing it to become an automatic response pattern or habit. It is usually the result of learning, repetition and practice.
We can have automatic behavior that is simple or complex that become routine tasks, and we become unaware of the activity.
In this case we are talking about automatic negative thoughts. Our images, words or other kinds of mental activity that pop into your head in a response to a trigger. Your thoughts can seem unimportant, but they can be extremely impactful. The type of automatic thoughts have an effect on our health outcomes as well as our overall quality of life.
Write down 20 qualities about yourself that are great. Now, write 20 that are bad or not great about yourself. The good or great qualities you write should be easier to list than your negative qualities. How many of you are able to do this? How many of you found it easier to list the negatives? The challenge is to be able to write your good qualities quicker than, or at least as easily as your negative qualities. It was easier said than done,
Let’s try some automatic thinking. Picture in your mind a dog. Now, your dog maybe different breed than my dog, but we all pictured a dog, not an elephant.
How about a lemon? Was yours yellow?
Picture in your mind, the person you love the most. What does that picture tell you? How did it make you feel? Did you find yourself smiling, you may even feel warm and fuzzy.
Now, picture in your mind your worst enemy, the person who hurt you the most, the most incentive person you can think of. Do you feel your body change, are you smiling at the thought of this person, chances are you are frowning, maybe even sucking in a deep breath.
Those are some automatic thinking. Our brain thinks in pictures.
Your brain is involved in everything you do and everything you are. We don’t even think about what is running our brain but is involved in how you think, feel and act. It determines how we interact with others. Your brain is the organ behind your intelligence, character, personality and decision making.
When your brain works right, you work right, and when your brain is troubled you are much more likely to have trouble in your life. When we can get our brains and thoughts on a healthier level we are happier, healthier, more successful and able to get along with others. When your brain is unhealthy you are sadder, sicker, less productive and have more conflicts in relationships.
Your brain can get sick or well but it depends on you. I work in 4 circles that impact your life that can contribute to your brain health. We call them the 4 circles of a whole life.
BIOLOGICAL- how your physical body and brain functions
PSYCOLOGICAL - development issues and how you think
SOCIAL- social support, your current life situation. and societal influences
SPIRITUAL- your connection with God, the world around you, past and future generations, your deepest sense of meaning and purpose.
Remember the automatic definitions? One part said that it was a pattern or a habit. Our thoughts start acting on a sub-conscious level.
Remember learning to drive a car. I can remember my hands gripped to the steering wheel, watching the road directly in front of me, trying to glance at my speed while trying to not run off the road! Curves where difficult, and learning to drive a stick shift was even more fun! I think I jerked the car more than it ran smoothly! Then, after much practice, it became easier, it became automatic.
Now, I can drive, really, I can, don’t listen to my husband. I can drive, listen to an audiobook, talk on the phone, sing to the radio, or carry on a conversation with my grandkids one hand on the wheel, taking in all the scenery and whipping around curves. The curves’ part is what my husband says makes him car sick… none the less. I can drive in my subconscious mind and my conscious mind can do what it wants or needs to do.
Just like driving, our thoughts become patterns or habits in automatic as well. We develop subconscious thoughts that create our reactions.
I tell people a lot, you are not stuck with the brain you have! You can make it better! We just have to get out of auto mode! The most exciting and hopeful lesson you can learn is when you take ownership for the health of your brain and mind by putting in the necessary hard work, so you can have a better brain, a brighter mind, a better life and are able to kill those ANTs.
I’m going to give you some tiny habits of change. Yes, your ANTs are small but mighty, so are YOU! It’s not the huge changes you can make, it’s the tiny habits that you can build that will make the difference. I want you to feel upbeat, and empowered to improve your overall brain health, feel happier and less stressed, and most importantly live the life you were created to live. I know that change can be difficult, and already your mind is racing and telling you, this can’t be done, it will work for others but not me. Your automatic program is already playing it’s own broken record! Let me share with you some simple scientific backed strategies that will help you make the changes you need to achieve the transformation you crave.
