Madan Tripathy

Thoughts & thoughts, only thoughts. We think a lot. Our Mind is like a factory producing thoughts non-stop. Moreover, our mind does not often switch off or on at our sweet will. We think a lot when we are awake. Even when we sleep, our sub-conscious mind still works & thoughts pour. There is nothing unnatural about it. Yes, no human being is free or can be free from thoughts. But, where do they take us?

As discussed in another Blog “Thought Power – The Ultimate Differentiator” in this site, each such thought (positive or negative) or a conglomeration of such thoughts give rise to emotions & feelings (positive or negative), which shape our behavior and corresponding actions, which ultimately determines our success or failure. To know more, may please go through the following link

Thoughts are real

It is important to understand that thoughts are real. Once you have a thought, positive or negative, your brain releases hormones & immunologic chemicals akin to the thought. Then an electrical transmission travels across your brain, making you aware of what you are thinking. When the limbic system of the brain gets activated by the released chemical, every cell in your body gets influenced, either positively or negatively.

If you have a good, positive, pleasant, kind, confident, empowered or hopeful thought, your brain releases good hormones & helpful chemicals, which cools down your deep limbic system & your body feels good hormonally & immunologically. That is why when you are happy, your muscles relax, your hearts beat slower, your hands become dry and your breathe slower; that is a direct impact on your body reactions. Similarly, if you have a sad thought or angry thought or a cranky thought, your brain releases various stress hormones and negative chemicals resulting in activation of deep limbic system resulting in your body feeling bad and uncomfortable. Emotional upset manifests in physical symptoms like tensed muscles, headaches or stomachaches, faster heart-beats, sweating in your hands and sometimes dizziness. Your body reacts to every thought of yours.

Thoughts are very powerful

Thoughts are very powerful. Each & every cell in your body gets influenced by the thought you have. We get one thought, followed by another and then another and this continues unabated. The mind is like an infinitesimally high powered computer & keeps operating at an infinitesimally high speed. We are bombarded with thousands of these thoughts every day, on which we do not have any control at all. Most of these thoughts also come and go without being registered. But, yes, some of them, whether we like it or do not, get registered and get replayed again and again.

If the registered thoughts replayed again & again are positive thoughts, obviously nothing to worry. But, unfortunately, most of these thoughts are negative thoughts, which just refuse to leave us. This again gives rise to more such thoughts and the negative spiral continues. Thoughts also influence our choices of dealing with situations/incidents. They also shape our neurobiology – the inner circuitry that influences our energy, sleep, mood, mental focus, craving for food, weight, immunity, adrenal function and numerous other factors that have a tell-tale effect on our health.

If you are caught in negative spiral(s) like this, you stay in a state of fear, feel frustrated, become worried & agitated and your health, performance or for that matter your dealing with life in general gets adversely affected. You continue to be in a state of helplessness, where your thoughts control you.

Obviously, the solution is to convert the negative spiral to a positive spiral, which can only commence with a positive thought. Sounds easy? But, this is easily said than done, but never the less is very much possible and within our control. But, you need to work for it. There is no free lunch. Please remember we are very powerful and our mind is our best friend, if we train and utilize it properly. We have the power of interrupting the so-called negative spiral & convert it to positive spiral and make positive impact in our life.

Obviously, the first step in that direction is to be aware of such negative thoughts, what are they and how they thrive. Never under estimate your enemy. As mentioned above, most of such negative thoughts just surface without giving any warning. And the number of negative thoughts that bombard us every day is also huge. Even the most optimistic person is also bombarded with negative thoughts.

