Dr. Amen’s ANTs – Automatic Negative Thoughts

From Dr. Daniel Amen, M.D. Clinical Neuroscientist, Psychiatrist, and Medical Director of the Amen Clinic for behavioral Medicine. ANTS: Automatic Negative Thoughts

  1. “Always/never” thinking – This happens when you think something that happened will “always” repeat itself, or that you’ll “never’ get what you want. Words like always, never, no one, every one, every time, everything, are usually wrong. If you catch yourself thinking in these absolutes, stop and make yourself recall examples that disprove your all or nothing attitude.
  1. Focusing on the negative – This occurs when your thoughts reflect only the bad in a situation and ignore any of the good. This doesn’t mean being dishonest with yourself, but you can actively seek to find the positive to give more balance and optimism to a world you experience too often as negative.
  1. Fortune-telling – This is where you predict the worst possible outcome to a situation. Just having this thought will make you feel tense. This is a RED-ANT, because when you predict bad things, you help make them happen. If you could see the future, you’d be a lottery billionaire by now!
  1. Mind reading – This happens when you believe that you know what other people are thinking, even when they haven’t told you. This is also a RED-ANT. Dr. Amen tells people, “please don’t read my mind, I have enough trouble reading it myself!” A negative look from someone may mean nothing more than that he or she has a stomach ache. You can’t read anyone else’s mind.
  1. Thinking with your feelings – This occurs when you believe your negative thoughts without ever questioning them, usually thoughts that start with the words “I feel”. You tell yourself, “I feel this way, so it must be so.” Feelings are very complex and often based on powerful memories from the past. Feelings sometimes lie to you, but they are just feelings, not necessarily the truth. Look for the evidence behind the feeling to check its truth.
  1. Guilt beating – these happen when you think with words like should, must, ought or have to. Guilt is not a helpful emotion for the limbic system and may cause you to do things you don’t want to do. It is better to replace “guilt beatings” with phrases like “I want to do….” “It fits with my goals to do….” “It would be helpful to do…..”. Guilt isn’t productive. Get rid of the emotional turbulence it produces and that holds you back from achieving the goals you want.
  1. Labeling – Whenever you attach a negative label to yourself or to someone else, you stop your ability to take a clear look at the situation – you lump yourself or the other person into a category that leaves you unable to deal with him/her in a reasonable way, and prevents recognizing him/her as a unique individual.
  1. Personalizing – occurs when you invest innocuous events with personal meaning, such as “My teacher frowns when she looks at me. She must hate me”. There are many reasons for other’s behavior besides the negative explanations that an overactive limbic system picks out. You never fully know why people do what they do. Try not to personalize the behavior of others.
  1. Blaming – this is the most poisonous RED-ANT, very harmful. When you blame something or someone else for the problems in your life, you become a passive victim of circumstances and you make it very difficult to do anything to change your situation. The bottom-line thinking in the “blame game” goes like: “If only you would do something differently, I wouldn’t be in this predicament. It’s your fault and I’m not responsible.” The “blame game” hurts your personal sense of power – stay away from it.