Stop the ANTs in Your Head with These 3 Exercises
Ants are annoying. But do you know what’s even more annoying? The ANTs in your head. More specifically, the (A)utomatic (N)egative (T)houghts that run around in your head all day.
Negative thoughts are an almost inescapable part of our day-to-day lives. These are not completely useless; humans are evolutionarily wired to think about threats and risks beforehand in order to prepare for survival. The problem starts when this thought pattern outgrows its purpose and starts self-sabotaging.
Before we know it, this critic sitting in our head starts to seriously interfere with our relationships, life goals, everyday tasks, and eventually our brain’s performance.
Here are three exercises that can help you overcome negative self-talk and get these annoying (and often disabling) ANTs out of your head effectively.
Exercise 1: Answer the Critic Back
This exercise attempts to shock your bully-brain by pushing it into an unfamiliar and ‘unsafe’ territory.
- Get some paper and a pen/pencil.
- Write down, by your dominant hand, all the negative things that your brain is churning up at that moment. Write them in the second person, as if someone else is telling them to you. For example; “You are stupid”, “You are too ugly for that dress” and likewise.
- Read whatever you have written, and allow yourself to feel as miserable as you would if someone else said them to you.
- Now take the pen/pencil in your non-dominant hand and answer the “critic” back, in the strongest possible words, this time in the first person. Example: “I like that dress and I’ll wear it no matter what.” Do not hold back and write with emotion. You don’t have to think about spelling, grammar, or handwriting; you just need to vent out and let the words flow. It may seem awkward and difficult but be determined to finish answering each of your negative thoughts back.
- Now, read the negative comments and their answers together. The effort you invested to write out the rebuttals will give you an instant boost of strength and positivity.
Exercise 2: Creative Visualization
This exercise helps externalize the voices in your head by giving them a visual identity. When you are thinking of the negative self-talk as if it is coming from a different person, it becomes much easier to combat it.
- Write down the most persistent negative self-thoughts you wade through daily.
- Think about a person who would say those things to you. It might be your high school teacher, a parent, a senior in college. You might visualize a person you do not know but fits your imagination.
- Take a pencil and draw this person. It doesn’t have to be a good drawing, just a representation will do. Now write the negative phrases in speech bubbles around their head.
- Now, imagine a person you admire. It can be a supportive friend, a parent or sibling, or someone you just admire and think of as a good person. Draw them out.
- Think about the answers to those criticisms and imagine them saying those things on your behalf. Write them down, similar to step 3, in speech bubbles around this admirable and friendly person’s head.
In the moment of negative self-talk, we often feel alone and insecure. Remembering our friends and imagining them defending us is a powerful thought experiment that can bring our sense of security and confidence back.
Exercise 3: Advice Yourself as You Would Advice a Friend
If a friend is going through a period of self-doubt, we obviously don’t reinforce those beliefs. We would say everything we can to get their confidence back up, right? Do the same for yourself.
- Imagine your best friend or someone dear to you going through the situation you are in at the moment. The big project you are supposed to take on from next week, it’s actually your mum who is in that situation.
- Imagine your mum telling you all those negative things about herself that you keep telling yourself. Write them down as if your mum is saying them.
- Now think of what you would say to your mum in order to pull her out of that negative space. Write them down as answers to each of the criticizing thoughts.
This exercise uses our sense of empathy and directs it towards the inner self through imagination.
Both Exercises 2 and 3 are for long-term practices. Developing them as habits will strengthen your ability to shut off the ANTs over time. Exercise 1 is a quick fix; it works great when you are in need of some quick motivation and don’t have too much time in your hand. Try them out and let us know the results!