Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

The ANTs are killing me

Written by: on February 27, 2024

Black Ants


The Bat and Ball illustration[1] took me longer to get right than it should have, but that is probably the point. My impulsive System 1 took control, and intuition led me to the wrong answer. How could the answer not be 10 cents? So much for “Don’t think Blink![2]

When System 1 encounters a problem, it can’t immediately grasp, it enlists System 2 to help solve it, which seems reasonable. However, if System 1 is misled into believing a problem is simpler than it is, this may explain my many mistakes in decision-making. Let me clarify, I’ve undoubtedly made some sound decisions as well, but reflecting on “thinking fast and slow” prompts me to reconsider some of my quick, instinctive decision-making processes.

For years, when confronted with a dilemma, a colleague’s prompt of “BLINK” has been upheld as a reliable method for making decisions; yet, what if some of those decisions were misguided? It is possible that the BLINK technique merely served as a sophisticated guise for relying on the “law of least effort”[3]. As Kahneman points out, “Even in the absence of time pressure, maintaining a coherent train of thought requires discipline”[4]. I wonder how frequently I’ve justified avoiding System 2, attributing it to being too busy, under pressure, or lazy (or, in a kinder way, “cognitive ease[5]”).

I’ve often reflected on key team meetings, and while previously having defined them as “one percenters” Kahneman defines it as Primers. The “one percenters” consist of the ‘little’ things that we (ministry/leadership team) either consistently get wrong or repeatedly fail on, in intermittent periods. I arrive at church on any given Sunday with a full tank, 100%. I am full of faith, hope and expectation that the day will succeed, with increasing numbers, many salvations, miracles and a ‘feel good factor!’. The “one percenters” reduce the ‘fullness’ of my tank, leading to irritation and frustration on my part. “One percenters” may include light bulbs not working, foyer screens not functioning, seating not spaced, smoke machines running too long, house and stage lighting incorrect, overflowing bins, mismanagement of parking flow causing delays, volume and mix levels with the sound system, etc. Before long, I can be operating at 75%, with 25 one percenter’s eating away at me. In isolation, these can be petty grievances, and, compared with the plight of Christians in the persecuted world, they are. When these “one percenters” repeat themselves, it causes me to conclude that “if we cannot get these little things right, how will we ever achieve more?” The primers of frustration can cause me to make incorrect decisions. How do I make better decisions when the primers have not set me up for success and when “exaggerated emotional coherence” as a negative effect of the “halo effect”[6] has occurred?

I suspect that “confirmation bias”[7] is at work on any given Sunday. Perhaps I go looking for the “one percenters” and I need to think Fast & Slow. Beyond the recognition of Systems 1 & 2, one key lesson from the book that stands out for enhancing decision-making in the context of negative, emotional primers, is the distinction between the experiencing self and the remembering self[8]. Understanding this concept can effectively neutralise the impact of faulty decision-making and enable a leader to overcome ANTs.


Research indicates that humans have approximately 60,000 thoughts each day[9] and that up to 70%, are negative, a phenomenon known as ‘negativity dominance’.[10] Dealing with this ‘mental chatter’ is an activity we employ 24/7, and yet some thoughts affect our emotions, creating a downward spiral. The “one-percenters” can impact my emotions. Automatic Negative Thoughts or ANTs are incredibly harmful, causing “chronic stress” which” shrinks the brain”[11] and changes the chemical makeup in the brain, creating a negative effect in life. These effects include:

  • “Reducing the feel-good serotonin and dopamine levels.
  • Slowing the production of protein required for new brain cell formation.
  • Shrinking the size of the brain but enlarging the brain’s fear centre, the amygdala.
  • Increasing the risk of psychiatric and neurodegenerative diseases.
  • Accelerating the brain’s ageing process.”[12]

In an insightful discussion with Dr Robi Sonderegger, a prominent Clinical Psychologist in Australia, he introduced a fresh perspective on dealing with Automatic Negative Thoughts (ANTs)[13]. He likened ANTs to their namesake insects: while swatting away a single ANT is manageable, confronting a whole colony requires more drastic measures. Similarly, ANTs can infiltrate your mind unexpectedly, wreaking havoc on your emotions if left unchecked.

Dr Robi recommended taking charge of these thoughts and resulting negative emotions by acknowledging their validity in the moment but postponing deeper consideration until later when you have a clearer mindset. By scheduling a specific time to address these thoughts, you disconnect the emotion from them, reducing their impact and empowering emotional self-leadership.

This approach mirrors the concept of the “experiencing self” discussed by Kahneman. The initial encounter with an ANT and subsequent diary entry represents System 1, thinking fast, while the scheduled diary appointment for reflection embodies System 2, thinking slow. By revisiting the ANT later in the day with a clear head, you can make more informed decisions and manage your emotions effectively.



[1] Kahneman, Daniel. 2012. Thinking, Fast and Slow: Daniel Kahneman. 1st edition. London: Penguin. 44.

[2] Gladwell, Malcolm. 2006. Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking: Written by Malcolm Gladwell, 2006 Edition, Publisher: Penguin. Penguin.

[3] Kahneman, 40.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid, 59.

