We all have an automatic stream of thought – an unconscious commentary of what is going on, and how we are performing compared to other people. This commentary’s often harsh and negative. For example, we criticise ourselves for not being good enough, or saying something stupid, or doing something dumb. This increases our stress levels, and lowers self esteem. Thus, we need to try and notice and interrupt these ANTS – so we break the harmful patterns that are ruining our lives. Below are some steps that can help you with this:
1. First, try to get into the habit of noticing all the different thoughts that are passing through your mind. Some of these will be neutral or positive but many will be negative and damaging. These are the thoughts that you’re going to address.
2. Next, objectively look at how you are assessing yourself, and the situation. Try and identify your internal commentary or monologue. Notice the personal attacks, negative judgments and harsh criticisms.
3. Some specific questions you could ask yourself here include: What does this stressful situation mean to me? What does it say about me as a person? What does it say about my self-esteem? What is the message it is sending about my future? What negative images or tapes are playing in my head? What am I assuming, in terms of consequences?
4. Instead of ruminating on these negative thoughts, decide to interrupt the flow by saying “STOP” out loud, or by visualising a red stop sign. Use that as a trigger to put a stop to the self criticisms.
5. At this point, you need to make a conscious effort to find something distracting to do to keep your mind off your negative thoughts. This should be something you find interesting, or something that engages your full attention. Work on finding something that’s effective for you. The crucial thing is: you need to deliberately get your mind off the patterned negative thinking track.
6. Try and come up with as many distractions as you can, so you’ve different options for resisting these ANTS. Some possibilities include: listening to music, humming along to music (or music in your head), exercising (going for a jog, cycle ride or swim), reading, surfing the internet, phoning a positive and upbeat friend, watching a funny video, playing with a pet, and so on.