Day 25 of The Alcohol Experiment: dealing with setbacks and changing your thinking (part deux).
[Ok this is getting seriously uncanny, how relevant these lessons are for where I am in my life. But more on that in a moment.]
The Day 25 essay deals with setbacks, and how to reframe them and move forward. As always I appreciate Annie’s positivity here. After Dry January, I decided to try drinking “in moderation.” Looking back on the couple of months between Dry January and The Alcohol Experiment, I can see that cognitive dissonance set in immediately. As of February 1, alcohol was a choice again. And deciding whether or not to drink took its toll. After a particularly stressful few days in February when we lost power and our lives were super-hectic, the night the power came on I drank an entire bottle of wine to celebrate/relieve stress/as a treat (all my old reasons for drinking)… and ended up getting sick that night. I won’t say I fell back down to square one, because the knowledge and awareness I’d acquired during Dry January were in place. But I definitely got back to a place of almost nightly drinking and felt weighed down by the complexities of “to drink or not to drink.” That is why I decided to start The Alcohol Experiment. Take another break, gain additional knowledge and awareness, and see where I come out.
Annie recommends reframing “mistakes” as “necessary experience.” I wanted to see how it felt to attempt moderation. And it didn’t feel so good. Lesson learned!
Now, the video in this lesson was an eye-opener for me. Annie discusses Dr. Daniel G. Amen’s “ANTs” – or Automatic Negative Thoughts. Annie reminds us that without awareness, we tend to believe our thoughts, many (most?) of which are negative. Getting stuck in negative thinking is bad for our bodies and brains – it literally messes with our biochemistry. Positive thinking, of course, has the opposite effect. Positive thinking makes us feel better physically and actually enhances brain function. Awareness is key in changing our negative thoughts to positive ones, and putting our conscious minds back in control.
Dr. Amen has identified six ANTs, and three Red ANTs (the really bad ones, y’all). Read the list below and think about how many of these ANTs have infested your brain, your body, your life:
1. All or Nothing – “I already opened the bottle and had a glass, so screw it, I’ll drink the whole bottle.” (YUP.)
2. Always Thinking – Overgeneralizing, and believing you are doomed no matter what. “Everyone drinks. I’ll never be able to escape it, so might as well just keep drinking.” (Yup.)
3. Focusing on the negative – Any Debbie Downers out there?
4. Thinking with your feelings – Assuming your feelings are truth instead of questioning them, e.g. “I’m sad/less patient/more stressed because I’m not drinking.”
5. Guilt beating – Using words like “should, must, have to” keeps us firmly planted at our own pity party. (OH HI.)
6. Labeling with negative names – “I’m fat. I’m a lush. I’m a crappy mom.” This is bad for you. Go figure! (UGH.)
And the Red ANTs:
7. Fortune-telling – “I will never be able to stop drinking.” Guess what? You’re right! When you predict the worst, your brain will make it happen. (Me.)
8. Mind-reading – Making up stories about what someone else is thinking. Ok here is my moment of crazy coincidence. For this ANT, Annie talks about how she recently attended her 20th high school reunion and how she had to be very aware of this ANT because otherwise she would think that her friends would think she was no longer fun, or that she was judgmental because she wasn’t drinking. And once we make up our minds about what someone else is thinking, we accept it as true. So, not only is this a major lightbulb (whenever my husband and I have a disagreement, we can usually trace it back to this ANT!); but this is also hugely timely for me because I am attending MY 20th high school reunion in just a couple of weeks! And I’m not planning to drink. How crazy is that?!
9. And the very worst ANT of all (drumroll please) is BLAME. Blaming your genes, your childhood, or anything else steals your control and makes you believe you are a powerless victim. And who wants to go through life like that? The blame game is always no bueno.
So now we’ve got these ANTs in our pants. What do we do?
When you think a negative thought, write it down. Take a hot second to pat yourself on the back for being aware and being awesome. Then figure out what type of ANT it is, and whip out your ANT-eater! Talk back to your ANT. Write down your retort. Destroy the mofo. And move on.
I feel a rush of empowerment absorbing all of this. Of course it will take practice but just the thought of being free of the negativity that has plagued me since I can remember thinking thoughts… it is utterly liberating.
Has anyone put this lesson into practice? Tell us about your ANT-eating successes!
[The Alcohol Experiment is a free, interactive 30-day program designed by Annie Grace, author of This Naked Mind. For more information: www.alcoholexperiment.com.]