Are 9 Species Of ANTs Keeping You From Your Dream?

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Catherine Hughes

Director of the 8 Women Dream Project at 8 Women Dream
Catherine’s dream is to make 8 Women Dream the premier online publication for women looking to pursue their dreams. She is a published author, a freelance writer, and a guide for those who want their dreams to come true online. Catherine would someday like to be invited to speak at TED about her observations about her 8WD project inviting women to take a chance on their dreams. Wine was required... Catherine posts on Sunday evenings and fills in dream stories as needed. If you aren't sure how to comment on this story, click here.

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The foolish reject what they see, not what they think; the wise reject what they think, not what they see.

I wonder how many years spent in a meditative state did it take the Chinese master of Zen Buddhism, Huang Po to discover what I did when my thyroid stopped working:

You are not what you think, and quite often what you think is wrong.

Incorrect thinking can get in the way of your life and your dreams.

Until I had my epiphany in the middle of my thyroid hell, this concept was completely lost on me.

There I was, the proud single mother of this terrific kid, self-employed and living life on my terms.

Sure I thought my ex-husband was a bit of a pain, but as far as I could see this was normal for divorced people.

For all its difficulties I liked my life . . . a lot.

So you can imagine my dismay, when one morning, after yet another night of restless sleep (where I’d slept for two hours, then been awake for two – a process that had been going on for weeks on end) I found myself laying with my face cupped in my hands, rocking side to side atop my soft down pillows.

I was thinking, “I just can’t do this. It’s just too hard and I’m so exhausted. I’d just like to go to sleep


n o t

w a k e

u p.”

I sat straight up in bed. What in the hell?

For the first time in my life I faced the realization that my thoughts can be wrong – utterly and completely – dead wrong.

I knew in my heart how much I loved my son and how much I still wanted to do with my life. So why was I thinking these crazy thoughts of wanting to sleep for a very long time?

I was smart enough to call my doctor, and upon careful examination, he surmised either I was suffering from sleep apnea or my thyroid was sick.

It turned out to be the latter.

Once I was able to sleep again and began taking thyroid medicine, all thoughts of wanting to become Rip Van Winkle and sleep for 20 years disappeared.

I will never again trust my thoughts – alone – especially the ones that are negative.  I will never forget that day in bed. I knew the thoughts running through my head weren’t correct.  I was fortunate enough to understand those thoughts didn’t align with my life.

But what if you didn’t know this?

How would you know they were wrong thoughts?

What if you are letting those wrong thoughts stop you from going after your dream?

Dr. Daniel G. Amen, Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychiatry and Human Behavior at the University of California, Irvine School of Medicine has been studying brain behavior and has identified 9 “species” of Automatic Negative Thoughts which he calls ANTs.

He concludes that these types of thoughts are automatic, incorrect, and they severely limit a person’s ability to enjoy his or her life.

They are –

1. Always or Never Thinking.
This happens when you think something that happened will “always” repeat itself. You can recognize it with negative thoughts which start, “This always happens to me,” or “I never get . . .”

2. Focusing on the Negative.
This occurs when your thoughts only see the bad in a situation and ignore any of the good parts that might happen. These can occur in situations where you feel you did a great job at something, you receive tons of positive feedback and then one person says something negative and all you can think about is what the one person said over everything else.

3. Fortune Telling.
This is where you predict the worst possible outcome to a situation. Sometimes you can even make the worst happen by thinking this way.

4. Mind Reading.
This happens when you believe that you know what another person is thinking even when they haven’t told you. I like what Dr Amen says here, “Please don’t read my mind, I have enough trouble reading it myself!” These are the thoughts when you think someone is mad at you, but really that person is thinking about a problem they are having in their life, or is worried about something that has absolutely nothing to do with you.

5. Thinking With Your feelings.
This occurs when you believe your negative feelings without ever questioning them. Can you imagine where I’d be today if I hadn’t questioned those thyroid thoughts that had me cupping my face with my hands? I also love what Dr Amen says here and I think we should all put this on our refrigerators, “Feelings are not about truth. They are about feelings!”

6. Guilt Beatings.
Guilt beatings happen when you think with words like “should, must, ought or have to.” These are the thoughts that keep you from the life you dream.

7. Labeling.
Attaching a negative label to yourself or to someone else with words like jerk, frigid, arrogant, dumb, cold, bitch, lazy and irresponsible. This type of thinking builds fences between you and people who just might help you.

8. Personalization.
Personalization occurs when innocuous events are taken to have personal meaning. Someone you know passes you in the store without saying hi and you think they are snubbing you when in actuality they were so deep in thought that they didn’t notice you.

9. Blame.
When you blame something or someone else for the problems in your life, you become a victim of circumstances and you cannot do anything to change your situation.

Dr Amen advises whenever you notice an ANT entering your mind, train yourself to recognize it and write it down. When you write down automatic negative thoughts (ANTs) and talk back to them, you begin to take away their power and gain control of your moods.

An example of this might be – you think someone looked at you in a way that makes you think the ANT thought, “She doesn’t like me!”

You write this ANT thought down and then argue against it with written statements like, “She was tired. She was thinking of something bad that happened in the past. She was worried she looked fat. She was hot and uncomfortable. She was hungry and had low blood sugar. She wasn’t feeling well. She was constipated.”

