Monday, December 30, 2013

Killing the ANTs: Automatic Negative Thoughts

No one likes to go on a picnic with a basket full of ants contaminating the food, but those of us who are afflicted with addictions have a brain teeming with ANTs of a different variety - contaminating our thoughts. We often refer to these automatic negative thoughts as “stinking thinking” but whatever you want to call them; they can fuel your addiction, make your life miserable, and keep you locked into your unhealthy ways for a very long time.

Thoughts are powerful. And, ANTs cause chemicals to be released in your brain that make you feel bad and reinforce the idea in your mind that there is no hope ... bad things happen and there is nothing you can do about it. Focusing on the terrible things that have happened and fearing what might happen is just the kind of stinking thinking that can lead you right into relapse.  

Invasion of an Army of ANTs

Automatic Negative Thoughts
To avoid risking your sobriety, you need to recognize the most dangerous, combative ANTs. Do you consistently focus on the negative aspects of situations and totally ignore the positive? Do you over generalize by saying things like “I’ll never be able to stay sober?” These kinds of statements instil in your mind that you have no control and aren’t able to make changes. And if you are someone who looks at everything as black and white or good or bad with nothing in between…this just isn’t reality.

Another unsafe ANT is having a feeling about something and assuming your feeling is always correct. You need to realize that feelings can lie, and thinking “I feel like a total screw up” will just sabotage your recovery. As will judging and labeling yourself or other people by thinking “He’s a jerk,” and “I’m a loser.”

Do you attempt to predict the future?  For example, when the thought that you will never stay sober is imbedded in your mind, you won’t work as hard to stay in recovery.  This ANT is the “self-fulfilling prophesy” at its worst.

And probably the most harmful ANTs are blame and denial.  When you blame others for your troubles, you become a victim and convince yourself that you can’t change your situation since it is really someone else’s fault.  

Counter Attack with ANT Traps

The good news is... when you stop believing your own addictive thinking and start focusing on hopeful, positive thoughts; chemicals in your brain are released that make you feel good.  And, the feel good thoughts can help keep you away from drugs and alcohol and prevent a relapse. This is backed by scientific evidence ... so don’t go thinking, “no way, this won’t work for me.”

Here’s what you need to do if you want to trap and kill these wretched ANTs.

  1. First you need to catch them in the act.
  2. Then, by writing the negative thought down on paper, you will take it out of your head and rob it of its power.
  3. And, every time you challenge an ANT by turning it into a positive thought, you are gaining control over your thinking and replacing a negative pattern with a positive one that can lead you to a sober and happy life.


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