One of the concepts I loved from this book is the idea of killing ants, not the little critters that love attending your picnics but Automatic Negative Thoughts or ants for short.
Sometimes people get stuck in negative thought patterns. The more the negative thoughts come up, the harder it becomes to think positively because the neural pathways in our brains actually become rewired to allow easier negative thinking!
The good news is that the reverse is also true, the more we practice positive thinking the better our brains become at recognizing the good things around us and reacting positively.
Dr Amen has a really great section in his book about recognizing “ants” and squashing them, but today I am talking about becoming a bit more APT (Automatic Positive Thinking) in your life.
This deceptively simple practice means you interrupt negative thoughts and replacing them with positive ones. Practice is the key, the more you practice the easier it becomes.
Automatic Positive Thinking
When you feel bad because _________ (fill in the blank with whatever is happening, for example everyone around you seems to be grouchy, or the kids didn’t do the vacuuming, whatever is “bugging” you)
- Ask your self is that thought ABSOLUTELY true? For example, is EVERYONE grouchy, or can you think of one person that was not grouchy? This helps you to gain a bit of objectivity as it questions the validity of the negative thought.
- Find SOMETHING positive about the situation, it doesn’t matter how small or big, or even silly for that matter. For example, you know that if you remind your kid he/she will do the vacuuming. So you could tell yourself “I’m glad I only have to remind him about the vacuuming and I don’t have to do it myself.”
Now this is where the mini meditation comes in
Find one small positive thing to focus on and spend just a minute or two appreciating it. Honestly, that is all there is to it. Say for example it’s raining and you are waiting impatiently in your car for your spouse to get back from a quick trip into the grocery store. Take that time to notice (and choose to enjoy) the sound of the rain on the roof, the way it cascades down the windshield, the clean fresh smell in the air. Imagine that everything about it is good and any time a negative thought pops up tell yourself “Right now I am just enjoying this.”
An example of interrupting automatic negative thinking –
When my father was in the hospital. I was wrapped up in pain, grief and anxiety but as I walked out of the hospital I noticed how beautiful the frost on the ground was with the street lights glinting off it. I heard myself thinking “What is wrong with you? being happy about something like that when your father is dying?!” A classic case of stinking thinking!
Thankfully, I realized that I needed a break from the the pain so I focused on the beauty of the frost for a few minutes. That small break, it couldn’t have been more than 3 minutes, removed me from the negative spiral I was in and helped me to regain emotional balance for a few hours.
To your health!