Automatic negative thoughts (ANTs) is a way of thinking which all of us on occasion get caught in. Aaron Beck, one of the founders of cognitive therapy, concluded that automatic negative thinking sabotages our best self and lead to a vicious circle of misery. How it feels: We get stuck in the same negative thoughts over and over. Because of our brain’s plasticity, we can create new pathways for our new and changed thoughts to travel.
Our emotions are a response to the thoughts we have. A negative thought will be followed by a negative emotion, and a positive thought will be followed by a positive emotion. It can be difficult to control our emotions however we can learn to change and control our thoughts. The first step is to become aware of our negative thoughts.
The following are some of the most common examples of automatic negative thoughts.
- Fortune Telling: We are predicting that something bad will happen, such as failing school, losing our job, or getting seriously ill. Fortune telling is the basis of much of our anxiety and worry.
- Catastrophic Thinking: This is similar to fortune telling, however not only will the bad thing happen but the consequence will be terrible. Minor setbacks or failures are believed to be more serious than they are, which leads to serious anxiety.
- Mind Reading: We assume people are having negative thoughts about us. At a party, I may believe people don’t like me. Mind reading is a cause of social anxiety.
- All or None Thinking: We think in rigid, black or white categories. If we don’t score 100 on the test, we feel like a complete failure. If someone doesn’t like something about me, they dislike everything about me. This can lead to perfectionism and low self-esteem.
- Overgeneralizations: One or two events make us believe that something is “always” or “never” true, such as “nothing ever works out for me.” “I’m always messing up.” This can lead to discouragement and low self-esteem.
After we have become aware and can identify our negative thinking by name, we can begin the process of change. Try to stop your negative thinking and change the thought to a positive and true statement. The next time you assume that people don’t like you, say to yourself, “I was just mind reading and I have no proof my thoughts are true.” Changing automatic negative thinking is possible when we decide to make a change, by increasing our awareness.