A Simple Practice to Let Go Of Negative Thoughts

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

Did you know that the types of thoughts you have can cause a physiological reaction in your body? That’s why it’s crucial to banish those Automatic Negative Thoughts (ANTs) when they infest your mind. With the help of Captain Snout, the title character from Dr. Daniel Amen’s new children’s book, children and adults alike can ask themselves the “Superpower Questions” to stop negative thinking.


Read Full Transcript

Speaker 1: So, we're back talking about Captain Snout and the Super Power Questions. So much fun how transformative it is, has been for our family and our daughter, and let's talk about why.

Speaker 2: Well, the subtitle is don't let the ants steal your happiness, and if you've been listening to this podcast or you've read any of our books, you know we talk about ants. Ants stands for automatic negative thoughts, the thoughts that come into your mind automatically and ruin your day. What I learned a long time ago as a psychiatrist is there's a form of psychotherapy called cognitive behavior therapy, and Aaron Beck, from the University of Pennsylvania, is thought to be the father of it. It's actually in the New Testament. In the Book of Philippians-

Speaker 1: It's interesting, isn't it?

Speaker 2: ... the apostle Paul wrote, "Think on whatever is true, right, lovely, worthy of praise. Let your mind dwell on these things." Where you bring your attention determines how you feel. Now, this is information that should be taught to small children, because too often, adult have undisciplined minds that quite literally are filled with ants, with automatic negative thoughts. Research shows that these negative thought patterns are major drivers for anxiety disorders. Major drivers of depression, major drivers of obesity, of violence, of job dissatisfaction, of divorce, and the coolest thing is you don't have to believe every stupid thing you think. Thoughts aren't true, they're just thoughts, and it's our uninvestigated thoughts that ruin, that steal our happiness, and I'm not okay with that.

I'm about stomping out the ants, so I developed the term ants. I think it was around 1991, '92. Funny, about the same time I was doing the imaging work, and I remember I was having ... I had a really bad day at work, which was not an ant. I had two teenagers that had ran away from home. I had four suicidal patients. Now, I know how to deal with suicidal patients, but to have four of them in one day, that was a lot. Then I had two couples who hated each other, and I'm like ... I'm stressed, and I went home, and I don't drink, but I wanted to that night. I came home to an ant infestation in the house, and there were thousands of the little guys, and they were in the kitchen and they were crawling out of the cereal. I guess it means I shouldn't have been eating cereal.

I mean, they were just everywhere, and as I'm cleaning them up, I mean, literally by the thousands, I'm thinking to myself, because you know, when you go to medical school, you have to learn 50,000 new terms when you're a freshman medical student. So, I'm always making up mnemonics as a way to remember a list of things. So, I'm cleaning up the ants, and then I start thinking about cognitive behavior therapy and automatic negative thoughts. And I'm like, A-N-T, automatic negative thoughts. Ants. This is what I dealt with all day at work today. I was dealing with all these people who were infested with negative thoughts.

Speaker 1: It's so appropriate.

Speaker 2: They were infested with ants, and so I'm beginning to think of my patients, and I see ... This is just how crazy I am, but I'm a psychiatrist, so it's okay. I begin to see ants coming out of their eyeballs. I see ants coming out of their ears, I see ants crawling all over their head, making them mad, sad, suicidal, wanting to run away, and the next day I brought ant spray to work.

Speaker 1: Oh, that's funny.

Speaker 2: And I took the ant spray and I put it on my coffee table, and I started talking to them about we need to kill the ants.

Speaker 1: Yeah, when I met you-

Speaker 2: The negative thought patterns are not [crosstalk 00:04:41].

Speaker 1: When I met you you had anteaters all over the place.

Speaker 2: Well, and then-

Speaker 1: Like stuffed ones.

Speaker 2: And then I realized that ant spray is toxic, right. It's toxic to brain function, and so I'm like, you know, I'm a child psychiatrist by training. You know me. I'm a sweet, kind, thoughtful, caring, loving person. The ant spray didn't ... I was at Pier 39, so at the time, I was working in our office outside of San Francisco, and on the weekends we'd go to Pier 39, and I found an ant puppet. So, I bought the ant puppet, and I started playing with it with the kids I saw, and then with the adults, because it's the same thing. Then later I got an anteater puppet, and you could actually take the tongue of the puppet and make it go in and out of the anteater's long snout, and I'd put it in the ears of my patients.

Speaker 1: How cute.

Speaker 2: I remember this little boy I saw. He had a panic disorder, especially when he'd get around dogs. They would just freak him out, and so we got ... I taught him how to kill with ants, and three weeks later, he was playing with dogs. He came into my office. He was so proud of himself, and we were drawing, and he drew a little town and he said, "This is an ant ghost town. I don't have any more ants in my head."

