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Combat ANTs (Automatic Negative Thoughts)

To really combat our negative emotions, we first need to understand where they come from. Most often, our emotions are directly connected to our thoughts; the combination of these two will influence our behaviour, and our physical selves. CBT – Cognitive Behavioural Therapy mainly looks at this cycle, and works to break down old pathways and patterns, and helps us to understand them. CBT looks, in particular, at our Automatic Negative Thoughts – or we could call these ANTS. CBT is very effective in looking at what these ANTS are doing and how they affect us. 

There are many reasons why we might formulate these ANTS. Working out and understanding what these reasons are usually take a few weeks of focused work in therapy sessions, however what I wanted to focus on today is just noticing them. 

When we start to notice what our own ANTS are, we are beginning the process of understanding ourselves a little better and our motivations or lack of. 

Automatic thoughts that cause a negative impact are most often negative in nature. I often hear people say that such thoughts just seem to come out of nowhere. That may be how it seems, but the truth is that they are coming from deep down in your consciousness mind, and they are triggered unknowingly by certain stimuli or events, and often become part of the instinctive way we think about things and act upon them. These thoughts will often form part of the lens in which we see the world through, and they inform how we make sense of things. Although these ANTS often conflict with how we would like to see our world or ourselves. For example, an ANT might be – “I am going to fail” or “I am going to do badly”, we obviously don’t want to do that, but it’s the ANT. Now, as I said earlier, looking for the origins of such thoughts may take some time to explore but by practising noticing them, you can start to test their validity. 

The key here is to study these ANTS and to ask yourself questions about them. So, a good place to start will be by using a fairly recent situation or an event after which you felt you had a negative experience. The questions you might want to ask yourself may look something like this: - 

1. Where were you and what was going on? 

2. What was the emotion at the time? What were you feeling and how intense was that? (Where between 0 – 100% was that?) 

3. What was the Automatic Negative Thought (ANT)? 

4. What evidence do you have to tell you that this is true? 

5. What evidence do you have to tell you this is not true? – (or at least not true most of the time) 

6. Based on your answer to the previous question – What new thought can I replace the ANT with? 

7. What is the emotion you feel now, has it changed? 

8. Going back to your answer to question 2. What is the intensity for the original ANT now? (Where between 0 – 100% is that now? Has this figure reduced?) 

By testing the validity of your flying ANTS, you can start a process of re-conditioning what you do with your them. You can let them run around causing havoc or you can catch them and put them to work for you in a more positive way. 

If you get stuck with your flying ANTS and need to talk about them, please feel free to contact our Wellbeing Counsellors.

Written by Emma Williams, Wellbeing Mentor