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How to Identify and Eliminate ANTs in Your Relationships: 9 Types of Automatic Negative Thoughts

Updated: Mar 31

ANTs: Automatic Negative Thoughts

In his book, Change Your Brain Change Your Life, Dr. Daniel Amen identifies 9 types of negative thoughts which infiltrate our mind if we allow them to. They are labelled as ANTs which stands for Automatic Negative Thoughts. Becoming aware of your ANTs offers unique opportunities for redefining how you experience the world around you.

Negative thoughts invade your mind like ants at a picnic. The nine different ways your thoughts lie to you and make situations seem worse than they are, are listed below. Think of these nine ways as nine different species of ANTs. When you can, identify the type of ANT and you can take away the power they have over you.

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Visualizing the Mind as a Snowy Hill: Pick Up the Sled

Imagine your mind as a snowy hill. Each thought is like a sled ride down this hill. Repeated negative thoughts create deep ruts, making it easier to slide down these paths without effort, but at the cost of limiting your perspective and your options of how to feel in any given moment. The goal is to first become aware of your ruts in the snow —the ANTs— and then pick up the sled. Acknowledge your well-worn paths, and consciously choose to create new, more positive tracks.

Transforming the 9 Types of ANTs:

  1. All or Nothing Thinking (Sled Path: Extreme Thinking) – Notice when you’re thinking in black and white terms. Instead, consider the nuances. For instance, missing a workout doesn’t make you undisciplined; it’s just a hiccup in your routine.

  2. Always Thinking (Sled Path: Overgeneralization) – Challenge statements like "I always fail." Reframe to "Each attempt is a learning experience," fostering growth and resilience.

  3. Focusing on the Negative (Sled Path: Negative Bias) – Acknowledge when you're magnifying the negative. Shift to recognizing achievements, like celebrating the 10 pounds lost instead of fixating on the 5 yet to go.

  4. Thinking with your Feelings (Sled Path: Emotional Reasoning) – Notice when feelings overshadow facts. Replace "I feel my efforts are useless" with "What evidence supports my progress?"

  5. Guilt Beating (Sled Path: Obligation) – Recognize guilt-driven thoughts. Change "I should exercise" to "I choose to exercise for my wellbeing," empowering your decisions.

  6. Labelling (Sled Path: Self-Judgment) – Catch yourself using negative labels. Transform "I'm a failure" into "I'm learning and growing," encouraging self-compassion.

  7. Fortune Telling (Sled Path: Catastrophizing) – Observe when you predict negative outcomes. Shift to "I'm open to various possibilities," allowing hope and optimism.

  8. Mind Reading (Sled Path: Assumption) – Identify when you assume others' thoughts. Move towards "Let me understand their perspective," enhancing empathy and connection.

  9. Blame (Sled Path: Victimhood) – Be aware of blaming others for your experiences. Embrace "I have the power to shape my responses," fostering agency and responsibility.

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Creating a New Path: Awareness and Choice

The first step is to notice these ANT patterns – pick up the sled. Recognize when you're automatically sliding down the old, negative path. With this awareness, you create the opportunity to place your sled on a new path – one of empathy, connection, and creativity.

As you encounter similar situations, you now have a choice. Do you revert to the old path, or do you forge a new, more positive and connected route? This decision can transform stressful patterns into experiences of connection and a calmer mind.

By understanding and transforming these thought patterns, you cultivate a mindset that not only enhances personal growth but also enriches your relationships. Every thought, like every sled ride down the hill, is an opportunity to shape a life that is healthy, collaborative, and joyful.

When you become aware of an ANT, it's an invitation to engage with it creatively. Write it down, and converse with it, seeing it as an opportunity for insight.

If you catch yourself expressing an ANT, pause. This moment is your chance to reshape your narrative.

Identifying the types of thoughts you most often encounter is the first step in transforming them:

  1. Balanced Perspectives – Replace all-or-nothing thinking with shades of grey. Miss a day of getting more movement into your day? See it as a brief pause, not a full stop. This mindset keeps you motivated and resilient.

  2. Flexible Thinking – Challenge absolutes like "always" or "never." Shift from "I'll never lose weight" to "I'm exploring new ways to feel better in my body," fostering a sense of empowerment.

  3. Positive Focus – Celebrate your progress. Micro-movements are a step toward your goal. This approach fosters gratitude and a positive self-image.

  4. Evidence-Based Beliefs – Feelings aren't facts. If you're concerned about your skin, consult a dermatologist. This proactive step helps separate feelings from reality.

  5. Self-Compassion Over Guilt – Replace "I should" with "I choose to." This empowers your decisions, aligning actions with personal values rather than guilt.

  6. Empowering Self-Labels – Avoid negative self-labels. Instead of "I'm lazy," try "I'm in the process of becoming more active." This reframing promotes self-belief and encourages positive action. Navigating Challenging Thought Patterns These three thought patterns can be especially challenging but also provide powerful opportunities for growth:

  7. Openness to Outcomes – Fortune-telling thoughts like "the biopsy will be bad" close off possibilities. Embrace uncertainty as an opportunity for multiple outcomes.

  8. Curiosity Over Judgment – Avoid assuming others' thoughts. Seek understanding through conversation, deepening connections and empathy.

  9. Ownership of Actions – Shift from blame to checking in on how it might be your thoughts that are making you see it that way.

Recognizing your role in situations empowers you to create positive change.

Embracing these perspectives can significantly enhance your relationships and personal journey, opening up a world of possibilities for growth and connection.

[ Download Your FREE eBook: The Neuroscience of Collaboration]

Maureen McCarthy & Zelle Nelson

Get rid of your ANTs with Co-Founders of the Center for Collaborative Awareness, Maureen McCarthy and Zelle Nelson

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with Clear Mind Coaches Maureen McCarthy & Zelle Nelson

Get rid of your ANTs with Co-Founders of the Center for Collaborative Awareness, Maureen McCarthy and Zelle Nelson

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