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Do You Have an “ANT” Infestation? How to Deal with Automatic Negative Thoughts

How do you deal with negative thoughts and limiting beliefs?

Are you aware of your self-talk and thinking patterns?

Many people suffer from an ANT infestation, which stands for Automatic Negative Thoughts. Our self-talk is often automatic and can be difficult to notice. We go through life making decisions and behaving based on these automatic thoughts, and instead of controlling what we think about, our thoughts control us.

The thoughts than run our life are often self-defeating, irrational, and simply not true. Negative self-talk leads us to believe we must be perfect, that we’re helpless, or that we’re a victim. If we’re not careful negative self-talk will lead to anxiety, worry, and depression.

You can learn to identify your ANTs and begin to separate and rationalize your negative thoughts before reacting to them.

Four types of ANTs

The worrier

Do you ever think, “What if something bad happens?” Worrying promotes anxiety and tends to magnify problems. If you’re always focusing on and preparing for all the bad things that “could” happen it makes it very difficult to have any joy in life. Remember that 95% of what we worry about never comes true, so if you’re going to use your imagination to tell stories, you might as well make them positive.

The critic

The critic is our ANT that tells us we will never be as good as someone else and that we might as well quite. When we judge and criticize ourselves it leads to a sense of low self-worth and we tend to ignore the positive traits we all have. Be careful not to always compare yourself to others, and be willing to cut yourself some slack and validate how you feel.

The victim

When you encounter an obstacle do you believe you can make progress, or does it seem too difficult to work through? We have all played the role of victim in our life. It comes out during those times when we feel helpless and out of control about something. It’s easy to tell ourselves “I can’t do this!” Playing the victim role can lead to feelings of depression because we feel hopeless and incapable of making change.

The perfectionist

Are you good enough? Have you achieved enough? This ANT is always pushing you to do more and do it better. The perfectionist is never satisfied and always expects more. This is the voice that tells you you’re no good when you get second place instead of first, or you get a 95% instead of 100%. The perfectionist ANT leads to burnout and chronic stress, and will always steal your happiness despite wonderful achievements.

Learn to question your negative thoughts.

It’s time to terminate these ANTs and replace them with positive supportive statements. You can learn to take a step back, rationalize, and create effective mental habits.

You are going to be attached to these thoughts, but you must realize that despite how attached you feel, the validity of these thoughts are based on how they hold up under scrutiny.

Develop some counter statements that can offer a more realistic and empowering perspective.

If you notice any of these ANTs infesting your life, ask “What is the evidence for this?” Develop a counterstatement that can help you bring your thinking to a more rational place. One where you know you can handle it and that you’re good enough.

The negative statements from the worrier, critic, victim, and perfectionist have little basis in reality. Once you can discredit these ANTs you can begin to incorporate more positive and supportive statements.

Develop mindfulness

Anytime you are feeling vulnerable or stressed it can impact how you respond and what you think about.

So, developing greater self-awareness will help you to recognize what’s leading to negative self-talk and help you stay focused and present in order to manage these thoughts.

Mindfulness is being fully aware of what is happing internally with our mind and body, and externally in our environment. In essence, it is as if we are stepping outside of ourselves and becoming an objective observer of our self and surroundings.

Learning to develop mindfulness of thought is a little more advanced stage of mindfulness practice, though when you’re able to do so, it offers a chance to gain greater awareness and simply experience our thoughts without having to react emotionally.

As you begin to direct your attention to the thought processes taking place you will see how quickly your thoughts and feelings shift from one moment to the next.

We often live such busy lives we don’t pay attention to the signs of our emotional response.

Ask yourself:

What was going on in the environment?

What were you thinking? Did you have worry thoughts?

What were you feeling?

What were your actions?

Paying attention to the feeling or the valence of our emotions can be a great signal into the type of thoughts you are having. Do you feel positive or negative? Is what you’re feeling pleasant or unpleasant?

When you feel unpleasant don’t get caught up in this. You can relax and step back instead of unconsciously brooding in this state. You can simply acknowledge how you feel and bring your attention back to your body or breath.

