By Corby D Meyer, LPC
What do you know about ants? I bet you’re thinking of the pesky, small creatures who are constantly working and occasionally spoiling your picnics. That’s not the kind I’m talking about though.
I’m talking about A.N.T.s or Automatic Negative Thoughts. I learned about it at a recent counselor conference I attended. The presenter offered a traditional behavioral theory that focused on activating events triggering automatic negative thoughts. The premise being that we can combat these A.N.T.s, thus changing our experiences. Because these responses are automatic, we do not understand that our negative thoughts are transforming into negative experiences.
I was reminded of Dr. Glasser’s ideas regarding behavior. First is the premise that all behavior is total and comprised of the four component parts: acting/thinking/feeling/physiology. The second is his explanation of organizing and reorganizing behaviors. All behavior starts out as reorganizing or creative behaviors. But after we’ve done the same thing over and over and over again, it becomes organized, habitual, or some might say automatic. So when my presenter described “automatic thinking patterns” it reminded of Choice Theory psychology and how it describes organized habits that include thinking and the other three components of behavior.
The major difference between A.N.T.s and ideas from Choice Theory psychology is the A.N.T.s notion of Activating Events—the idea that something external to us can trigger our thoughts or actions. Choice Theory psychology explains that the event, our belief about the event, our thoughts, feelings, physiology and actions about the event are all happening inside us. We are internally motivated and controlled. The outside world, including any Activating Event, simply gives us information. How we interpret it or what we believe about it comes from our internal organized behaviors.
The next time you find yourself unhappy, discouraged, or angry about something, stop and examine your thoughts, beliefs and feelings. Whether you start changing your A.N.T.s or simply questions your beliefs and assumptions, you have the power to change your experience with all of the constant information you receive from the world. With some effort, you too might use the industrial focus of ants and change your negative experiences into more neutral or positive ones.