Automatic negative thoughts or ANTs are patterns of thinking that play in the back of our minds, sometimes without any acknowledgement or awareness. Most people’s negative thoughts originate from difficult life experiences and they become mantras for how we operate, especially in stressful situations. ANTs skew attention to the negative and impact the way we feel and behave in certain situations. They don’t necessarily have to be negative in the traditional sense like I’m not good enough or I’m unloveable, although common. For me personally, one of my main ANTs is the idea that I don’t need a romantic relationship and it has no place in my life; when in reality I desire true love just like anyone else. Because this cognition has become part of my belief system, I behave in a way that makes me seem unavailable or uninterested to give the ANT the self fulfilling prophecy it wants. Basically, automatic negative thoughts prevent us from living our best lives.
I did an exercise the other day to release these patterns of thinking and replace them with more beneficial cognitions and it was extremely helpful.
Side note: if you are unsure of your personal ANTs, I encourage you to start a daily journal practice. Additionally, notice what feelings and thoughts come up for you during times of stress or anxiety and if there are patterns in other areas of your life. Meditation is also a great way to tap in to your thought patterns; during meditation you have nothing else to focus on, it’s basically a window into your brain.
Matches or lighter
I suggest doing the activity when you’re calm and in a quiet space.
Write down any automatic negative thought you experience. Once you have them all written down, rip the paper into small pieces. After all of the paper is shredded, place it in the bowl, burn the paper and imagine the thoughts releasing from your mind with the embers. Sit and take some deep breaths as you watch the thoughts burn away. Then grab your journal and write a helpful thought to correspond the thoughts you just released. Going back to my personal example, for my replacement I wrote “ I am worthy, deserving, and open to love, pure, true, real, unconditional LOVE” and “I deserve and desire a romantic relationship that will grow and blossom into something great.”
I felt so light and relaxed after I did this exercise, so I just had to share it! I hope that it brings you the level of peace that it brought me.
Let your thoughts be like clouds in the sky. They come and they go.
With love, namaste.