I can’t even count how many times I’ve told myself, my husband, or my friends that I felt “fat, lazy, and unaccomplished.” After each time I said this, they would roll their eyes and walk away. I never understood why they would act that way. After all, that’s how I felt! Show some empathy!
It wasn’t that they didn’t care. It wasn’t that they wanted to hurt my feelings. They just heard words come out of my mouth, that were totally untrue, and figured I knew that they were untrue, too. At the time, I didn’t. I had such a distorted vision of myself.
We can be cruel to ourselves. We can say negative things to ourselves that we would NEVER say to another person. It’s crazy what horrible things we can have spin around in our thoughts day after day. We only have one body, one time on earth, so why fill it with negative emotions, doubts, and actions.
Since I work primarily with women in my practice, I see these negative feelings, body image distortion, and self-doubt occur almost daily. The thing is, no magic pill or potion will get you out of this mind mess. It all comes down to you! You have to want to free yourself from these thoughts.
Here’s where the work of Byron Katie and Dr. Daniel Amen comes in. I was reading about Automatic Negative Thoughts in a book by Dr. Daniel Amen. It really resonated with me and I knew it would help the women I consulted. These are some of the strategies that I now use when these thoughts come to mind. They really, really help.
There are a couple types of ANTs (automatic negative thoughts). These include:
- “Always” thinking: thinking in words like always, never, no one, every one, every time, everything.
- Focusing on the negative: only seeing the bad in a situation.
- Fortune telling: predicting the worst possible outcome to a situation.
- Mind reading: believing that you know what another person is thinking, even though they haven’t told you.
- Thinking with your feelings: believing negative feelings without ever questioning them.
- Guilt beatings: thinking in words like should, must, ought or have to.
- Labeling: attaching a negative label to yourself or to someone else.
- Personalization: innocuous events are taken to have personal meaning.
- Blame: blaming someone else for your own problems.
Here are some examples of typical ANTs:
- “You never listen to me.”
- “You don’t like me.”
- “I feel fat.”
- “This situation is not going to work out. I know something bad will happen.”
- “You don’t care about me.”
- “I should have done much better. I’m a failure.”
- “I can’t do it.”
- “I am not doing enough.”
Can you see how these types of thoughts are very limiting? If you’re constantly focusing on these thoughts, you will not be able to break free and really enjoy all that life has to offer. The problem is not only the thought, but what the thought can do to your entire physiology! Every time you have a thought (good or bad), your brain releases chemicals that communicate those thoughts throughout your body. They can send warnings of “fight or flight” or “safety and content.” Think about how your body tenses up when you feel nervous or mad. On the other hand, when you are feeling secure in your body and have positive thoughts, you tend to glow! Ever since I started changing my thoughts and beliefs about my body and started nourishing my body with healing foods, I’ve had such a bright glow. I notice I am way more fun to be around when I am not stressed- at least I think so 😉
In fact, for my pregnant women, these thoughts are even MORE important. You want your baby to come into this world with a background of love and safety, not negative judgement and fear. Sounds a little hippy- but it’s true.
So how do we change our behaviors and get rid of these nasty ANTs?
1. Become aware: When you notice yourself engaging in a negative thought, train yourself to recognize it and write it down. You take away the ANTs’ control when you identify it and face it head on!
2. Ask yourself these four questions by Byron Katie:
1) Is the thought true? (Yes or no, if no move to #3).
2) Can you absolutely know that it’s true? (Yes or No).
3) How do you react, what happens, when you believe that thought?
4) Who would you be without that thought?
So, let’s say that your thought is, “I feel fat.”
#1 Ask yourself, is the thought true? Are you significantly overweight or are you normal weight? Many times, women are just fighting over those last “10-15 lbs” that are perfectly healthy for their body.
#2 Have you gotten your body fat tested to make sure your weight gain is actually fat and not muscle? Do you have clinical proof?
#3 Ask yourself, what happens and how do you react when you believe that thought?You probably feel disempowered, depressed, and/or unworthy of something.
#4 Ask yourself, who would you be without that thought? You might feel like you’d be free of judgement, happier, or more self expressed if you didn’t think that way.
Second Step After The 4 Questions: THEN, follow-up with a “turn around.”
A turn around is the “opportunity to experience the opposite of what you originally believed.”
For example, your “I feel fat” thought could be that you are just feeling overwhelmed or you realize that you haven’t been able to take as good of care of yourself as you’d like. Maybe your clean eating has slipped because you are putting in more hours at work or forgot how good it feels to workout. Maybe you are feeling sad about something, but have suppressed that feeling and now it is showing up as “feeling fat.”
Third Step After The “Turn Around”: Embracing Reality
Now, look at your turn arounds and figure out what you can do to take action.
For example, “I am willing to batch cook on Sundays, so I will have plenty of clean food for the week.” Or, “I look forward to making fitness a part of my schedule at least three days per week.”
So there you have it! A few practical steps to transform your negative thoughts into rational, actionable items. This takes practice, but with time you will be free of judgement and constant criticism.
Now’s your turn! What do you think of these strategies? Will they help you get your mind right? Please comment below!