by: Daniel G. Amen, M.D.
Our overall mind state has a certain tone or flavor based largely on the types of thoughts we think. When the deep limbic system is overactive, it sets the mind’s filter on “negative.” If you could look into the thoughts of people who are depressed, you would find one dispiriting thought following another. When they look at the past, there is regret. When they look at the future there is anxiety and pessimism. In the present moment, something is most often unsatisfactory. The lens through which they see themselves, others, and the world has a dim grayness to it. They are suffering from Automatic Negative Thoughts, or ANTs. ANTs are cynical, gloomy, and complaining thoughts that just seem to keep coming all by themselves.
ANTs can cause people to be depressed and fatalistic, which have a profound impact on their lives. “I know I won’t pass that test on Tuesday.” This kind of thinking makes for a self-fulfilling prophecy: if they’ve already convinced themselves they won’t pass, they won’t study very hard and they won’t pass the test. This type of thinking severely limits a person’s ability to enjoy his or her life because how one thinks on a moment-to-moment basis plays a large role in how one feels and how one conducts one’s affairs. If you are depressed all the time, you don’t expect good things to happen so you don’t try very hard to make them happen. The internal distress from melancholy thinking can make you behave in ways that alienate others, thus causing you to isolate yourself further. On the other hand, positive thoughts and a positive attitude will help you radiate a sense of well being, making it easier for others to connect with you. Positive thoughts will also help you be more effective in your life. So, as you can see, what goes on in your mind all day long can determine whether your behavior is self-defeating or self-promoting.
Here are some examples of typical ANTs (automatic negative thoughts):
“You never listen to me.”
“Just because we had a good year in business doesn’t mean anything.”
“You don’t like me.”
“This situation is not going to work out. I know something bad will happen.”
“I feel as though you don’t care about me.”
“I should have done much better. I’m a failure.”
“You’re late because you don’t care.”
“It’s your fault.”
Daniel G. Amen, M.D. is an award winning physician, psychiatrist, best-selling author, international speakers, and brain enhancement expert. He is the founder and medical director of the world renowned Amen Clinics, Inc. Dr. Amen educates companies, organizations, and individuals on the importance of brain health and the impact of the brain on every aspect of life. The host of 5 highly successful PBS programs and a frequent radio and TV guest, Daniel is the author of 29 books, including 4 New York Times best-sellers.