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Mindset Monday: Don’t Let ANTS Ruin Your Mental Picnic

Written by MJ Ryan, SheEO Development Guide

In addition to dealing with all the challenges in our outer world right now, most of us also has some form of negative self talk that adds an additional burden to our mental landscape. We each have our own unique negative script, but we all fall prey to our inner critic at least occasionally. And some of us can be overtaken for hours or even days. Psychiatrist Daniel Amen calls these ANTS: Automatic Negative Thoughts. I love thinking of these scripts as ants because it depersonalizes it—sometimes ants invade the mind. You are not special, weird, crazy, or screwed up because it happens to you.

This week, I thought I would focus on ideas for what to do when you notice your particular ANTS running around so that you can minimize your inner challenges and make space for all that you want to do in the world. I was inspired by a conversation I had this past week with a SheEO venture who was struggling to ask for what she needed because her ANTS were telling her asking equaled weakness that would be ridiculed. Here is what I gave her to do, which many clients have found useful. These ideas use understandings from cognitive psychology and brain science: 

  1. Planful ignoring, or what I like to call changing the channel

As soon as you notice them, distract the ANTS by immediately turning to something unrelated– speak out loud on an alternative topic, create a mental fantasy, or physically move your body. It helps if your new activity is something very emotionally engaging or interesting. The brain likes novelty and color so the more exciting and different, the more likely it will be to go with you. If that doesn’t work, try:

  1. Vigorous disputing

Argue with the ANTs. Given them concrete examples of the opposite of what they are telling you. Be as specific as possible—the brain likes evidence, not sweeping statements like, “you’re great.” Those just empower the ants to remind you of all the times and ways you are not great. Instead, if the ANTs are telling you that you are a total loser, call to mind specific times when you did well to disprove them. If they are saying you are going to fail at this presentation, remind  yourself of any time you did well on a presentation. This takes work—they don’t call it vigorous for nothing. Really come up with as many examples as you can that the ANTs are lying to you. Then go back to technique #1 and change the channel. 

Let’s use our minds for the best of what they are capable of rather than getting stuck in old, tired ANT infested picnics.

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