Squash the ANTs (Automatic Negative Thoughts)

This morning, I woke up on the wrong side of the bed.

My mind was filled with negative thoughts such as “I don’t feel like going to work today” and “life stinks.” 

Annoyance is flowing through my veins.  I look in the mirror and ask myself “What is wrong with me today?”  The stranger in the mirror does not answer. 

We all have days like this when things just go wrong.  Throughout the day, the negative thoughts continue to pile on.  You feel trapped, like a prisoner in a cell.

It is all a part of the human experience.  

Humans are hardwired to dwell and replay negative events that occur in their lives.  In fact, most of the thoughts that we have are negative in nature.  Think back to when we were cavemen. Listening to our negative thoughts allowed us as a species to survive.  "I probably shouldn't walk around that tree because there might be a saber tooth tiger lurking behind it."  "I probably shouldn't eat these berries because I might get poisoned."  "I probably shouldn't badmouth my clan member because I might get kicked out of the tribe."

These negative thoughts helped protect us from life threatening events.  Nowadays, these thoughts are more of a hindrance than a help because they are deeply ingrained as part of our thought pattern. I refer to these thoughts as Automatic Negative Thoughts (ANTs).

The good news is that there are many tools we can use to SQUASH the ANTs to prevent them from ruining our day.


Shield Your Mind from the ANTs

We can be proactive and shield our minds from having ANTs in the first place since it is easier to keep the negative thoughts out than it is to remove the thoughts once they start.

          Emotional Contagion

Have you ever been in room when someone with great energy walks in? Almost immediately you should feel your energy surge.  Or on the flip side, have you ever spoken to a friend who was sad before?  Unless you completely lack empathy, you would have also felt sad while talking to your friend as well. 

Emotions are highly contagious. This means that the first step to protecting your positive energy is to spend less time with toxic people.  If possible completely avoid them. I would suggest you find a new set of friends to hang out with who make you feel happy and energetic. 

         Avoid the News

I made a decision a few years ago to stop watching, listening or reading the news. 

Prior to that, I had a habit of waking up to my news radio.  Without fail, the news would report some tragedy that had had occurred - a murder, a drug bust, or a school shooting, etc.  I would than rush out the door and immediately pick up the newspaper and devoured it on the commute to work, trying to find as much detail as possible.

What I realize now is that the news media are experts at using your negative emotions to fuel your addiction to news.  The more outrageous the news the better.  The more fear they can drive into us the better for them.

Dropping the news has allowed me to start my day with positive energy and not be manipulated into thinking that this world is turning into shambles.

Water-Cooler Talk

With any workplace, there are plenty of positive people and just as many negative people who make it a sport to complain and whine about their lives.  These negative people thrive on finding like minded individuals to engage gossip, otherwise known as water-cooler talk.  If you want to keep a positive state of mind you must avoid these water-cooler talk locations like a plague.


Become Self-Aware of Your Negative Thoughts

Being self-aware of how you feel throughout the day helps you to identify your negative thoughts. The earlier you can catch your negative thoughts the quicker you can swap them out for positive thoughts.

Use the Elastic Band Trick

Put an elastic band around your wrist and every single time you catch yourself having a negative thought, pull that elastic band and release.  This small amount of pain, quickly reminds you to stay positive.

This trick can be used to aid you in many different types of behavioral changes.  Pull the elastic band each time you catch yourself:

·         Making an excuse

·         Engaging in negative talk

·         Bragging

·         Gossiping behind someone’s back

Release Tension in Your Body

Negative thoughts or emotions cause tension in your body.  When you feel tense, there is a good chance that something is bothering you emotionally. 

Try this breathing exercise to help relax:

Take three deep belly breaths in. Put your hand on your chest and make sure your chest isn’t rising, instead the air should be going deep into your belly

a.      Take at least four seconds to inhale

b.      Hold your breath for four seconds

c.      Slowly exhale taking about eight seconds. 


The best way to build self-awareness is to meditate. With self-awareness, you will be able to recognize and manage the negative thoughts as they form in your mind. 

Click this link to see my blog on meditation

Check-in with yourself throughout the day

Don't forget to check in with yourself throughout the day to see how you are feeling.  At random times during the day, ask yourself these questions:

·         How am I feeling right now?

·         What am I thinking about right now?

·         Is there tension in my body?

·         Is there anything bothering me?


How You Can Defeat the Negativity

It is impossible to prevent negative thoughts from forming in your mind 100% of the time. Here are some tools to help you remove negative thoughts once they have entered your mind.

Distract Yourself

Negative thoughts quickly turn into rumination.  Rumination is when you replay the same negative thoughts over and over again. 

To break this unproductive cycle you can distract yourself by performing highly cognitive tasks.

  • Try a memorization game: it could be as easy as grabbing a deck of playing cards and trying to remember the first 10 cards flipped
  • Use brain exercise games such as Soduku or Lumosity games
  • Put yourself through an intense physical workout
  • Watch a movie or TV show (preferably a comedy)

Focus on the Present Moment  

Most of our negative thoughts are about things that happened in the past or things that have yet to happen in our future. 

Focusing on the the present moment means to be mindful of what you are doing in this exact moment in time.  Right here, right now, there is very little wrong.

If you are out for a walk, focus on the scenery, focus on your feet touching the ground, and focus on the smells of the outdoors. If you are eating, focus on the taste and texture of the food. Physically feel the food go into your mouth and down your throat and into your stomach.

The more you focus on the present moment, the less power negative thoughts have over you.

Argue Back Against the Negative Thoughts

Your mind can be very stubborn when it is agitated.  If you are stuck on a negative thought that doesn’t seem to make any sense, you can always argue back against that thought. 

For example: Your mind keeps replaying the fact that you are a failure because you made a few mistakes while delivering a speech.  This is very counterproductive as the rest of the speech may have gone well.  Here is how you argue back:

Using pen and paper, write down all the negative thoughts you have about your failure and start formulating reasons why they are untrue.

Negative Thought: My presentation was a failure

Truth: I got a standing ovation after the presentation

Negative Thought: I looked foolish because I froze on stage for a split second

Truth: That was a minor blip in a 10 minute speech

Negative Thought: I looked terrible on stage. I was all sweaty at the start of the presentation.

Truth: I was wearing a suit so no one could see the sweat

Opposition Thinking  

We can only focus on one thought at a time.  Therefore as soon as you catch yourself thinking a negative thought immediately replace it with a positive one.  Keep repeating this cycle over and over.

A great way to use opposition thinking is when it comes to dealing with people.  Let’s say a family member criticizes the way you dress. Like most people you would probably feel a bit angry.  But instead of letting the criticism get to you, start thinking positive thoughts about the family member such as a time they helped you or spoke very highly of you. 

Zoom Out

Let's put into perspective our problems and realize how small they really are. 

  • There are children who go to bed hungry every night
  • There are people are to this day are still forced into slavery 
  • There are people who freeze to death on the streets with no support around them.
  • There are people who who have to walk miles before having access to fresh water

Our negative thoughts are usually caused by something small and not comparable to real world problems.

Give Gratitude

Giving gratitude reminds you of all the positive things you have in life.  You can't feel negative when you are feeling grateful.

Click this link to see my blog on gratitude

Serve and Help Others Who Are In Need

I believe as humans we were born to serve others. This is why we feel good when we help others. 

If you are feeling down in the dumps, find it within yourself to help someone with no expectations to get anything back in return.  There are hundreds of opportunities each day to perform a random act of kindness.  


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