Welcome to The Widowed Mom Podcast, episode 205, Spot Your Grief ANTs.
Welcome to The Widowed Mom Podcast, the only podcast that offers a proven process to help you work through your grief, to grow, evolve, and create a future you can truly look forward to. Here’s your host, Master Certified life coach, grief expert, widow, and mom, Krista St-Germain.
Hey there, welcome to another episode of the podcast. Spring has sprung here where I live. I don’t know how it’s going for you, but it’s feeling very springy around here which I love. I can go outside and walk. I can enjoy my flowers, I can sit outside and work and it’s not hot yet. So I am loving that.
So today on the podcast I want to talk about spotting your grief ANTs. So we’re going to talk about what a grief ANT is, why they matter and what to do about them, because we all have them. So what is a grief ANT? I don’t even know where this abbreviation came from. I just love it and so I’m sharing it with you. I didn’t create it myself, this idea of an ANT. But an ANT stands for Automatic Negative Thought, ANT. In grief we have a lot of automatic negative thoughts. And we’re often just believing them and not even really seeing them as thoughts.
So maybe you recognize some of the following automatic negative thoughts, ANTs. I’ll probably never be happy without them. It’s too much. I can’t handle it. I don’t fit in now. No one understands me. I’m not doing this right. There’s something wrong with me. Any of those sound familiar? That is a very short list, but of common automatic negative thoughts that I have had and my clients have had, that you might be having.
And the truth is that we have tens of thousands of thoughts every day depending on the research that you read. Some people will say 10,000, some people say up to 60,000, some people will say more. I’ve never really found a definitive answer that I feel good about. But the point is, thousands and thousands and thousands of thoughts float through our minds every single day. And what we can agree on, although again I couldn’t quote you a percentage I feel good about, is that the majority of those thoughts are negative, meaning our brain is biased toward the negative.
Now, that doesn’t mean that we’re doing anything wrong. That doesn’t mean anything is wrong with us. That doesn’t mean anything has even gone wrong. It just means that for the purpose of survival, our brain has evolved over time to prioritize the things that are scary and thus a threat to our survival, over the things that feel good which makes sense. We want our brain to be paying more attention to the things that could cause us danger than the things that just feel fluffy and squishy and happy. So it makes sense.
It makes sense that more of our thoughts are focused on the negative than are focused on the positive. So knowing that though, we still get to choose the thoughts that we want to believe when they show up. So the thoughts that just show up in our mind, matter because of two things, well, maybe more, but two that are coming to my mind right now. One is because of the way that our brain filters data. And you’ve heard me talk about this on the podcast before, but I don’t think we can ever say it too much. We have a filtering system in our brain that’s designed to validate our thinking.
So we are always looking for data in the world, we are biasing data in the world that lines up with what we believe. So this is why when you go and buy a new car, all of a sudden it seems like there are more of those cars on the road. You know that there aren’t more of those cars on the road than there were before you bought the car, but it just seems that way because your brain is paying attention to those cars. Because you have told your brain that that car is important to you and now your brain is looking for that car.
The same thing happens with our thinking. So when we are believing all of these ANTs, these automatic negative thoughts, especially the grief ANTs, I’ll probably never be happy without them, it’s too much, I can’t handle it, I don’t fit in now, no one understands me, I’m not doing this right. There’s a ton of them that we could come up with. When we’re believing them we’re essentially giving our brain the homework assignment of finding the truth in those thoughts and also of blocking any evidence that doesn’t line up.
So if we go into a moment or a day or a week or a month or a year or a lifetime believing that no one understands that’s all our brain will show us. It will block out the people who do understand. There’s 11 million widows but my brain was pretty convinced when Hugo died that no one understood. It was hard for me to see widows in my own environment. And there were some, my brain just wasn’t showing them to me at all because it was hell bent on finding evidence of what I was thinking, that automatic negative thought, no one understands me.
So it’s not anything that I was doing wrong. It’s just that what I was thinking, my brain was doing what brains do and validating it for me. And that really, really matters because it starts to color your world. Everything you start to see is then filtered through those grief ANTs. And we can build a lot of automatic negative thinking in grief and it can kind of spiral downward very quickly.
The other reason that it matters that I want to bring to your attention is the thought, feeling, action cycle. So if you’ve listened to the podcast episode I’ve done called The Thought Feeling Action Cycle or any of them on what’s also called the model, or the self-coaching model, it’s one of the primary tools that I use in my coaching. You know that our thoughts cause our feelings and our feelings drive our actions. So how we think, so if I’m thinking I’m not doing this right.
And by it, I’m specifically thinking of grief although I think as widowed moms we have that thought about a lot of things, I’m not parenting right. I’m not managing my money right. I’m not managing my day right. All these things that we decide to believe accidentally, unintentionally that we’re not doing right. But if I’m believing I’m not doing this right, then I’m probably creating some doubt or insecurity for myself. And humans who are feeling doubtful or insecure, don’t take actions that move them toward what they want.
Think about the types of things that you do when you’re feeling doubtful or insecure. If anything, you probably avoid taking action that you would like to take. You probably end up second guessing yourself. You probably end up in a place of indecision instead of being able to make decisions. Humans who are believing that we aren’t doing this right, whatever this is, we don’t feel good. We feel insecure and doubtful. And so of course, we don’t take the kind of action that we want to take to create what we want to create.
