Posted by Stephanie Lawless on 4/19/2019 7:00:00 AM


Over my years in education I have received many cards, each one held a small message that someone wrote specifically for me. And while I live a fairly clutter free existence, I have always found a place to tuck these cards away and save them. I think it is important to hold onto the positive notes because I also keep all of the criticism I have received.  Criticism gets a special place in my head, and it pops back in my mind when I need it the least. All the things I have been told that reflected my biggest insecurities, also made me question my abilities. Thoughts that make me feel like I wasn’t trying enough or couldn’t push though. These thoughts are always waiting for me to shake my focus so they can make their way back to creep in my brain.  I know I am not the only one who gets them either. When I was teaching I could see the same thoughts in my students. That moment when they remembered they couldn’t do it or maybe they shouldn’t even try.

Dr. Daniel Amen wrote Change Your Brain Change Your Life, and in this book he defined ANTs- Automatic Negative Thoughts.  In one of the many clips on YouTube, 3 Quick Steps to Stop Negative Thinking Now,  Dr. Amen discusses how he came up with the acronym ANTs after having a hard day at work then came home to an ant infestation in his kitchen.  He related that infestation to the unhealthy thoughts we have in our head. Dr. Amen provides specific strategies on how we identify when we are experiencing ANTs and how we can teach ourselves to stop ANTs from getting in the way of being successful.  Captain Snout and the Superpower Questions is a kids book to introducing the topic and start talking to students about ANTs. There are different ways these thoughts manifest, all or nothing, always thinking, labeling.

It is important to teach students that ANTs happen and how we can get rid of them.  In the classroom I used to hear students mumble under their breath, “no ANTs!” while they worked.  We had posters with pictures of ants with a cross on them, and we trained students the employ the positive statements to replace the negative ones when they were feeling the ants creep in.  

Learning about ANTs helped me understand that I was not the only one that had these thoughts of self-doubt and that I could be empowered to stop them.  It made me focus on holding on to the good things and trying to let go of the bad. It started my habit of keeping my cards. Each message, just for me, is exactly what I need to get the ANTs out of my head.  This summer, while you have time out of your classrooms and offices, I encourage you to focus on your thinking and see how often ANTs invade your thoughts. Equip yourself with strategies to prevent ANTs and come prepared in the fall to share them with your students.  


Stephanie Lawless, Assistant Director