Each thought we have is directly linked to an emotional response. Each emotional response we encounter directly effects our ability to cope, manifest our dreams into reality and to enjoy everyday life. Understanding our automatic thinking can empower us to not only be in a more positive position mentally, it can also impact our physical responses to emotions.
Our overall mind state has a certain tone or flavor based largely on the types of thoughts we think. When the deep limbic system is overactive, it sets the mind's filter on "negative." If you could look into the thoughts of people who are depressed, you would find one dispiriting thought following another. When they look at the past, there is regret. When they look at the future there is anxiety and pessimism. In the present moment, something is most often unsatisfactory. The lens through which they see themselves, others, and the world has a dim grayness to it. They are suffering from Automatic Negative Thoughts, or ANTs. ANTs are cynical, gloomy, and complaining thoughts that just seem to keep coming all by themselves.
ANTs can cause people to be depressed and fatalistic, which have a profound impact on their lives. "I know I won't pass that test on Tuesday." This kind of thinking makes for a self-fulfilling prophecy: if they've already convinced themselves they won't pass, they won't study very hard and they won't pass the test. This type of thinking severely limits a person's ability to enjoy his or her life because how one thinks on a moment-to-moment basis plays a large role in how one feels and how one conducts one's affairs. If you are depressed all the time, you don't expect good things to happen so you don't try very hard to make them happen. The internal distress from melancholy thinking can make you behave in ways that alienate others, thus causing you to isolate yourself further. On the other hand, positive thoughts and a positive attitude will help you radiate a sense of well being, making it easier for others to connect with you. Positive thoughts will also help you be more effective in your life. So, as you can see, what goes on in your mind all day long can determine whether your behavior is self-defeating or self-promoting.
Here are some examples of typical ANTs (automatic negative thoughts):
"You never listen to me."
"Just because we had a good year in business doesn't mean anything."
"You don't like me."
"This situation is not going to work out. I know something bad will happen."
"I feel as though you don't care about me."
"I should have done much better. I'm a failure."
"You're late because you don't care."
"It's your fault."
These thoughts severely limit a person's ability to enjoy his or her life. How you think "moment-by-moment" plays a large role in how you feel (a deep limbic system function). Negative thoughts cause you to feel internal discomfort or pain and they often cause you to behave in ways that alienate from other people. Hopeful thoughts, on the other hand, influence positive behaviors and lead people to feel good about themselves and be more effective in their day-to-day lives. Hopeful thoughts also are involved in helping people connect with others.
Healing the deep limbic system requires a person to heal their moment-to-moment thought patterns. Unfortunately, there is no formal place where we are taught to think much about our thoughts or to challenge the notions that go through our head, even though our thoughts are always with us. Most people do not understand how important thoughts are, and leave the development of thought patterns to random chance. Did you know that every thought you have sends electrical signals throughout your brain? Thoughts have actual physical properties. They are real! They have significant influence on every cell in your body. When your mind is burdened with many negative thoughts, it affects your deep limbic system and causes deep limbic problems (irritability, moodiness, depression, etc.). Teaching yourself to control and direct thoughts in a positive way is one of the most effective ways to feel better.
Here are the actual step-by-step "thinking" principles to use:
ANT - Species of ANT - Kill the ANT
You never listen to me. - Always Thinking - I get frustrated when you don't listen to me, but I know you have listened to me and will again.
The boss doesn't like me. - Mind Reading - I don't know that. Maybe she's just having a bad day. Bosses are people, too.
The whole class will laugh at me. - Fortune Telling - I don't know that. Maybe they'll really like my speech.
I'm stupid. - Labeling - Sometimes I do things that aren't too smart, but I'm not stupid.
It's your fault we have these marital problems. - Blame - I need to look at my part of the problems and look for ways I can make the situation better.
Your thoughts really matter. They can either help or hurt your deep limbic system. Left unchecked, ANTs will cause an infection in your whole body system. Whenever you notice ANTs, you need to crush them or they'll affect your relationships, your work, and your entire life. First you need to notice them. If you can catch them at the moment they occur and correct them, you take away the power they have over you. When a negative thought goes unchallenged, your mind believes it and your body reacts to it.
ANTs have an illogical logic. By bringing them into the open and examining them on a conscious level, you can see for yourself how little sense it really makes to think these kinds of things to yourself. You take back control over your own life instead of leaving your fate to hyperactive limbic conditioned negative thought patterns.
Sometimes people have trouble talking back to these grossly unpleasant thoughts because they feel that such obvious age-old "truisms" simply must be real. They think that if they don't continue to believe these thoughts that they are lying to themselves. Once again, remember that to know what is true and what is not, you have to be conscious of the thoughts and have an intelligent perspective on them. Most negative thinking is automatic and goes unnoticed. You're not really choosing how to respond to your situation, it's being chosen for you, by bad brain habits. To find out what is really true and what is not, you need to question it. Don't believe everything you hear -- even in your own mind!
I often ask my clients about their ANT population? Is it high? Low? Dwindling? Or increasing? Keep control over the ANTs in order to maintain a healthy deep limbic environment. Keeping track of your thoughts and emotions through a journal created specifically to address and examine your ANTs will help you better underastand and avoid negative thinking, empowering you to take back the proverbial "remote control" of your emotions.
- Article from "How To Stop Negative Thinking" author unknown