I had a thought. Actually, I had about 70,000 of them. Oh wait, that was just yesterday. Oh wait, that wasn't just me, that was you too. Out of those 70k thoughts, about 90% of them were repetitive, like a computer program just looping in the background. On top of that, they are also mostly negative.
But wait, you are saying, "I'm a positive person. I'm always looking on the bright side. My cup is half full." I know. Me too, but those are just our conscious thoughts. What about the programmed, unconscious ones you don't notice? As humans, we are automatically wired to have them. It's part of our survival mechanism. Without them, we could potentially miss a negative scenario that might threaten our survival.
In other words, we are wired to be alert. We are wired to keep an eye out for anything that may harm us, which used to be tigers, bears or snakes. Now, it's traffic, in-laws and money, to name a few. Our ego isn't too keen on losing it's job, so it aims to create drama. That drama can often look like a bunch of ANTS, which are basically just a pile of lies, created by negative programming, beliefs, perceptions, and traumas, big and small. Sounds a bit hopeless doesn't it? Well, it's not. You actually have much more power over it than you realize.
I recently reread a book written by Dr. Daniel Amen called, "Change Your Brain, Change Your Life." It's in this book that I learned about ANTS. Now mind you, I read this book probably 20 years ago, but it didn't "take" back then, even though I was in the thralls of depression and anxiety and looking for answers. I guess, back then, I wasn't ready. It always amazes me how things will resurface though. It's as if God sends a quiet nudge, a little reminder. "Hey, I want you to read this again." When the student is ready, the teacher will come, and, apparently, the teacher will come back if you don't quite catch it the first time. I find this to be especially good news.
So, let's dive a little deeper into exactly what ANTS are and how they affect us and our life choices. There are a total of nine ANTS. Four of them are red. I don't know how you feel about ants, but I'm not a fan. If I get one on my sandwich though, I won't waste the whole thing. I'll flick it off and move on. Now, invite a few more to the party and I'm going to reconsider. Add an army of ants to my sandwich, and I'm done. They can have it.
Now, red ants, that's a whole different scenario. It only takes one to pack a nice little sting. I don't want one, four, or 444. So, pay particular attention to the red ANTS, since they pack a bigger punch. In any case, ants can ruin a picnic, or at the very least make you move your picnic. When they start to form in your thoughts, it's not much different. They can ruin a day, a week, a month, even a life, and they will definitely start to affect your choices.
We all know how to recognize those ants at a picnic, but how do we know what ANTS are lurking in our head? They are invisible after all, which makes them more stealthy. Thankfully though, Dr. Amen has a great "Naughty Nine" list, so you know what to look for. It's the first step to uninviting them to your party.
Ant #1 - Always/Never Thinking. If you find yourself using the words, always, never, no one, everyone, every time and everything, then you have these ANTS.
- This happens to me EVERY TIME.
- This ALWAYS happens.
- NO ONE understands.
- EVERYONE is against me today.
- I can NEVER catch a break.
- EVERYTHING is going wrong.
Ant #2 - Focusing on only the negative. We all have bad days, but this red ANT makes a bad day even worse. They make sure that's all we can see. We may have just had one bad event that day, but this ANT makes sure we don't forget it. They keep our focus on that negative circumstance or event, which keeps us from seeing all the good things that happened that day also.
Ant #3 - Fortune Telling. This red ANT has you visualizing the absolute worst possible outcome. It has given you the gift of prophecy, so you are simply positive that it's going to be a bad day, or that someone is going to ruin your day, or that you will end up penniless and left for dead in the street. (Do not confuse this with intuition, which is often legitimate and warning you of danger ahead).
Ant #4 - Mind Reading. This ANT gives you the power to believe you know what others are thinking. When I was newly divorced, I was positive if I sat down alone in a restaurant, everyone around me was definitely looking at me with pity. "Ah, look at that poor woman. She's all alone. She must not have any friends." I know it's a ridiculous thought, but back then I wouldn't dream of sitting alone in a restaurant or seeing a movie by myself. Those mind reading red ANTS had overtaken my thoughts and kept me eating in my car, or somewhere else where no judging eyes could find me.
Ant #5 - Thinking with your feelings. Thoughts are just that, thoughts. They don't have to be believed. They are allowed to come and go, but when we start to think with our feelings, we BELIEVE them. If you feel ugly today, and believe it, you are going to act ugly. That may mean you will literally act out, and lash out on others, or it may simply mean that because you feel ugly, you won't interact with others, out of shame and disgust for how you feel.
Ant #6 - Guilt Beating. Using the words, should, must, ought, or have to. I shouldn't have done that. I must go work out. I have to eat a salad for lunch. Using these words means we are guilting ourselves into these activities, or beating ourselves down for past behaviors. Guilt is a very low-flying energy. It's close to the bottom, which means it's heavy and dark. It is disempowering and it will keep you small.
Ant # 7 - Labeling. Applying a label to yourself or to someone else is a dangerous thing to do. Labels stick and when they stick too long, they become an identity. Whatever follows I am, is what you become. Tell yourself "I am lazy" and if you aren't already, you will be. Tell your children they are stupid, and they will live up to it.
