How to Overcome Negative Thoughts and Fear

Dr Daniel Amen and Tana Amen BSN RN On The Brain Warrior's Way Podcast

One of our most persistent enemies in life is the recurrence of automatic negative thoughts that infiltrate our minds, causing insecurity, anxiety, and doubt. In anticipation of Dr. Daniel Amen’s newest children’s book, Captain Snout and the Superpower Questions, he and Tana discuss the cognitive behavior therapy involved in getting those toxic thoughts out of your head.


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Tana Amen: So, I want to talk about something really cute today.

Dr. Daniel A.: Really cute?

Tana Amen: Really cute. So, I saw a new copy of, Captain Snout, your new children's book that's out, and it's darling, and it kind of reminded me of a story. So, this is about how kids can kill the answer. It reminded me of a story about when Chloe was little.

Dr. Daniel A.: Captain Snout and His Super Power Questions, comes out September 12th, by Zonderkidz. It will be available everywhere. The illustrations, by Brendan Kearney are fabulous, and the story is awesome. It's about teaching children not to believe, every stupid thought they have.

Tana Amen: It's really powerful.

Dr. Daniel A.: It's based on a form of psychotherapy, we do with kids and adults called, cognitive behavior therapy, but it's done in a way that kids will love, and understand. It's about The Penny Pepper Children who wanted a puppy, and the parents said, "Well, you have to go earn the money, and then you can get a puppy." And their car wash didn't go so well, and they got a lot of negative thoughts about it, and they started fighting with each other, and then this superhero, Captain Snout, comes in and teaches them how to correct the negative thought patterns, the ANTs, the automatic negative thoughts, that was stealing their joy, stealing their happiness, and ultimately stealing their puppy.

Tana Amen: That's an interesting connection.

Dr. Daniel A.: So, getting their thoughts right, ultimately helped them get the car wash going, make the money they needed to do, and get the puppy they wanted. It's a skill all of us should have been taught in second grade.

Tana Amen: Right. It's never too early to start teaching your kids. This is a very powerful tool. So, tell them the story about when Chloe was four.

Dr. Daniel A.: This is part of the reason I wrote this book, is that when Chloe was four, she was in the bathroom with you, and she announced to you-

Tana Amen: Okay, you have to know Chloe. We've seen her brain. She's got a very busy brain, and she was the most strong-willed child, I've ever met in my life.

Dr. Daniel A.: So, where would that come from?

Tana Amen: I have no idea. You keep saying that.

Dr. Daniel A.: So, I'm actually outside the bedroom, in my office, but I begin to hear a ruckus, going on in the bathroom, and Chloe announces to her mother that she's going to get her ears pierced that day, and I'm like-

Tana Amen: Which was typical Chloe.

Dr. Daniel A.: I'm thinking to myself, "That's not the way you approach a redheaded mother." I'm like, that's not effective.

Tana Amen: Now, all the redheaded mothers out there are like, "What are you talking about?"

Dr. Daniel A.: Well, redheaded mothers tend to go with strong wills as well, and when she announced, you said ... Do you remember what you said?

Tana Amen: Not until you're five.

Dr. Daniel A.: Not until you're five.

Tana Amen: Right. We'll talk about it when you're five.

Dr. Daniel A.: And she said, "I can't wait until I'm five."

Tana Amen: She freaked out, and said, "I can't wait until I'm five." And then threw this big huge fit, and threw a temper tantrum, and threw herself on the floor, and was crying. Yes, the whole thing.

Dr. Daniel A.: Then she ran out of the bedroom into my office, jumped into my lap, and crocodile tears coming down her face, and the lower lip moving back and forth. I mean, you could just tell she was so upset, and I'm like, "Honey, what's the matter?" And she said, "Mommy said, I can't get my ears pierced until I'm five years old." And I said, "So, what's the matter?" And she said, "I can't wait until I'm five years old." And I said, "Is that true? You can't wait?" And she said, "I can't wait, and my ears aren't cute."

Tana Amen: Right. My ears aren't cute. Yes.

Dr. Daniel A.: And I said, "Well, can you absolutely know ... " Using the four questions we got from our friend, Byron Katie, I said, "Can you absolutely know you can't wait?" And she said, "What do you mean?" And I said, "Are you going to die, if you don't get your ears pierced?" And no lie, she's four years old. I thought this wouldn't happen until she was 12. She literally rolled her eyes at me, and said, "Of course, I'm not going to die." And I said, "But how do you feel, when you believe the thought, you can't wait until you're five years old?" "I'm mad and I'm sad, and I want my way."

Tana Amen: And my ears aren't cute.

Dr. Daniel A.: Hysterical. So, the first question is, is it true? The second question is, can you absolutely know that it's true? The third question is, how do you feel when you believe the thought? And that's really where you begin to understand, it's not the thing that's happening to you, it's your interpretation of the thing. The fourth question I asked her, I said, "Well, how would you be, how would you feel, if you didn't have that thought?" And she completely blew my mind. When she looked at me, and she said, "Peaceful."

Tana Amen: Wow.

