Killing the ANT: Automatic Negative Thoughts
We do not realize how important is to program our brain in order to keep it healthy. At this point, we can say that the way we think about something it is important in determining how we feel. So, if our thoughts are unhelpful or negative, what do you think will happen to our feelings? The majority of negative thoughts that affect our way of looking at the world, are automatic. If we want to be happier and see life through a healthier glass, we need to know how to manage automatic negative thinking.
But, what are negative thoughts? How do they present to us in our everyday lives? Here you have some examples of negative thoughts:
- Thinking in black and white terms. When we think things are wrong or right, or bad or good. We view many things at the extremes. The majority of events in our life are not totally disastrous or absolutely marvelous. All or nothing thinking is a trait of depression. It is useful of course in life-threatening circumstances, but, in general, not useful to manage situations in our daily life. You need to learn how to see shades of gray.
- Selective abstraction. It is a type of bias or distortion in which details are taken out of context. In this cognitive distortion we form conclusions based on a unique and isolated event, ignoring other important details within the context. For example, someone fails in a test and then she thinks that result will ruin her entire grade. People thinking like that, ignore the whole picture, the entire context. They do not put things in perspective.
- Over-generalization. Some thoughts may have some validity in specific contexts. This does not mean that they are applicable to other contexts. It will be very helpful if you could learn how to identify when you are basing your actions on overgeneralized thinking. This is one of the most common forms of limiting beliefs, or negative thinking. Remember, if you did some wrong things in the past, it does not mean you did nothing right in your life. Do not fall in the over-generalization trap.
- Personalizing in negative self talk. Personalizing is a type of negative self-talk. Some times this type of negative thinking comes from negative people surrounding us. Many people don't like to talk or even have any contact with people that express negative ways of interpreting everything in each normal situation. When we are around negative people, we feel impregnated with that negativity. You need to stay on top of your negative thoughts. Give yourself positive feedback on each possible occasion.
- Catastrophizing is another form of negative self talk. This is when you overestimate the possibilities of something going wrong. It is an irrational thought that occurs when we think that something is worse than it actually is. With catastrophizing, we are predicting a negative result or outcome in the first place, and then we jump to the conclusion that if this outcome happened, then it would be a catastrophe. To overcome this type of negative thoughts you should consider other possible outcomes, distinguish between something that is unpleasant an a catastrophe, and believe you can cope with negative events or situations.
- Emotional reasoning. It occurs when we think something is true, independently of the evidence. In this type of thinking, evidence and reasoning are left out and the person relies only on the emotions. We are making a very specific appeal to our emotions. For example, if I feel totally alone, it must be because nobody likes me.
- Use of certain words in our vocabulary, like 'should', or 'must', usually set up unrealistic expectations of ourselves and others. We then operate by strict and rigid rules, and do not allow for flexibility. These statements appear regularly in negative thinking and are examples of irrational thoughts.
These ways if thinking are related to each other. If there is a tendency to some way of thinking, it is frequent that you catch yourself in several of the others. Be patient with yourself and allow yourself to become familiar with your specific way of negative thinking. You will be able to correct negative thinking patterns.