.Automatic Negative Thoughts (ANTS)

As mentioned above, most of the thoughts we have are usually negative and thoughts that that pop into our heads automatically, uninvited, like burglars. They just happen and we often do not notice them. They can be words, an image or a memory. These thoughts can be quite specific to us based on our past or present experience, knowledge, values or could be also without any specific reason. We tend to automatically believe our thoughts. But, thoughts are not necessarily true; thoughts can lie to us, unless we question their validity. Dr. Daniel G. Amen, a noted psychiatrist, physician and author, calls this type of thoughts as ANTS (Automatic Negative Thoughts). He says ANTS are "cynical, gloomy, and complaining thoughts that just seem to keep coming all by themselves". ANTS tend to turn into rumination, meaning thereby that same negative thoughts get replayed over and over again and giving birth to more ANTs.
ANTs are cancerous. They multiply very fast. ANTs are like weeds. They grow anywhere, anytime, without any nutrition whatsoever. ANTs are omnipresent. Even most optimistic persons are infected by ANTs.

Though we all have our own particular set of ANTs, there are some common type of ANTs, which we will discuss below. Of course, there could be some overlapping. But, categorization does help to understand better.

ANT 1 -“Always/never” thinking - These are most common and happens when you think in terms of either black or white, without any shade of grey. Anything less than perfect is considered a failure. If any bad thing happened, you tend thing that same bad thing will always happen. If you For example, if your boss is irritable, you might think to yourself, "He is always yelling at me," even though he yells only once in a while. But just the thought "He is always yelling at me" is so negative that it makes you feel sad and upset. Typically, words used in such thought are always, never, none, every one, every time, everything. Some examples are

i. My dad is always criticizing me & putting me down.
ii. Everyone tries to take advantage of me.
iii. My children never listen to me.
iv. Why I am always a laughing stock?
v. My colleagues never support me.
vi. My friends always try to take advantage of me

ANT 2 -Mental Filter (Focusing on the negative) – This occurs when your thoughts reflect only the negative aspects in a situation discounting all positive aspects. There is a tendency to pick up a single insignificant event, comment or experience & exaggerate the same, being oblivious of all the positives. We tend to undermine positive experiences by insisting that they “don’t count.” This is also called the “Binocular Trick.” For example, you discount all the positive comments of your boss and magnify the negatives only, telling that the positives do not count. It is not uncommon for us to have a thought like this - “I know my presentation was appreciated by the audience as it contained all the important points and articulated very well. But, it was also mentioned that some points need be evaluated in greater detail. I must have been really useless.” This is a case Mental Filter.

ANT 3- Crystal-ball gazing (Fortune-telling) – This is where you anticipate the worst possible outcome to a situation though you don’t know what will happen. Worse is not only you anticipate a bad outcome, you also believe that your prediction is an established fact. Thoughts like “I will definitely fail in the test”, “I know I will not succeed”, “My performance in the interview is going to be bad” are examples of Crystal-ball gazing. If you are going to discuss an important matter with your superior officer and you have a thought that he is going to reject your proposal, the very thought is going to make you tense. So, you are not likely to work hard enough to work out the proposal and also not likely to make enough efforts for its acceptance. The doomed failure is because of your thought for the failure. By predicting bad things, we help make them happen. These ANTs are very common and the cause of most of the stress related diseases suffered by people.

ANT 4 - Mind reading – This happens when you believe that you know what another person is thinking and it is not good. This is in spite of the fact that he has not told you. You know that you are mind reading when you have thoughts such as, "He is giving a dirty look at me. He must be angry with me”, “When I entered the hall, people raised their eyebrows. They do not like my presence.”; “My teacher did not return my wish today. She does not like me.”, are examples of Mind Reading. Mind reading is a common problem in people relationship. Even in intimate relationships, you cannot read your partner's mind. When there are things you don't understand, clarify them and stay away from mind reading ANTs. They are very infectious. You can't read anyone else's mind.

ANT 5- Emotional Reasoning (Thinking with your feelings) – This occurs when you assume that your negative emotions are reflections of the reality. You jump into conclusion that since I feel this way, this must be true. It starts with a negative feeling like anger, sadness, fear, frustration, jealousy etc. Then you believe those negative feelings and associated thoughts without even trying to question them. These are usually thoughts that start with the words “I feel”. For example, you tell yourself, “I feel depressed today, so I will not succeed in anything I do today”. Feelings are very complex and sometimes may have its root with some memories from the past. Feelings are not necessarily true; in fact they often lie to you. As such, believing the feelings and associated thoughts without questioning its validity based on logic or evidence complicates the matter.