You can begin to go below the surface of the tumultuous waves of the mind, where there are calm waters, and develop peace and serenity by learning to be in control of your mind as opposed to the mind controlling you.


Joe is an personal development and career coach who manages the blog Shake off the Grind, where he helps people find success through the up’s and downs of life. You can also find Joe on Twitter.

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17 Responses to Do You Have an “ANT” Infestation? How to Deal with Automatic Negative Thoughts

  1. Awesome article! Negative emotions can often overpower us and dominate our daily activity. I have seen people allow the mental infestation practically destroy them. Love your applications!

  2. Quang says:

    Great article! After reading this, I realized that I’d always been infested by these ANTs. You’re right, it’s time for me to reexamine my negative thoughts ’cause being happy or miserable, success or failure in life depend on this. I’ve been always buying the philosophy ‘Our lives are shaped by our thoughts’. Now I think I should add a little bit to this saying: Our lives are shaped by our thoughts. So, we’d better make them positive. Thank you so much for this wonderful article!!!

  3. Champ says:

    Thanks Joe for the post ! You have explained in very simple way.

    Whenever i came across situation where I have to look for another job – I always get worried and that really do not help but this time I lost the job but I did not allow negative thought to dominate my mind but I kept on finding way by which I can get better job so I decided to study and give kind of certification exam in aug-11 – which will help me in my future jobs.

    Also I am doing sports to keep myself fit and positive


  4. Rahul says:

    Great points you raise here Joe!
    So few of us realize the immense power of thoughts. It can raise us to great heights. But if we can’t control it, it can cripple our psyche.
    Mindfulness is a great way to tackle this problem. May I suggest journal writing and meditation to readers to develop it.
    Sitting down in the evening and analyzing how our feelings arose, how we responded to situations during the day and how can we better respond, is very powerful in developing mindfulness over time.
    Meditation is an instant way of experiencing mindfulness. Done regularly, it makes it easy for us to stay mindful in distress.
    The idea of positive counter thoughts is great. Let me add an example to support that, a rolled paper cannot be set straight by just holding it on a plane surface, it has to be rolled the other way. Positive counter thoughts do the same to negative thoughts.
    Thanks again for the reminders.
    Take care.

  5. Patrick says:

    Great post Joe! You’ve explained in a very simple way how a lot a people are thinking and feeling.

    I know a lot of person who think like that they are never good enough, or they feel like they can’t do half of what other people are doing. However, every person can change and every person can become a better person and have a better life if they whant to.

    Every positive change comes with a lot of work and we need to be ready to do this work if we want to achieve a better life.

  6. Denny says:

    Your insight of ‘ant’ is interesting!

    Dealing with negativity is indeed tough. My motto whenever I think of it is, what can you do about it? Nothing! Why not think about the good things where you feel good and positive? At least for the time being, you aren’t feeling stressed out.

  7. I have been doing this for a couple of months. The toughest thing is to stop when a negative thought happens. So I need more self-awareness, but it does take a lot of practice.

    Questioning the thought is the best way of diffusing the negative thought pattern. However, one has to be consistent.

    I’m glad that I ran across the article, because I still have problems stopping whenever I’m thinking negative. I just don’t notice it. Practicing positive thinking is easy to do, but stopping negative thinking is very hard and takes a lot of practice.

  8. I have found that mindfulness works the best. When I notice that my self-talk is going south I take the cue to relax my body and my breathing and maybe stop what ever it is that I am doing.

  9. Ken Wert says:

    In education, we call this metacognition, thinking about how we think. It not only helps us recognize how we learn best (education), but allows us to recognize the source of our negative internal dialogues as well. It’s only after recognizing where it’s all coming from that we have something concrete to aim at.

    Thanks for the great post!

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  11. shivakumar says:

    Superb article.swami vivekananda told you are product of what you think,so always have good and positive thoughts in your mind.Thanks for a great words..

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  15. Rishi_083 says:


    It cleared most of my doubts. Thank you :)

  16. Razielsrevenge says:

    Easier said than done. Try talking back to the beast in MY head. Your little positive rant here would blow away like a fart in the wind.

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