1. KNOW WHAT YOU WANT TO CHANGE
Your brain makes happen what it sees. What changes would you like to make? Write them down. EX: Create a vivid and believable “Future of Success” in detail. How will you feel if you consistently engage in a new behavior in 1, 3, 5 years from now? You could write, “I will feel amazing, healthy, energetic, cognitively better than I have ever been, and in control.” Your first line should be CHANGES I WANT TO MAKE, then across from that, HOW I WILL FEEL IN THE FUTURE. So, write a change you want to make and then how it will make you feel in the future.
2. MAKE A COMMITMENT TO LOVEING YOUR BRAIN AND ESPECIALLY YOURSELF
Did you know that research, yes scientific research has shown that making a resolution or goal and then putting it down on paper, (or even better sharing it with a friend) can help you be more successful, especially when your initial enthusiasm fades out. It gives you some accountability. So, make an official agreement statement, write it out. Sign it and date it. Something like this:
I AM COMMITTED TO LOVING MY BRAIN AND MYSELF. I WILL TREAT ME WITH RESPECT AND CARE.
3. PRACTICE TINY HABITS: THE SMALLEST THING YOU CAN DO TODAY THAT WILL MAKE THE BIGGEST DIFFERENCE.
Tiny Habits are baby steps—easy changes that will boost your sense of accomplishment and competence and, over time, evolve into bigger changes.
Each of these habits takes just a few minutes. They are anchored to something you do (or feel) every day—like getting out of bed, brushing your teeth, answering the phone, opening a door, or driving your car. The goal is to make them automatic. The formula for that looks like this, you fill in the blanks:
WHEN I DO ___X____ (OR WHEN X HAPPENS), I WILL DO ___Y___.
Ex: When I drive my car I will put on my seat belt to stay safe.
Celebrate whenever you adopt a Tiny Habit. Celebrations can be simple—like a fist pump or saying “way to go” to yourself.
I’m going to give you 12 Tiny Habits Recipes for you to try.
1. AFTER MY FEET HIT THE FLOOR—I will say “it’s going to be a great day!”
A lot of us wake up, and as soon as we open our eyes we dread what the day will hold. Change your thoughts, practice, make a new habit tell yourself it’s going to be a great day! Remember, if you have 10 min, half hour, even 2 hours where things are going wrong, it’s not your entire day. You can choose with your thoughts to continue having and making it a bad day or if you had some bad moments.
2. AFTER I GET DRESSED FOR BED—I will reflect on one good thing that happened in my day.
“Today, I got to spend time with my grandkids. I am grateful for the memories we can make.”
3. AFTER I CLOSE THE DOOR TO MY HOUSE—I will think of one thing that I am grateful for in there.
A lot of us aren’t happy with our homes. We compare it to others, who might have better, newer, nicer homes. I started out in a 1 bedroom trailer. I didn’t always have what we have now. I will not let myself forget that. I know that in that trailer was where I brought 3 of my children home to. It wasn’t always perfect but it was perfect for me then. I loved how the sun would shine through the windows and I could look out at the beautiful view. With each day, I have to notice what I love or even like. Sometimes, I forget to listen to the birds singing, the butterflies that are in the fields.
4. AS I LOOK AT THE MENU TO CHOOSE SOMETHING TO EAT—I will ask myself if the items I choose are good or bad for me.
I won’t always make the choice to eat healthy. I sometimes choose otherwise! I have noticed that when I ask myself this first, I choose differently more times than I don’t.
5. AFTER I START TO BLAME SOMEONE ELSE—I will think of one thing that I could have done to improve the situation.
This is a tough one. No one wants to take the blame! We would rather blame someone, or something else. EX: I was late for work because my kids didn’t get up and get going like they were suppose to. My other thought-- I should have got them to bed sooner. EX: My kids take advantage of me all the time. They don’t help out with anything! My other thought-- I should set boundaries or rules and make all of us stick to them.
6. AFTER I BRUSH MY TEETH—I will smile and tell myself I like you, until I can say I love you with a huge clean toothy smile.
This is the hardest thing for a lot of us to do. Make this a daily habit. You have to look at yourself and be honest. Some days I like myself, some days I love myself. It’s when I hate myself, that my day gets worse. I have to look at why I hate myself. What can I change?