ANT 6 - Guilt beating – Using or thinking in terms of words like should, should not, must, ought or have to etc. tend to build up guilt feeling within yourself and start to control your behavior. Guilt feeling is very powerful in making us feel bad. It is a lousy motivator and may cause you to do things you don't want to do. This consists of thoughts like I should spend more time with my family or I must re-organize my financial priorities. Such thoughts make you feel guilty & you become tense. When you direct should or must statements towards others like “My subordinate should do this & this”, or “His kids should learn how to behave with elders” etc., you feel anger, frustration and resentment. It is better to replace “guilt beatings” with phrases like “I want to do….” “It fits with my goals to do….” “It would be helpful to do…..”

ANT 7- Labeling – These are extreme forms of generalizing. Instead of describing error in a particular situation or event, you attach a negative label to yourself or to someone else. The moment you attach a label, it becomes almost impossible to take a clear or objective look at the situation. For example, if you attach a label to you and think “I am a loser”, you start believing that you will always lose, you take away control from your actions and with this defeatist attitude, you give up easily. When you give up, your labeling of yourself as “I am loser” gets strengthened and cycle continues. Examples of labeling are “He is an idiot”, “Mr. X is arrogant”, “My partner is an irresponsible person”, “My boss is always unreasonable”, “and Ms. Y is a late-comer”. Negative labels are very harmful. The moment you label someone as arrogant, you force-fit that person in your mind into the group of all those arrogant people you have ever known and become unable to deal with in a reasonable way to your satisfaction. Stay away from negative labels.

ANT 8 - Personalizing (Self-Blame) –
There are two special types of Personalizing ANTS which need be mentioned viz: - (i) The Critic & (ii) The Victim
The Critic ANT compares ourselves with others & constantly tells us that we can never be as good as someone else. Judging against others & criticizing us lowers our self-esteem, prevents us from putting our full efforts & brings us down.

The Victim Ant makes you see yourself as the cause of some unhealthy external situation that you were not actually responsible for.

It occurs when you take a seemingly innocent or innocuous event and attribute personal negative meaning to it. You may think “My boss did not talk to me today morning. He must be angry with me for the investment proposal I sent yesterday.” But, the fact could be something else, could be he is busy. “My teacher frowned when I said good morning. She hates me”. There are many reasons for other's behavior besides the negative explanations that you pick up. You never fully know why people do what they do. Try not to personalize the behavior of others.

The major reason of depression suffered by people is Self-Blame.

ANT 9 - Blaming – This is the most poisonous RED-ANT, very harmful. We fail to take responsibility for what happens to us in our life & tend to blame others for the same. The bottom-line thinking in the “blame game” goes like: “If only he/she does something different------“, “If only you act in this way -----“, “I am not responsible since ---------“, “You are at fault because ----------“etc. Many relationships have been spoiled because of Blame game. This is so important that I have written one full article devoted to this. To know more, please go through as per link provided below.

It is important to understand that there are a plethora of ANT species which infect our mind. We have described the most occurring nine species of the same. Even, there could be some overlapping between them. There are some other ANTS like “Catastrophizing”, “Jumping to conclusions”, “Dis qualifying the positives”, “Disqualifying the Present”, “Excessive Need for Approval”, “Dwelling on Pain”, “Unrealistic expectations”

Eminent Psychiatrist Dr Daniel Amen has spent a lifetime studying how thoughts influence our energy, actions, diet, appearance and the life in general. His studies have revealed that by flipping our negative thoughts to positive ones, we can transform our lives for the better. Positive thoughts and a positive attitude will help us radiate a sense of well-being. What goes on in our mind all day long determines whether our behavior is self-defeating or self-promoting.

So, we have become aware of different type of negative thoughts, the first step in the process of converting negative thoughts to positive thoughts and leading a happy & fulfilling life. In my next article, we will discuss next steps. Please wait. I will be back soon.

Author's Bio: 

Mr. Madan Tripathy is a HR professional with more than 35 years of experience. He can be contacted at