Thought habits create the thought worms that feed our stress and drain our energy. Automatic thinking costs less energy in the short run–it follows energy-efficient pathways, well-worn ruts, in the brain’s neural network. But like many apparent bargains, it can cost us far more in the long run–energy, creativity, brilliance, health, and happiness. Learning to identify our habitual patterns gives us the opportunity to mindfully choose the thoughts that will more effectively serve our purpose and save our energy.
“The greatest weapon against stress is our ability
to choose one thought over another.” -William James
1. Automatic Negative Thoughts- In Change Your Brain, Change Your Life, I love how Daniel Amen, MD refers to these as “ANTs” you don’t want to invite to the picnic in your brain. In fact, evolution has hardwired our brains to scan for negative possibilities and threats–this has saved our “you know whats”! Many of us even have careers that reward our ability to find the problem, the possible threat. But… most of us have over-practiced this skill to the point we don’t realize how often and how globally our internal dialogue is stuck in the negative zone. We may recognize the curmudgeonly “The problem with that is…” member of the group, but we don’t notice how frequently we are running our own negative track–especially about ourselves.
These automatic negative thought streams are like leaky washers in our energy system, constantly draining our energy, brilliance and happiness. When we are tired, they really kick in to conserve our energy. And even many “glass-half-full” optimists still have subjects or situations that trigger their cynical, gloomy tracks. Can we be Pollyanna across the board? No!! Fake positivity and denial are just as dangerous as negativity, but we can begin to observe if our go-to thoughts might be cheating us out of less stressful, more generative perspectives.
What areas of life, what circumstances trigger your ANTs?
What if you chose a new inner dialogue?
Contributed by AIS Fellow and Chairman of the Workplace Stress Board, Cynthia Ackrill, M.D.