Speaker 1: That's awesome. That's cute.

Speaker 2: He was powerful, and so Captain Snout and the Super Power Questions really comes out of this research, because you know whenever you have a thought, your brain releases chemicals. Whenever you have any thought. Right before the podcast, I came in and I saw how beautiful you are, and my heart went faster. I mean, I just ... Wow! Even though we've been together 12 years, that still happens to me a lot.

Speaker 1: So, what happens, though, when you have, say, an opposite thought of that? Anxiety or sadness? Or anger?

Speaker 2: Whenever you have a negative thought, an ant thought, a hopeless thought, a helpless thought, a worthless thought, an angry thought, your brain releases a set of chemicals-

Speaker 1: So, like cortisol and ...

Speaker 2: ... that make you feel bad. Adrenaline and-

Speaker 1: So, stress hormones?

Speaker 2: Stress hormones, and every cell in your body reacts to them. Every cell. So, immediately what happens, your hands get colder because your blood vessels react to them and they constrict. Your hands start to sweat because your endocrine glands become more active. Your muscles get tense, so that's why we call them tension headaches, and your gut actually is lined with smooth muscles. So, the 30 feet of intestines you have clamp down. Your breathing becomes shallow and not very efficient.

Speaker 1: So, let's talk a second about ... Because I thought this was really interesting. I did a video and a blog on forgiveness, and there is an entire-

Speaker 2: One of the most popular ones you did.

Speaker 1: Right. In fact, we did a podcast on it. So, there's an entire area of medicine opening up and study research on forget ... Not medicine, but research on forgiveness, and in fact, there's a surgeon, there's a burn specialist, works with the grafting and skin and things like that, and he studies forgiveness and the effects on how people heal. It's exactly what you just said. People who do not forgive ... In his studies, what he showed was people who don't forgive either don't heal as well or don't heal at all, and they get much sicker. So, they're more prone to other secondary infections and illnesses and things like that, people who learn to forgive, and there's actually a practice to forgiveness.

Speaker 2: Let's talk about that, but let me finish this. Whenever you have a thought, so bad thoughts, make every cell in your body feel bad, right. It's like pollution, and having grown up in the San Fernando Valley, both of us did, right, I mean, there were smog days. Well, having negative thought days are like you're producing pollution inside your body. I mean, it actually begins to kill off the gut bacteria that are supposed to help you. In The Brain Warrior's Way, when we did our course and you did that beautiful illustration of Larry Leake, it was hysterical.

But when he was stressed, it's killing gut bacteria, right, but the opposite is also true. Whenever you have a happy thought, a hopeful thought, a loving thought, a wow, she's beautiful thought, your hands get warmer, they get drier, your muscles become more relaxed, your breathing is more efficient, and your heart rate variability, which is a sign of heart health, actually gets better. So, your body and your mind respond to virtually every thought you have.

Speaker 1: So, that's actually what happens physiologically. What's also interesting is that because of that reaction, you become more able to problem solve. You become more creative, and you become more attractive to people.

Speaker 2: That's so true.

Speaker 1: Really interesting.

Speaker 2: That is so true. In fact, we actually did a study on appreciation versus negative thinking, and the negative scan, her frontal lobes dropped, which means she's not going to solve problems.

Speaker 1: Right. You're not creative, you can't solve problems, you can't think.

Speaker 2: Her executive function is going to go down, and her temporal lobes drop, which means her memory's not going to be good and she's going to be more likely to strike out in anger. And her cerebellum dropped, which means she's going to be less coordinated. So, this applies to sports, it applies to relationships. I mean, literally applies to everything in your life that you don't have to believe. And again, it's not positive thinking.

Speaker 1: It's accurate thinking.

Speaker 2: It's accurate thinking, and I really think of Captain Snout and the Super Power Questions. Any time you feel sad, or any time your child feels sad, read it to them. Any time you feel mad or they feel mad, read it to them. Any time they feel like they can't do something, or they feel anxious, because odds are, at least part of what's going on are the negative thought patterns that are driving their unhappiness or ineffectiveness, and getting that right is absolutely critical.

Speaker 1: Well, it's an awesome book. I think it's darling, and it's just the perfect tool for teaching kids.

Speaker 2: Oh, it's super cute, so for those of you that aren't listening, you know you can also watch these podcasts on YouTube on our YouTube channel. But the illustrations are just-

Speaker 1: Yeah, they're darling.

Speaker 2: ... super cute. You want to get rid of the ants. Don't let the ants steal your happiness. Captain Snout and the Super Power Questions. If you're listening to this before September 12th, 2017, you can pre-order the book at Amazon and barnesandnoble.com. We'd be so grateful if you did. After September 12th it will be available everywhere where great books are sold. Thanks for listening.