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Child Psychiatrist /Adult Psychiatrist

ANTS! Automatic Negative Thoughts

Updated: Sep 15, 2023

Correcting the Automatic Negative Thoughts That Steal Your Happiness and Rob Your Joy

One of the most effective techniques we use with all patients at Amen Clinics is what we call (ANT Therapy, or learning how to kill the ANTs (automatic negative thoughts). I coined this term in the early 90s after a hard day at the office with many patients in crisis. After coming home that evening I found an ant infestation in my kitchen. Gross!! As I started to clean up the thousands of ants, the acronym came to me. I thought of my patients from that day--like my infested kitchen, my patients' brains were also infested by the negative thoughts that were robbing them of their joy and stealing their happiness. The next day brought a can of ant spray to a work as a visual aid and have been working diligently ever since to help my patients eradicate their ANTs.

Automatic Negative Thoughts

Here are the "ANT Killing" principles we use to help people feel better fast.

1. Every time you have a thought, your brain releases chemicals? That's how our brains work: you have a thought ... your brain releases chemicals . an electrical transmission goes across your brain and you become aware of what you're thinking. Thoughts are real and they have a direct impact on how you feel and how you behave.

2. Every time you have a mad thought, an unkind thought, a sad thought, or a cranky thought, your brain releases negative chemicals that make you feel bad. Think about the last time you were mad. How did you feel physically? When most people are mad, their muscles get tense, their heart beats faster, their hands start to sweat, and they may even begin to feel a little dizzy. Your body reacts to everynegative thought you have.

3. Every time you have a good thought, a happy thought, a hopeful thought, or a kind thought your brain releases chemicals that make your body feel good. Think about the last time you had really happy thought. What did you feel inside your body? When most people are happy their muscles relax, their heartbeat and breath slow. Your body also reacts to your good thoughts.

4. Thoughts are very powerful! They can make your mind and body feel good or they can make you feel bad. Every cell in your body is affected by every thought you have. That is why when people get emotionally upset they often develop physical symptoms, such as headaches or stomachaches.

5. Thoughts lie; they lie a lot, but it is your unquestioned or un-investigated thoughts that make us sad, mad, nervous, or out of control. Unfortunately, if you never challenge your thoughts you just "believe them." The negative thoughts invade your mind like ants at a picnic. One negative thought, like one ant at a picnic, is not a big deal. Two or three negative thoughts, like two or three ants at a picnic, become more irritating. And ten or twenty negative thoughts can cause real problems.

6. You can train your thoughts to be positive and hopeful or you can just allow them to be negative and upset you. Once you learn about your thoughts, you can chose to think good thoughts and feel good, or you can choose to think bad thoughts and feel lousy. That's right, it's up to you. Research has shown that positive emotionsespecially a sense of awe can reduce inflammation that will hurt your health. You can learn how to change your thoughts and change the way you feel.

Nine Different Types of ANTs (10+)

(or ways we distort reality to make it worse than it really is)

1. All or nothing thinking: thoughts that things are all good or all bad.

2. "Always" thinking thinking in words like always, never, no one, every one, every time, everything.

3. Focusing on the negative: only seeing the bad in a situation. (mental filtering)

4. Fortune telling: predicting the worst possible outcome to a situation with little or no evidence for it. ( catastrophing)

5. Mind reading: believing you know what another person is thinking even though they haven't told you.

6. Thinking with your feelings) believing negative feelings without ever questioning


7. Guilt beatings: thinking in words like "should, must, ought or have to."

8. Labeling: attaching a negative label to yourself or to someone else.

9. Blame: blaming someone else for the problems you have.

ANT Killing Exercise:

*Whenever you feel sad, mad, nervous or out of control, write down your automatic negative thoughts, label them, then talk back to them.

Here are some ANT Killing examples:


Cognitive Distortion

Species of ANT

Realistic thoughts

My wife never listens to me

Always thinking

That's just not true. She often listens to me. Today she is just distracted.

The boss doesn't like me.

Mind Reading

I don't know that for sure. Maybe she's just having a bad day. I need to talk to her.

I'm a failure.


Sometimes I fail, but I always look to learn from it.

Your thoughts matter. Kill the ANTs and train your thoughts to be positive and it will benefit your mind, mood, and body.

Kill the ANTs Worksheet:

When you notice an ANT:

1. Write it down.

2. Identify the type of ANT it is.

3. Kill the ANT by talking back to it - challenge the thought!

What's your ANT? Identify the distortion - then challenge that thought with a more realistic perspective!

Source: Amen Clinics/Dr. Aaron Beck (CBT)


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