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How to Kill Negative Automatic Thoughts

NATS (negative automatic thoughts) are big confidence killers for women. You know them. “I should have done x…” “Why did I say y?…” “That paper wasn’t as good as it could have been…”

Women are particularly prone to NATS. We think we make one tiny mistake and we dwell on it for hours and hours. We can’t let it go. Sometimes we are still swirling those insidious, negative thoughts round our brains for days or even weeks after the perceived slip up. And it kills our confidence.

Men don’t seem to do this nearly as much as we do. They are better at simply swatting those irritating thoughts away.

Since moving on doesn’t come as easily to us, we need a system for killing NATS.

3 to 1. That’s our formula. Three positive thoughts to one negative thought.

Every time the negative thought sneaks into your brain, you need to remind yourself of three good things you did.

So, imagine this scenario, you’re sitting on the bus on the way home and you keep thinking of that proposal deadline you missed by half an hour. As soon as the thought crops up, force your brain to list three good things you did that day. I was helpful to Angela who’s just joined the team. The conclusion of my report was really strong. I called my mother-in-law and cancelled dinner, even though I’d been dreading the confrontation.

Now just one go round won’t kill the NAT – far from it. This takes work. A few minutes later that missed deadline will rear its ugly head again. And so you repeat the 3 successes again. And again. And again. 3 to 1. Keep going.

Eventually you will wipe out that negative thought. This exercise does work because it puts the minor failure in perspective. It reminds you that while you may have had one set back, you also had a triumph. Even better, if you keep doing this, and make it part of your mental routine, you will train your brain to think differently. Scientists call this brain plasticity – the ability to physically change our brains so they work differently. For women in search of confidence tricks, plasticity is great news.

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  • Katty Kay Katty (pronounced CAT-TEE) Kay is the lead anchor of BBC World News America. Prior to taking over as lead anchor, Kay served as the Washington Correspondent for BBC since 2002. Kay’s career with the BBC began in Zimbabwe in 1990 where she started filing radio reports for BBC World Service radio. From there she also ... more

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