Dr. Daniel A.: Four years old. I have had 80 year-olds, use that same word. Unbelievable. I said, "All right, so let's take the original thought, I can't wait until I'm five years old, and let's turn it to the opposite. What's the opposite of that thought?" And she said, "I don't understand." I said, "Well, we just read a book on opposites. You know, tall and small. Fat and skinny. What's the opposite of, I can't wait until I'm five years old? I can wait." And then she got off my lap, and went and played with [Frazier 00:13:46], who was our bulldog at the time.

Tana Amen: A very smart bulldog.

Dr. Daniel A.: That was it, but that really became the core of why I wrote, Captain Snout and The Super Power Questions, because you can read it to children as young as two and a half, and it works until they're a hundred.

Tana Amen: We still use this. Yeah, we still use the same format. So, this is really important to teach them now, when they're little, but we still use it with Chloe. I just used it this morning. I said one sentence completely not about her. Somehow she heard that she doesn't work hard enough, and I'm like, "What?" Like what were you talking about? We have our own baggage, and we hear things that are not even true, that people don't even say. You've got to have some kind of a tool, especially children and adolescence, that they can use, and so I stopped her. She was walking and she was getting ready to go into our camp, and we literally did this process, and then she got out of the car, and she was happy and went away. I'm like, be very careful that you are not twisting what someone says, or that you are hearing the truth.

Dr. Daniel A.: It's not a book you want to just read once, with your children.

Tana Amen: No. It's a process.

Dr. Daniel A.: It's a book that you read over and over, because all of us need to be reminded on a regular basis, not to believe every stupid thing we think. This is so important, so powerful. Negative thoughts are really the seeds for anxiety, for depression, for overeating, for violence, and temper problems, for marital problems. I think one of the best things that we did early on as a couple, we actually went to visit my friend Byron Katie. You read her book.

Tana Amen: She's a little mind twisting.

Dr. Daniel A.: We talked about killing the ANTs. If I get a bad thought in my head, like you never listen to me. Rather than say it, in my mind I'll just go through the questions quickly, and the opposite of that thought, and that's a process that will just completely blow your mind. Often, it's the opposite of your thought, that's true, and the opposite of, you never listen to me is, you do listen to me.

Tana Amen: Right.

Dr. Daniel A.: The opposite is not an exaggeration, like you always listen to me, because that's not true.

Tana Amen: But I do listen to you.

Dr. Daniel A.: But you do listen to me, like all 12 [inaudible 00:09:47] television specials. You've heard me ... I do the script for you over and over again, and you do. But you see, if I believed the negative thought, then I would act as if it was true, and then I would give myself permission, to either withdraw from you, or be irritated or irritable with you, because you never listen to me. That's obviously an awful thing. You're a bad person. I mean, you can just see how that negative thought would snowball, and then damage our relationships. In the 12 years we've been together, we just hardly ever fight. I think in part, that it's not because we're not two strong-willed people, because we are two strong-willed people. It's because we clean our thoughts.

Tana Amen: We clean our thoughts, and we give each other some grace and mercy. No question. I want to just talk about how this actually transformed from a parent standpoint. This process has transformed my relationship with my daughter, because when she was little we use to butt heads a lot. That's why I try to, in the beginning, if you were watching or listening from the very beginning, you heard me say, change my language, because you have to be very careful with the language that you use. We use to butt heads a lot, because we both have these very strong ideas.

When she was little, and we would butt heads a lot, there was a day where I was dropping her off to preschool, and I got so frustrated, and she was just stuck on something, and throwing a temper tantrum. She reminded me of someone in the family, and it was someone that I was not getting along with, and I had this very toxic thought, that she's just like this person, and she's so stubborn, and she's just like this person. I got this thought stuck in my head, and it was a bad thought, because like you said, then you start to behave that way. It was someone I wasn't getting along with. What's going to happen when I pick her up from school, if I have this thought in my head?

Dr. Daniel A.: You're going to look for however she might be like that?

Tana Amen: Evidence to support that thought.

Dr. Daniel A.: And then overreact to the evidence.

Tana Amen: So, I went home. I literally, in the beginning I use to spend a lot of time on the process. I spent a couple hours, making sure I cleaned this thought out. Well, guess what the turnaround is?

Dr. Daniel A.: On what?

Tana Amen: She's just like me. The turnaround was, she's just like me, and that was beautiful, because then I was able to pray about it, and I'm like look, and the answer that came back to me was, it's not her job to figure this out. She's the child. It's my job to figure it out. It transformed our relationship, because I was then more open to the idea of finding solutions, and finding evidence that, yeah, she is like me.

Dr. Daniel A.: It's very important to understand, this is not positive thinking. It's about accurate thinking. We don't believe in pie in the sky, happy, positive thinking. In fact, there's a new article just out this week. I sent it to my friend, Tony Robbins. He really liked it. It's people who really think positively, about the future. They actually don't engage in the work it takes to make it happen. We want to think accurately, know the truth. The truth will set you free, and that's what Captain Snout and The Super Power Questions, helps children to do.

So, we're going to do another podcast on this, and talk a little bit more about the theory behind Captain Snout and The Superpower Questions. If you're listening to this before September 12th, you can pre-order it on Amazon or Barnes and Noble.com, after September 12th, and you can order it anywhere, where great books are sold.