Squash those ANTs

Even the most optimistic person is not immune to negative thoughts, but for some, automatic negative thoughts (ANTs) are a regular part of life and the chatter of self-doubt and worry can be constant.

During times of high stress, like a job search, ANTs can become even more pronounced. Often job seekers will face a barrage of worries and doubts like: Am I making the right decision? Maybe I should wait until I finish X experiment and get Y publication? Should I leave the bench? I like what I’m doing… why do I have to change? I hate what I am doing…will I really like anything else?

Career planning and job searching is all about transitions and transitions are always difficult. Perhaps we have to let go of an idea we once held for ourselves; or we have to find a way to manage the uncertainty of a job search; or we have to deal with the discomfort of examining our strengths and weaknesses while others do the same.

Stress can create a time fraught with challenges and thinking errors. Some of the most common thinking errors that can occur include:

Overgeneralization
Taking one isolated situation and using it to make wide generalizations. For the job seeker, this could look like, “Well, I didn’t get that one job. Nobody wants to hire me. I’m never going to get a job.” All or nothing language like “always” or “never” is another form of overgeneralization and black-and-white thinking.

Mental Filter
This occurs when somebody focuses almost exclusively on one specific, usually negative or upsetting, aspect of a situation while ignoring the rest. For the job seeker, this could look like, “I answered that one interview question so terribly!” Even if the rest of the interview went well, the person will ruminate about their perceived mistake.

Fortune Telling
This is often also called jumping to conclusions or mind reading and it happens when you assume you know what is going to happen.  Perhaps in an interview, you imagine what the hiring manager is thinking. “They are probably thinking my answer was really stupid.” Then you anticipate how the situation will unfold and assume you will never get the job.

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There are many thinking errors that can occur and Dr. Amen has devoted his research to this topic. Dr. Daniel Amen is a psychiatrist, director of the Amen Clinics, the author of “Change Your Brain, Change Your Life”.  He notes that our brains are actually wired to focus on the negative and to scan for threats, but you can also learn how to stop your automatic negative thoughts and focus on the positive.

According to Dr. Amen, there are three steps to kill thos ANTs:

1. Write them down and clearly identify them.

2. Ask: are these true?

3. If you discover these thoughts aren’t true, talk back to them !

Labeling, investigating and talking back to your ANTs takes practice but it time can help you to minimize these cognitive intrusions. Watch Dr. Amen’s video here:

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