7. AFTER MY HEAD HITS THE PILLOW—I will think of 3 things that went well today.
Again, remember even in the worst of times, there are some things that went well. When my son-in-law died it was the worst day ever. As I look back, there were things that went well that day, or even in the following days. I was able to get away from work, which was a rarity. This enabled me to be there. Our family was able to all come together, give support, talk about memories, cry and laugh together. My husband reminded us to pray, for understanding, for peace and for the hope of seeing him again.
8. AFTER AN AUTOMATIC NEGATIVE THOUGHT (ANT) POPS UP—I will write it down and ask if it is true.
Listen to yourself as you speak. Catch your I am… or your I can’t… your never… comments. Write your thought down, then challenge it. If I say, “My kids never listen to me. I need to think of times that they did listen to me.”
9. AFTER I START TO THINK I CAN’T—I will be curious enough to find out what it would look like if I could, what could I benefit?
I use to say, I can’t zipline. I can’t go in an elevator. I can’t do heights. Then I remembered when I used to climb trees and get so high I could sway with the wind. Then I got stuck in a tree. My foot got stuck in a crevice and I couldn’t get it out. I was stuck for hours. I didn’t remember why I was afraid of heights until I really thought about it. Guess what I did! I went tree topping, which is rope climbing in trees. I repelled down off the platform. Took me about 5 minutes but I did it! I get into elevators. I don’t say I can’t do heights. I try and focus on what I can do in the moment!
10. AFTER I GET TO THE GROCERY STORE—I will look for something new I haven’t tried, that is healthy for me, less sugary, and not processed.
What we eat has a huge effect on how we feel. I am working now with a Dietician. Bayler Reller. It’s only been 2 weeks but our challenge has been to eat consistently at the same time each day. Eat better choices of foods to include Protein, Healthy Fat, Fiber each meal and 1 meal with only 1 starchy carb. It’s about changing our mindset around the food we eat. Little habits of change have already created huge differences. Did you know that when you are obese your brain shrinks. I can’t afford for my brain to get any smaller!
11. AFTER I START TO ARGUE—I WILL ASK MYSELF, “Is my behavior getting me what I want?”
My mom is 94. She is showing signs of dementia. She forgets things, even when I write them on her calendar. She is more argumentative and that makes me combative as well. I have to stop myself from arguing, or my husband has to intervene and say, it’s ok, let it go. Sometimes I can, sometimes that makes me even more mad. Just to be honest! Really, in the end, does it matter if the sky is blue and she says it’s green? Does it matter if she says, I didn’t leave her any food to eat and there’s a refrigerator full of food? My behavior when I get argumentative just gets me huffy, puts me in a mood, makes me feel like my socks are in a bunch. It effects me, and others around me.
12. AFTER I HAVE A FEARFUL THOUGHT—I will examine the thought, determine is it a true thought, and if I can work to overcome this fear.
I love the utube video Will Smith on skydiving.
It’s great. He talks about fear and how we have to examine where that fear comes from. We have to gather the data and determine is that fear valid or not? Until we look at the data, how will we know?
You have to start with one thing. Tweak any of these 12 things to fit your thoughts. It’s that one step we have to take to start an action.
My friend Sara just had her second child. She was overweight, stressed at work, she struggled to keep up with her kids, she was depressed, and showing signs of arthritis or inflammation in her joints. Once we looked at the Tiny Habits, she decided to change just one thing.
That was the secret to her success.
· She started by drinking more water, and adding a mineral supplement drink one time a day. Your brain is 80% water and being dehydrated just by 2% can cause fatigue, focus problem, migraines and even depression. It helped!
· Then she started taking a walk every night with her kids and husband.
· She changed her diet and that of her families
· She organized her work schedule to ensure family time, which reduced her stress levels
· She started reading
· She started looking at her thoughts that held her captive in an I can’t lose weight, I can’t have fun anymore, I can’t learn anything new—she changed those thoughts.
· She catches me, when I or others say I am… or I can’t… she helps us to re-think and reframe those thoughts. We laugh when she catches me, because I’m who taught her!
This simple tactic helps you cut big changes down to size. Don’t aim for 110%. Take it to 1 small step at a time and, once you’re ready, once you have that habit created, add another step. With every step you’ll be gaining confidence and building momentum toward the BIG results you’re looking for.
Write down 1 step you will take today to get started on your journey to transformation. Change your automatic habit to one that serves you well.