From doing this exercise you should be able to see that your ANT thought is more wrong than it is true.

To further quote Dr Amen, “ANTs have an illogical logic. By bringing them into the open and examining them on a conscious level, you can see for yourself how little sense it really makes to think these kinds of things to yourself. You take back control over your own life instead of leaving your fate to hyperactive limbic conditioned negative thought patterns.”

Your thoughts really do matter.

They can either help or hurt your big dream efforts. Left unchecked, Automatic Negative Thoughts will affect your dearest relationships, your life’s work, your successes and ultimately your entire life.

Work to kill your ANTs before they crawl all over your dream and haul it off to some ANT farm where you will never see it again.

And wouldn’t that be the biggest dream tragedy of all?


Catherine’s dream is to be a motivator and published writer. She is testing her theories on motivation with this blog and the seven other women who have volunteered to be a part of her dream project. Catherine also writes about her life as a mom at the blog A Week In The Life Of A Redhead. Someday, she would also like to be invited to speak at TED as the next Erma Bombeck. Catherine posts Sunday nights.

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  • Catherine, Site Admin

    And Toni and Laurie – where would I be without you two always negating any ANTS that might appear with your humor, dancing and fun.

    You both make my day every time I see you.


  • Toni Schram

    I say Amen to Dr. Amen!

    I need to banish a few of these negative thoughts from my brain.

    You were a smart cookie to go to the doctor and have yourself checked out to discover it was your thyroid and not your brain.

    Hey, where would we be, if we didn’t have our fearless


  • Laurie

    This is some good shit. I worked with Dr. David Reynolds and the one thing that stuck with me like glue and I mean I say it several times a day. Ready….”You are not responsible for your thoughts and feelings, you are responsible for your behavior.” Love this! Also in Nia you work with energy allies. Don’t Assume Anything and Don’t Take Anything Personally, Always do your Best and Speak With Impecability. Oh yea, easier said than Done. I see you’ve been practicing Cath.
    Big Love, Laurie

  • Rayne

    I’m going to remember this ANTS list thingie! This is a wonderful post. Thanks!

    • Catherine, Site Admin

      You are welcome ;-)

  • Heather, the e-commerce builder

    Cath – I love the “always” and “never” qualifiers. The good news is that I’ve moved those from major events like “I’ll never get that job” to much smaller impact scenarios “I always pick the wrong line at the store”

    The ANTs are still in there, so here’s to complete elimination!

    Thanks hon – Heather

    • Catherine, Site Admin

      Were working it and we’ll get there – thanks for your comment Mrs Multiple Streams of Income.

      I can’t think of anyone more positive than you and Miss Laurie . . . okay Lisa too.

  • Veronica

    I am so grateful for having you in my life.

    • Catherine, Site Admin

      Thank you Veronica ;-) Can’t wait to meet your man ;-)

  • Mariska Smith

    I am terrible with number 5- Thinking With Your feelings. I feel something negative and then think it is right, only to find out I was wrong and usually people get hurt and I lose friends. I wrote down “Feelings are not about truth. They are about feelings” and put it in my wallet. Thanks you for this post. M

  • Hal

    Nice post. I recognize some of these voices in my head. Great to know I’m not the only one!

  • Remy, the photographer

    With all of the ANTs a quick way to center yourself is asking the questions..not assuming anything. The writing is a great exercise too. Very thoughtful post – thank you for letting us in, to learn and grow with you.
    I really want to nap. lol Rem

    • Catherine, Site Admin

      Thank you Miss Remy. You should be resting that broken foot – so GO TAKE A NAP!

  • Brenda

    This is really good stuff Catherine, thanks for sharing it.

    For over 40 years I was a human ANThill…teeming with negative thoughts and a cup half empty mentality. (You know my story) So many good things slipped between my fingers and I had no idea why the universe was dealing me such a terrible hand. I didn’t have a thyroid epiphany, but instead followed a loooong and winding path to help me understand and get rid of the ANTs. I have an occasional lapse, but don’t we all? I discovered that my mindset (fixed and outwardly focused) was destroying any chance at happiness. As soon as I stopped fearing failure and realized that failure = growth and learning = happiness, I did a mental about face. Life isn’t exactly what I want right now…but I’m enjoying the lemonade that the lemons provide while on my way to the life I dream can be mine.

    Have a great week.

    • Catherine, Site Admin

      Hi Brenda –

      Thanks for the comment – it’s so good to hear from you!

      I like what you said, “Life isn’t exactly what I want right now…but I’m enjoying the lemonade that the lemons provide.” It’s interesting how we think we are going to live a certain life when we are young, only to be turning 50 and be so far from that place – wondering how we got here.

      You are right that it is better to approach those thoughts by making them into lemonade. My mother always tells me, “Catherine, everything can change in just a day.” So you hang on there Brenda.

      Hugs, Cath

  • TC

    I totally take back all those times I didn’t want to nap when I was younger.

    It’s interesting how much we think we are in charge of our minds, only to find out that our brains can get sick and lead us astray.

    • Catherine, Site Admin

      lol. Kinda scary huh? Like raising a teenager . . .

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