Pathways Out of Depression Part 4: Creating New Programming
If you’ve been reading my blog post series about overcoming depression, hopefully by now you’re crystal clear about what your values are (See Pathways out of Depression: Parts 1- 3) and you have a good idea about how they can help you carve a path out of depression.
But beyond this, you also need to know how your past experiences might be triggering your depression. A good example of this is the character “George” in the movie “Hugo.” George is a brilliant filmmaker whose visionary movies enchant his viewers until they become distracted by WWI. When people stop coming to see his films, George gets depressed and angry, telling himself his work isn’t important and no one cares.
As George continues to buy into these beliefs over the months and then years, his depression gets worse. He blames it on the world around him, because “no one” recognizes his genius. Then George’s granddaughter and a young boy named Hugo find a man who idolizes George and his work, and ultimately, George finds out there are hundreds of admirers.
Not all of us have a “Hugo” in our lives, but luckily, we don’t need one. George could have avoided YEARS of misery if he’d only known about ANTs
The ANTs I’m talking about are not the ones that invade your picnic. These little guys invade your mind—starting one at a time, and soon taking over until you have a whole swarming ant pile that drives your life without your even knowing it!
ANTs stands for Automatic Negative Thoughts, and they can really wreak havoc in your life. If you’ve ever had counseling, your therapist might have asked you to try Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT), and ANTs are a part of CBT. When most people hear these terms, they think, “Huh?” because they sound like psychobabble—a foreign language that only therapy geeks understand.
Stacy Curnow has a great worksheet that describes ANTs in a way anyone can understand. Her worksheet helps people realize when their ANTs lead to unhealthy eating. But you can also use her worksheet to figure out which of your thoughts make your depression spiral out of control. Check it out: ANT Therapy Worksheet - Stacey Curnow
Stacey’s worksheet also talks about “feeding your Ant Eater” which just means getting better and better at turning negative thoughts into more healthy ones.
The phrase I use most often for Automatic Negative Thoughts is “Old Programming.” I call it that because these thoughts that pop up usually started happening when you were much younger.
As a kid, you probably experienced something that was really hard for you to handle, and you responded to it, and anything that reminded you of it, in the same way, over and over again. It became a program that runs automatically, without you even being aware of it.
If you want to get to the bottom of your Old Programming, think back to some of the really hard things you have experienced in your life, especially as a child.
The psychobabble term for some of what you probably experienced is “trauma.” Trauma may have shown up in lots of different ways in your life: being bullied at school or having parents who expected you to be just like your older sister who did everything perfectly.
Trauma often shows up later in life to help us evolve spiritually. Let’s go back to the character “George” in the movie “Hugo.”
George’s later in life trauma happened when people stopped coming to see his movies, and he lost his purpose for living. If George had known how to feed his ANT eater to stop his negative thoughts, he could have bounced back after the setback.
He could have countered the automatic negative thought: “No one cares” with a more healthy one: “Right now people are preoccupied with the war, but maybe there are some people out there who still care about my movies.”
When George writes down these new thoughts, he’s beginning to create new programming. That’s a great start.
But feeding your ANT eater to create new programs is going to take some practice. And it means taking yourself off autopilot.
You have to REALLY pay attention to what’s happening in the moment. If you get something else dumped on your plate at work, and you feel REALLY ticked off in response, you have to listen to that little voice that pipes up right afterwards.
Maybe it says, “They are always giving me too much to do. I can’t even keep up with what I already have!” or “Those jerks!” This is your old programming kicking in. (ANT language in bold itallic)
The important thing to know is this: if you buy into your ANTs, you will probably place the blame on people or situations around you, and feel sorry for yourself or depressed. You will be giving your power away.
Instead, when you talk back to your ANTs, you own up to your part of the problem, figure out what you have control over, change what you can, and make peace with the rest.
It helps you take back your power.
If you want to get really good at this, you need to practice every day. Use Stacey’s worksheet. If that sounds boring, get out your writing and drawing supplies. Or, choose a famous character from fiction or Hollywood to symbolize each.
Imagine that both your ANTs and your ANT eater have a voice and a face. How will your Ant eater talk back to your negative thoughts? I’m thinking “Sassy” here!
Want to see what other people’s ANTs and Ant Eaters look like? Ask to join my secret Facebook Group: Alternative Pathways Out of Depression (only approved members can find the group and see the posts)