By Andy Barker and Beth Wood, are the founders of Mind Fitness – a personal training programme for your mind. authors of, Unlock You which is out now, priced £12.99, published by Pearson. To find out more go to.
Are ANTs infesting your career? How to get rid of automatic negative thoughts
What are ANTs and how are they infesting our minds, our careers and our lives?
I expect you don’t have to search too hard for the last time that you thought about something troublesome; without being aware of it happening that negative thought led to another, which led to another and so on. Before you know it you have gone down a spiral of automatic negative thoughts, you have lost a considerable amount of time and you are awash with negative emotions. At Mind Fitness we call these automatic negative thoughts ANTs.
Scientists believe that we have between 20,000 and 60,000 thoughts a day and only about 5% of these thoughts are spent on the task in hand. The rest is Noise, and a good deal of that is infested with ANTs. We have a tendency to dwell on the past and to replay situations in our mind that cannot be changed. We also spend a vast amount of time we spend worrying about the future, or more accurately potential futures. Both of these make ripe pickings for the ANTs, so learning to bring your thoughts back to the present and deal with the problem that is really on the table is a key skill. Many top business leaders are building mindfulness practise into their daily lives.
We use a range of mindfulness exercises, visual, aural, physical, kinesthetic and creative. One really quick exercise that is very popular is NOW.
It is the mnemonic of now, so it’s very easy to remember.
N – Notice – just glance around and notice one thing that you can see.
O – Observe – bring close attention to the object that you have chosen, Observe it in detail.
W – Wonder – bring a spirit of curiosity to the object. A negative thought cannot co-exist with positive engaged interest.
Another key ANT repellent is dealing with the Thinking Errors or cognitive bias that we all fall prey to more often than we’d like to admit. Thinking Errors are strong habitual patterns of thought that will feel to you right and normal but are in fact based on false logic. These will be acting like ANT magnets, leading you down the rabbit hole. To make things worse the bias becomes stronger in times of crisis, so it is when you have a difficult situation that needs sorting, a deadline looming or a conflict that has to be resolved, that it can cause you to self-sabotage.
Thinking Errors happen because our brain takes short cuts when it searches for information, and in doing so it trips us up. For example availability bias means that we will accept as true the ideas, opinions, ‘facts’ that we encounter most often. This is proving to be a real problem in the age of social media, where, if we are not extremely careful, the plural of anecdote becomes data.
is a long list that we go through in our programme; these are two that often result in a spiral of automatic negative thoughts. Emotional Reasoning is the assumption (often unconscious) that whatever we have an emotional response to must be true. Because we are investing that ‘truth’ with a strong emotion our thoughts move easily down the ANT spiral of ‘how’ ‘why’ and ‘what if.’
The same can happen with Personalisation, where we see ourselves as the cause of events that are far bigger than us, or see ourselves as the victim in situations in which our role is actually insignificant. A classic example is someone declaring ‘It’s me innit! The trains I want to go on are always late!’ Personalisation is a thinking error that pulls in some of the most negative ANTs because they are often bound up in negative self-talk. It is probably not a surprise that most of us can be far harsher on ourselves in our criticism and condemnation than we would ever be to anyone else. To coax yourself out of personalisation write out a personalising statement, for example ‘The train I am on is bound to be late’ and then follow it with a counter-statement ‘The train I am on is no more likely to be late than any other.’ And never allow yourself to attribute more than 25% of the blame or causation to any one person or event (including you!)
Learn to recognise the onset of the ANTs and be strict about doing a quick exercise to keep them at bay. You can come back to deal with the problem or issue afterwards, using your conscious problem-solving skills. Addressing the infestation of ANTs will give you back a whole lot of time you would otherwise have spent away from your ‘desk’ and your ‘task’ in the negative spiral, and will have a strong and positive impact on concentration and performance.
Unlock You is out now, priced £12.99, published by Pearson. To find out more go to: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Unlock-You-confident-happy-minutes/dp/1292251123