(Edit: Part 2 - Fortune Telling and Downward Spirals can be found here. Post contains affiliate links.
This topic is pretty personal for me.
I want you to know I will be expanding it into a series addressing the ways NATs (Negative Automatic Thoughts) can affect you in different areas and different ways. Links will be included here as new posts in the series are added.
I feel it’s important to let you know, because if you find yourself suddenly questioning the way you view the world like I did, you’ll want to know more; and one post just isn’t enough.
Something so personal to an author cannot help but pop up again and again on a blog. I actually owe the existence of this blog to NATs. Or more accurately, discovering what they are, that I have them and finally being able to see without them clouding my vision. You see, they are something that’s been going on with me pretty much forever and I never even knew they were a ‘thing’.
I was confiding in a friend of mine one play date about how much I loved the blogging world and how much I’d love to get into it myself. Her ‘Why don’t you?’ led to an unravelling of thoughts consisting of the usual ‘I’m not good enough’, ‘I don’t know what to write about’, ‘people won’t be interested in what I have to say’ and so on.
It came to light this was my usual inner monologue when I found something I was passionate about, which is why so many of my ventures have never gotten past the planning stage. ‘Oh,’ said my friend, ‘You have NATs.’
That was my articulate response. I’d never heard of any such thing before, surely if it was a ‘real’ thing I’d have some sort of… I don’t know… diagnosis?
But, as it turns out NATs, or Negative Automatic Thoughts are rarely seen as a ‘thing worth mentioning’ unless paired with more serious conditions such as OCD or Anxiety. There are also things known as ‘Intrusive Thoughts’ which also tend to go along with OCD; these are frightening or disturbing thoughts about what might happen to yourself or people you love, or what you might do to yourself or others. (For more info check out this page)
The thing about NATs is that they are so common every single person on the planet has experienced them, but for some reason no-one seems to acknowledge them! Perhaps because they are far more dominant for some than others? Some just have the odd day in a bad mood, others find themselves actively (although subconsciously) sabotaging every good thing that comes their way. (check out more info here, here and here)
A Negative Automatic Thought is a negative view of what is happening to us which can impact our mood and feelings, leading to things like depression, anxiety and anger. They are pointless and a pain in the you-know-what.
The problem is for some of us it is far harder to ignore them than others. Accepting and believing them or ignoring and challenging them has a huge impact on our mental health and happiness, and the main problem? Most of the time, you don’t even know you’re having them.
For example, a driver selfishly cuts you off on a slip road. Almost everyone I know will be annoyed, maybe even enough to beep the horn or mutter obscenities. But when NATs come into play is when that one inconvenience starts a stream of thoughts like ‘great, now I bet I’m going to be late!’ and ‘Now my whole day is ruined!’
Why is it ruined? It was a momentary annoyance; it has no influence on the rest of your day! The only reason it could ruin your day is if you let it, by listening to your Negative Automatic Thoughts!
So what do we do? How can we fight something that is so… normal?
Well, after I spoke to my friend and discovered that my stupid brain was actually just misguided and not out to get me, I did some research on that. I also decided to tell those thoughts to shove it and finally started my blog, so here we are!
Let me tell you, once you start refusing to listen to those thoughts, the easier it gets.
The first step is to recognise them as they happen. Start by looking back over your day, especially if you feel it hasn’t gone your way, now try to figure out where it all went wrong. Did something minor turn into something major? Did one small setback affect the way you handled the rest of your plans?
Now ask yourself, did you really need to escalate that minor thing? Did the rest of your day have to be influenced by that one setback? Most likely the answer is no, it didn’t. But you were probably thinking it did, weren’t you?
The scary thing is they can also come from outside. ‘How can my thoughts come from outside?’ I hear you cry? Let me give an example: A friend of mine was bullied in school, she was a regular sized girl, but people called her fat. As a result, she would crave junk food which she would comfort eat until the vicious cycle completed itself; she became overweight.
Because she had been so unkindly told something negative about herself for so long, eventually she believed it and she made it so.
Sadly, we can continue the cycle with our children without even realising it. The next post in this series is going to be focused on external influences triggering NATs, and particularly relating to parenting. Believe me, there is far too much to fit comfortably into one post, so let’s continue to focus on our own internal NATs for now.
Do me a favour, next time you notice your day going wrong and find yourself thinking negatively, try to stop for just a second and really examine that thought. Was it necessary? Was it useful? Is it true? If you don’t answer yes (honestly) to those three questions, tell that thought to shove off. Remind yourself you don’t need to listen. You can get around them.
I know this isn’t the ‘get rich quick’ advice of mood fixing, but reprogramming the way you see the world is hard. And you are, essentially, reprogramming your brain to stop tearing yourself down and start boosting yourself up.
It will take time.
Sometimes I feel like my day consists of me pushing a large boulder of attempted positivity up a never-ending mountain trail of negativity. It used to be that those days would end with me feeling depressed and useless, crushed under my boulder at the bottom of the foothills.
Since finally finding my calling and creating A Life in Practice, those days are actually the ones that light the fire of my determination and end (metaphorically) with me standing sweaty and exhausted, yet victoriously on top of that boulder, firmly balanced on the mountain peak.
(Sometimes I still get rolled down, believe me, but the balance between bad days and good days has tipped, and what a difference it makes when it does.)
The way to defeat your negativity is to remind yourself it’s all in your head. It is all coming from within, despite how it may seem and you are the only one who has the power to change that. Even those bullies who try to tear you down are powerless, you know why? Because only you can decide to listen to them.
You are good enough.
You are pretty enough.
You are smart enough.
You are enough.
Do not forget that.
To read more about NATs subscribe to this blog below, you’ll receive alerts when new post go up and there will be more in this series.
If you would like a cheap, easy way to relate to NATs, try this excellent little book I found. Some experts say ANTs instead of NATs, and in this book that’s been turned into a cute play on words. this approach makes it easy to understand them and gives excellent advice on dealing with them.
If you want to learn more here are those links again:
Intrusive Thoughts: http://www.drmartinseif.com/resources/intrusive-thoughts.html