So if we’re walking through life with a grief ANT of I’m not doing this right, then of course, we feel bad and we don’t create what it is that we want. That makes sense. And it’s really easy when that’s happening to us, when that’s what’s going on to not be able to tell that I’m not doing this right isn’t the truth. It just feels so true. If it’s not something everyone in the entire world would agree on then it’s probably a thought. It might be an ANT. If it’s not something everyone in the entire world would agree on and it’s moving you away from what you want then that’s where we want to look.
We want to spot those grief ANTs. Good news, we don’t need them to go away, these grief ANTs. But what we do need to do is acknowledge them for what they are. We need to see them as separate from us. We need to see that we are the thinker and those grief ANTs are just thoughts in our mind. And they may come automatically. That’s why we call them automatic negative thoughts. But that doesn’t mean that there’s anything wrong with us. That doesn’t mean that we’re doing anything wrong. That doesn’t mean we have to believe those thoughts.
That doesn’t mean we can’t believe other thoughts. It just means that right now, the ones that pop up automatically might not move us toward what we want. And we don’t have to go so far as to fake anything. We’re not trying to become toxically positive. We’re not trying to be happy all the time or live lives with no negative ‘emotion’. We’re just trying to move into a place where we think on purpose, where the thoughts that we believe are the ones we have chosen for ourselves for reasons that we like.
And one of my main reasons for choosing thoughts is because they move me toward the life experience that I want instead of away from it. Now, that doesn’t always mean I’m going to choose the life experience that feels ‘positive’. I still don’t want to not miss Hugo. I still don’t really want to believe that I’m happy he died. I’m totally fine with being sad, but I do get to choose on purpose that for myself and feel good about that because I’ve chosen it as opposed to walking around with a grief ANT not even knowing that it was optional.
So that’s what I want to offer you today. Many of us, almost all are walking around with automatic negative thoughts, ANTs that we stumbled upon by accident in grief. We didn’t really pick them up on purpose. They feel really true when we think of them. Most of them make us feel bad and when we keep believing them our brain just keeps finding evidence for them. And they keep changing the way that we show up. They keep us stuck in cycles that maybe aren’t the cycles we want to stay stuck in.
And it’s really great news to know that those ANTs aren’t what we think they are. They aren’t objective truths. They’re just stories in our mind. They’re just automatic negative thoughts. So I want you to imagine, what is it that you’re thinking, where does your brain go that’s automatically negative? Nothing wrong with you because it goes there, but where does it go? Is it that you can’t handle whatever is in front of you today? Is it that you’re not good at whatever it is that you’ve decided to do?
Is it that you’re stuck? Is it that you’re trapped? Is it that you’ll never be happy again? Is it that no one understands and you’re the third wheel? What is it? Where does your brain go? And if that feels like it is taking you in a direction that is not the direction that you want to go in, can you picture a little ant with that thought? Can you picture a little ant walking on the sentence that is that thought? Can you get that visualization in your mind? It’s a little ant on the floor and your little thought.
Or maybe it’s an anthill with a lot of those thoughts and you see them in a pile, but you’re over here and that anthill is over there and you notice that that anthill and those thoughts or that about one little ant crawling on top of that thought is not you. You are not those ants. They are not you. When you can pull yourself away from them, that’s when you can get leverage over them.
That’s when you can pivot your mind to a thought that does take you where you want to go, that does help you create what you want to create, that allows you to feel what you want to feel. That puts you back in a place where you are driving instead of being driven. And that’s what I want for you. So truly, I know it’s silly but sometimes metaphors and visualizations are what help us diffuse from our thinking. And when we can diffuse from our thinking we can get some leverage over it. We can choose something separate, something different, something new for ourselves.
So just because the ants are showing up doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with you, doesn’t mean you’ve done anything wrong and also they are not you and you don’t have to keep thinking them. But you have to see yourself as separate from them.
Now, before we go, I’m just going to say one last thing. It’s also totally okay to believe that your thoughts are true. It is the continuing to believe them that makes them feel true, but some of your most challenging ANTs are going to be the ones that you believe are factual. They will feel so true you won’t even question them. I want you to give yourself permission to question them. In Mom Goes On, we do a whole lot of this. It’s one of the main things I do as a coach. And one of the ways we can do it is to get it out on paper.
If you’re not sure, is this an ANT or is this the truth, put it on paper. Ask yourself, would everyone in the entire world, no matter their cultural background, no matter where they’re from or when they lived, would everyone agree with this? And if the answer is no, yay, because that means it’s an ANT. And we don’t have to keep believing it. You don’t have to keep believing it. So be on the lookout for those grief ANTs, those automatic negative thoughts, imagine them. You’re over here, that hill is over there.
Those little ants are crawling around on those sentences, you are not them, they are not you. You do not have to keep believing any of that if it’s not taking you in the direction that you want to take your life. That’s what I’ve got for you this week. Take care. I love you, you’ve got this. Take care and I’ll see you next week. Bye bye.
If you like what you’ve been hearing on this podcast and want to create a future you can truly get excited about after the loss of your spouse, I invite you to join my Mom Goes On coaching program. It’s small group coaching just for widowed moms like you where I’ll help you figure out what’s holding you back and give you the tools and support you need so you can move forward with confidence.
Please don’t settle for a new normal that’s less than you deserve. Go to coachingwithkrista.com and click work with me for details and the next steps. I can’t wait to meet you.