A stream of consciousness, our thoughts come as a torrent through the day. Too many to count. Some useful – “I need to finish that essay”, some random and not so useful – “just how many toes does a sloth have?”
So often though our thoughts have a negative slant on them and give rise to lots of anxiety…
“Why did you just say that? What an idiot! You’re always making mistakes! They’re laughing at you!”Your brain
We can call this our inner critic, always ready to attack when the going gets tough. In Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, they’re called Automatic Negative Thoughts, (or ANTS for short 🐜)
Even when things seem to be going right in our life, those ANTs can appear and make us doubt ourselves.
These negative thoughts are usually automatic, you don’t have conscious control over them, which is why, after a while, you sometimes don’t even realise you’re doing it. You start to believe this must be the truth.
But, and here’s a big revelation….
1. Thoughts Are Not Facts
Think about that for a second, thoughts are not facts!
Thoughts are just thoughts. They’re not reality. They don’t have to be true just because they exist in your mind.
Our minds are wired to look out for danger all the time. Which is great if you’re crossing a busy road, or avoiding escaped animals from the zoo. But in our day to day lives, constantly looking for danger means we often focus on the negative.
Chances are if I ask you for an embarrassing or shameful memory, you’re likely to be able to recall it much more vividly than if I asked you for the good things that happened in your life. That’s because our brains focus on the negative to keep us safe, so we don’t have to endure that pain again (physical or emotional). But the kicker is, those negative thoughts become so ingrained that it seeps in and becomes our norm.
But the good news is, you can make changes which will help you look on the more positive side and reduce those Automatic Negative Thoughts.
2. Challenge your inner critic
As these Automatic Negative Thoughts are, well, automatic, it can become hard to detect them. And the more you think them, the more your self esteem gets knocked, leading you to believe those pesky ANTS even more.
Try to break the cycle by bringing those thoughts to your awareness
Writing them down is a great way to do this. Grab a pen and paper (or your phone) and make a list. Keep the list handy so you can add to it as you start to notice these thoughts through the day. Soon it will become easier to recognise them.
Now you have your list, next to each one wrote down the evidence you have for that thought. So for instance if you’re thinking “I’m always making mistakes”, what’s the evidence for that? Maybe you made a mistake at some point today but what about the things you did right? What about yesterday? Then try to add another perspective to it, what have you learnt from your mistakes?
If the thought is a worry about something like “I’m going to fail an exam”, again, think about the evidence; how much revision you’ve done, how much you know already, how you’ve done on other exams. But also ask yourself “what’s the worst case scenario here?”
So maybe that means you would fail the exam. What would happen then? Maybe you’d retake it? Maybe you’d go in a different direction? Maybe you would use it as a stepping stone to something else?
By doing this, you start to bring those thoughts into your awareness and rationalise them.
3. How Would You Talk to a Friend?
Look at your list of negative thoughts. Would you speak to a friend like that? For a lot of us, we wouldn’t even speak to our enemy like that! We can be so cruel to ourselves and not even realise it.
Also, have a think how you would react to a friend saying those things about themselves. What would you say to them? Or think how they might reply to you if they knew you were thinking these things. Write down your answers as another way of challenging those ANTS.
4. Looking For The Positive
As an antidote to all the automatic negative thoughts you’ve been experiencing, balance them out with some gratitude.
List three things each day that either you’re thankful for, or that have gone well for you. A compliment, a text conversation with a friend, a dog walk in the sunshine, a delicious meal. No matter how big or small, write three things everyday. Get into the habit and then, even on those days where you feel overwhelmed by those ANTS, you’ll find it easier to find the positivity in your life.
Check out my blog for 5 Ways Gratitude Can Help You for more tips on this.
5. Be Kind To yourself
So, you’re beating yourself up all day with these negative thoughts. Your self worth is low because of it, and you find it hard to think positively about yourself.
Take some time to consider what you need. What can you do to take care of yourself? Self care means investing time in you, something that can be difficult if you don’t feel you’re worth anything. However, even a little bit of “you time” can make a difference to how you feel about yourself.
Maybe consider doing some mindfulness to slow your mind. It doesn’t have to take long, my 3 Mindful Moments blog gives you a few quick ideas to get started.
Consider something creative. Creativity can distract you from your thoughts and it relaxes the nervous system. My 5 Ways to Calm Your Anxiety With Creativity might be useful here.
Self care doesn’t have to be all spa days and expensive gym memberships, check out my 5 Self Care Activities That Won’t Cost You A Penny for some ideas on how you can look after yourself without breaking the bank.
That inner critic is there in all of us and maybe you’ve just allowed it to get too loud. But, by putting yourself first more often and taking time out to relax, you should find those ANTS crawl away into the background. 🐜 🐜 🐜 🐜
Amy is a qualified counsellor working in Kent and online with adults and adolescents. Amy works with a range of issues and specialises in working with neurodivergent individuals and their families.
For more information, contact Amy here.