Ant #8 - Personalizing. Applying a personal meaning to other's behaviors will always result in trouble. People have bad days. Sometimes they don't smile back because they are stuck in their heads. They say things they shouldn't. They certainly do things that are inappropriate, but instead of taking this on as something you did, the reality is, it's on them. Believing that their lack of a smile, or eye contact has to be related to something you did is taking things personal and it's very destructive in relationships.
ANT #9 - Blaming. This is the worst of them all; the most poisonous, red ANT and boy do we do this all the time. This is a rampant ANT that is taking over our homes, our communities, our governments and our world. I've lived this one way too long. I blamed my ex-husband A LOT during our 22-year marriage. If he just would have "changed", stopped drinking, done more, then I could have been happy. I made sure he knew it too, which in retrospect, was not an effective method for change. It didn't end well. Blame didn't work, but boy did I try.
You know what did work? You are not going to like this, but the answer always comes back to you. Instead of blaming, we need to look within ourselves. That's when my life turned around and I changed. If you want to find your power, your peace, your joy, always start by looking in the mirror, which is a whole different conversation, so let's get back to handling those pesky nine ANTS.
Now that you know what they are, you need to start noticing which ones you participate in. I had them all. Yep, that's right, all of them. For a little while, I had a hate-fest on myself. "Good golly, how can you have all these stupid ANTS floating around in your head? How could you have done all this inner work and still be here with ANTS? Well, before you notice the ones you have, and then do the same thing I did, just remember, we are wired for survival. We all have these thoughts, some more than others. They aren't going away, anymore than the pesky little ants at a real picnic. So, we aren't trying to eliminate them all together. We are simply trying to learn how to minimize them and how to stop giving them power.
I decided to manage the ANTS, by sending in some more ANTS. There's power in numbers right? If I can send in an army of positive ANTS, I'm going to let them do the heavy lifting of keeping the negative ANTS at bay. Here's what that looks like:
1) Awareness - We've just done this work. You've learned what the ANTS are, so you can learn to recognize them. It's as simple as knowing the difference between a black ant and a red ant. You've been introduced to the "Naughty Nine" and now you know what to look for.
2. Notice when you are thinking with an ANT. Just notice yourself having a negative thought, and then, if you can, write it down. Writing is a great way to "download" things out of you, and it increases your awareness and memory power. It also reveals patterns. If you catch yourself using the word "should" or what I call "Shoulding all over yourself" then make a mental note, and then a written note. It's like becoming aware that there is an ant on your sandwich (before you eat it).
2) Tell it the truth. Now that you've seen that ant, it's not likely you are going to ignore it. You opened the door, and that's sorta awesome if you ask me. Now, just question it.
- Is that thought 100% true?
- Does this thought serve me or does it disempower me?
- Is there another explanation or another way to see this?
- If my best friend spoke this thought out loud to me, what would I say back?
I find a lot of these questions parallel back to the work of Byron Katie. If you are not familiar with her, I highly recommend looking her up.
3) Sass those ANTS. That's right, talk back to them. I am very good at talking back. I always have been. My parents were not fond of what they perceived as defiance, but I prefer to call it inquisitiveness. "The sass in this one is strong,"(said in my favorite Yoda voice.)
- Why should I have eaten a salad? I ate one yesterday and today I felt like eating a sandwich. It was healthy also and I enjoyed it.
- Why do you think I'm lazy? Because I sat down and read for a little? Because I watched a TV show. My body needs rest, as does my mind. I am relaxing and that doesn't make me lazy.
- How do you know what they are thinking? Maybe they are laughing at a funny joke that someone just made. You can't be sure it was about you. It probably wasn't.
A couple other helpful tips include making those ANTS, or your inner critic a person. Identify them as your evil twin, and then ask yourself if you would want to be their friend? I'm pretty sure if most of us could see our evil inner twin, they would have been put in jail long time ago. I gave my inner critic a name. Her name is Karen (I had that name before it was cool) If your name is Karen. I'm sorry. No offense intended. I am sure you are lovely. Please feel free to name your evil twin Angela.
Another tip to try is simply reframing your thoughts, especially when it comes to the should or should nots. I should exercise (paints it as a responsibility, with a touch of guilt), versus "It's important to me that I exercise, so I can remain healthy." Or, I shouldn't curse, versus "I'm not the kind of person who curses."
The bottom line is, we all have ANTS. Some of us have more than others, depending on our upbringing and traumas, but no matter what we do, as humans, we can't eliminate all of them. We simply need to recognize when they show up, keep their numbers down as much as possible, and toss a little Raid on them, in the form of truth telling and sass to get them to leave.
Don't believe every thought you have. Everything, absolutely everything, starts with a thought. When you focus on a thought (longer than 17 seconds), you start to give it power. When you give it power, it's likely you may start believing it. Once you believe it, that often puts movement or action behind it. Actions can lead to patterns and habits, which can be very hard to break. Choose which thoughts you focus on very carefully. In the end, those thoughts, and which ones you give attention to, form your life. Don't let the ANTS ruin your story, or your picnic. This is your life and it's quite simply time to take your power back.
Angela Miller is an RN and Transformation Wellness Coach. She is passionately pursuing her purpose to help others remember who they are and how to become their best self using her 4-wheeled, balanced approach system. To schedule a free consult, or for more information, visit www.soaringforward.com.