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  • Writer's pictureMindy McCarthy

Do you have an ANT problem?

No one likes to find ants in their home. I am sure many of us have experienced that pit in our stomachs when we reach for some food were are wanting to eat only to find it covered with ants.

If we do not like welcoming ants into our homes, why is it that we are okay with them living in our minds?

ANT stands for Automatic Negative Thoughts, and who wants to have ANT's living in their brains?

The average human brain has about 70,000 thoughts per day, and the majority of those thoughts are negative. Having negative thoughts as a human is normal, so we can give ourselves some grace for that. However, we do want to prevent these negative thoughts from becoming habits as 90% of thoughts are repetitive.

Here are some common characteristics of ANT's:

  • use of words "always," "never," and "every"

Ever find yourself saying, "I will never make a free throw," or "I always finish last in sprints?" You can find yourself thinking these things even if you may have only missed one free throw or finished last one time. You exaggerate what occurred to make it seem like this is how it has been and will be.

Let's think about this for a second, though. Let's say you just met someone new, and you forgot his or her name. Would you feel good if that person thought, "You always forget people's names," even though he or she only has one event to use as information? So, why would you exaggerate the events based on it occurring one time?

  • focusing on the negative

This happens when you only see the negative in certain situations. Have you ever received feedback from your employer in the "sandwich method" where they give you a positive compliment first, then some constructive criticism, finished with another positive compliment. Even though you received more compliments than criticism, your mind tends to only focus on the criticism that you received. Thinking about only the negative in a situation drains your energy and can cause you to lose focus on what you are trying to achieve.

Rather than seeing the feedback negative, think about the opportunity that the constructive criticism can provide for you. Is there a new skill that you can learn to get better at your job? Also, circle back to the positive compliments you were given. How can you celebrate yourself? How can you continue to grow in the strengths that you have already shown?

  • fortune telling

Fortune telling is where people think they know how the future is going to play out. For example, someone thinking they could never stick to clean eating, so they do not even try his or her first day, or a team thinking there is no way that they are going to be their rivals next game. Unfortunately, these negative thoughts about the future can have the power to make that happen.

If you are worried about something in the future that has an ANT creeping in your mind, break down the goal into something smaller than the large goal. In the clean eating example, think about a small task that you can do each day to help you accomplish this goal. That can be something like meal planning, carrying your water bottle with you everywhere you go, measuring out your portion sizes, etc. If you are wanting to beat a difficult opponent, what are some process goals that you can set? Do you need to out rebound the other team? Do you need to make sure you are running the right routes? What are some smaller tasks that you can do to help your team achieve the overall goal of winning the game?

  • labeling

Labeling is exactly as it sounds: when you give a label to yourself or others based on something that occurred. For example, you call yourself stupid for making a mistake in your math class, or you call yourself a failure for not making the lay up in practice. Using these labels generalizes one small event that may have occurred, and it pulls you into a certain group or category to which you or others do not belong.

How would you respond if you had a friend call him or herself stupid for the mistake or a failure for missing a shot? You would most likely use encouragement and other explanations that essentially prove your friend wrong with using the label. How can you do that with yourself? What are some ways that you can prove that label wrong when you find yourself categorizing who you are?

  • mind reading

Some people may want to have mind reading as a super power, but to my knowledge, no one has mastered this skill. With that being said, why is it that we sometimes act like we can read minds? We find ourselves thinking that someone doesn't like us or that a coach doesn't believe in our capabilities. The truth is we have no idea what others are thinking. Another piece of that is we have no control over what others are thinking.

What we can control is our thoughts and our actions. Focus on what you can control instead of focusing on what you think is going through someone else's mind. Thinking positive thoughts about yourself and what you can contribute to your team or group.

  • guilt tripping

Guilt tripping usually comes from using words like "should, ought to, and must." When you think about something that you should be doing or should have done, you are wasting energy on guilting yourself.

If there are some things that you do need to accomplish, schedule times for yourself to complete them. Make sure to also schedule time to celebrate your accomplishments and relax. That helps alleviate yourself from feeling guilty about your productive day!

  • personalization

Personalization happens when we think things are happening to us. For example, you may see a couple of coworkers joking around without you, and you think they are talking negatively about you. However, most of the time this is not true at all. It is simply our minds playing tricks on us.

When you find yourself personalizing things, think about the other reasons that something could be occurring around you. I bet the list of alternative reasons is a lot longer than the one personalized one you had imagined.

  • blaming

When we blame others for our current situation, we make ourselves powerless. When we accept responsibility or focus on solutions, we take our power back. It is then that we begin focusing on things that we can control.

When you find yourself having an ANT problem, what are the positive thoughts that can serve as your "Anteater?"

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