Our brain is wired for negativity. That’s okay, that’s normal. But it needs a little updating if we want to live happier, healthier lives. In this video I walk through 3 negative thought patterns you need to stop right now and a few positive thought patterns you can replace them with.
As a stress physiologist and evolutionary biologist, it makes sense that our brain is wired for the negative. Our brains haven’t evolved much since the days of our ancestors, who lived in a far more sparse, dangerous environment than we do today. As such, our brains are wired to protect us. To always be on the lookout for the dangerous, negative things that might get us killed. It’s why snakes and spiders are always so high on the list of people’s biggest fears, despite the fact they represent a significantly lower threat to us today than they did for our ancestors. Our brains haven’t caught up to the fact that the real threats to us are cars and hamburgers (afterall, the number one cause of death globally is…heart disease). The result is that our brains stay fixated on thought patterns that might keep us “SAFE” but in reality, they are really preventing us from living fully in this modern environment.
Dr. Aaron Beck originally coined the term ANTs as an acronym for Automatic Negative Thoughts. Nearly a century later Dr. Daniel Amen has popularized this concept in his bestselling book Change Your Brain, Change Your Body. He identifies 9 types or species if you will of ANTS. I want to address 3 specific thoughts I’m fairly confident each and every one of us has thought.
You are a failure.
Ouch. And exactly where does that get us? Sitting in a corner, cross-armed, feeling bad for ourselves I suppose. ANTs don’t have any actionable course forward. But remember, they are there with good intentions. I like to start by thanking my brain for trying to protect me. Thanks brain! I know you’re just looking out for me, but just because things didn’t work out this time does not make ME a failure. I’m just not ready yet. The reframe on I’m a failure, is simply that I’m not ready yet. What’s the next thing I need to do in order to prepare myself for the next attempt. Too often we get caught up in thinking others are judging us for our attempts rather than measuring the partial successes and learnings that we have along the way. My guess is if you really thought about it, you’d recognize that your biggest failures were also accompanied by your biggest opportunities for growth, discovery and learning.
The second ANT that I hear often in my own head is “You are not worthy. You are not enough.” Ouch. I actually haven’t met a single person who doesn’t seem to have this ANT on replay in their heads. Which makes me really sad, because it means that no one has turned back to ask the ANT, for whom? For whom am I not worth or not enough? For a parent, teacher, sibling, spouse? What if you didn’t have to prove yourself? What if you could show up and GET it right rather than having to BE RIGHT all the time. Isn’t that what life is all about? And if everyone is so worried about being enough, that just means we are all suffering the same affliction….so, yeah….you are enough. Exactly as you are, right here, right now. Afterall, if we are constantly rejecting ourselves, we can’t expect others to accept us. So start with the realization that you ARE already enough and know your brain is only trying to protect you from social rejection. The good news again is that in today’s modern world social rejection or getting kicked out of the tribe only means you get to find a better tribe. It doesn’t spell DEATH like our ancient brain believes it does.
I should have exercised today
I shouldn’t have eaten all of that.
We really could SHOULD ourselves to death. When we use words like should and ought to, we are creating shame-based statements which are aimed at our core. Humans don’t do well under constant criticism so why would you allow yourself to talk like that? Try talking to yourself instead like you might talk to your best friend, by reminding yourself the great thing about WHY you “should” do that thing.
I feel great when I go for runs. I respect my body by eating what feels good. Remove the guilt and shame from those Automatic Negative Thoughts. They aren’t helping anyone!