[6] Ibid, 82, 206.

[7] Ibid, 81.

[8] Ibid, 381.

[9] Comaford, Christine. 2012. ‘Got Inner Peace? 5 Ways To Get It NOW’. Forbes. Accessed 19 February 2024. https://www.forbes.com/sites/christinecomaford/2012/04/04/got-inner-peace-5-ways-to-get-it-now/.

[10] Raghunathan, Raj. 2013. ‘How Negative Is Your “Mental Chatter”? | Psychology Today’. Accessed 19 February 2024. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/sapient-nature/201310/how-negative-is-your-mental-chatter.

[11] Hathaway, Bill. 2012. ‘Yale Team Discovers How Stress and Depression Can Shrink the Brain’. Yale News. 12 August 2012. https://news.yale.edu/2012/08/12/yale-team-discovers-how-stress-and-depression-can-shrink-brain.

[12] Alban, Patrick. 2023. ‘Automatic Negative Thoughts (ANTs): How to Break the Habit’. Be Brain Fit. 13 February 2023. https://bebrainfit.com/automatic-negative-thoughts/.

[13]   Sonderegger, Robi.  Interview by author, Davos, Switzerland, January 29, 2017.

About the Author


Glyn Barrett

I am the founding, Lead Pastor of !Audacious Church in Manchester, England. I was born in Manchester, but moved to Australia at the age of two. My wife and I were married in Australia and began married and ministry life in England 28 years ago. After serving as youth pastors for 12 years, we moved to Manchester to pioneer !Audacious Church. As a church we now have 7 locations. 3 in Manchester, Chester, Cardiff (Wales), Sheffield, and Geneva (Switzerland). In 2019 I became the National Leader of Assemblies of God in Great Britain. We have over 600 churches in our movement and have planted 50 new churches since May 2022 with a goal of planting 400 new churches between May 2022 and May 2028. I am the European Lead for MM33, which is the church planting ministry for Assemblies of God Global and also chair Empowered21 Western Europe. I'm happily married to Sophia, with two children, one dog and two motorbikes. I love Golf, coffee and spending time with friends. Looking forward to meeting you all, and creating new friendships.

14 responses to “The ANTs are killing me”

  1. mm Ryan Thorson says:

    Phenomenal post Glyn. This is super helpful and insightful. You’ve given me a lot to think about in regards to managing negative thinking patterns in myself and in others. You mention visiting the ANT ‘later in the day, with a clear head’ and I’m curious what that looks like in practice for you? Where and when is your best thinking done? How do you schedule that in during the midst of the fullness of life in your week?

  2. mm Glyn Barrett says:

    Hi Ryan and thanks. Later in the day for me, is often 30 minutes before my evening meal. My calendar alarm will indicate “ANT time”. I don’t write the specifics in my calendar. Two things happen, (I) if I struggle to remember the ANT, I am training my thinking and emotions to disconnect from the specific Negative emotion, and (ii) If I do remember the ANT, then I only have 30 minutes to process it because time with the family and food awaits. It has been an amazing journey of conquering the ANTs. It actually works.

  3. Nancy Blackman says:

    What great insight and self awareness to reevaluating some of your instinctive decision-making processes. We could all learn from that as well.

    As you reflect upon the 1%’ers that can empty your energy tank, are there ways for you to set boundaries for yourself so they don’t affect you negatively?

    Thanks for introducing a new concept. I love the ANT pnemonic.

    Would the ANTs pnemonic work for you?

    • mm Glyn Barrett says:

      Hi Nancy. The ANT process is the best help for me with the One Percenters. I make a note on my phone when things come to mind and deliberately schedule those notes for our Sunday Review meetings later in the week. The emotion is taken away, and we are able to ensure team processes are in place to best “fix” the observable problems.

  4. Jeff Styer says:

    Having been to Costa Rica in college for a Tropical Ecology course, I learned about two different types of ants. One is the leaf cutter ants. They were always seen walking along in a line following the ants in front of them. However, what was “fun” to do was to put something in their path and watch them all pile up trying to figure out where they are supposed to be going. That is like derailing our negative thoughts, slow them down and force them to analyze the situation. I like how you discussed in your response to Ryan how you set aside 30 minutes a day to address your ANTs. You have set up a road block preventing them from getting to their destination. The other type of ant is the Bullet Ant. It is a solitary ant, but if it bites you, you feel like you were shot. This is that one solitary negative thought that seems to implant itself in your mind impacting your whole day, week, month. If leaf cutter ants are one percenters and a bullet ant is something greater like 25 or 30 percent, what do you do to prevent the bullet ants from coming in you mind? Are you able to put if off until later like the other negative thoughts?

    • mm Glyn Barrett says:

      Hi Jeff! Hmm, great analogy with the bullet ANT. I wonder if that is where the analogy breaks down for me a little. I think the Leaf Cutter Ants undealt with become the BULLET ANT. I am struggling to remember a moment when ONE thought in isolation has been the catalyst for negative emotions that have the potential to derail me. I may have to think more about it.
      The 30 minutes to deal with the ANTs before the evening meal are needed when I can’t shake the cycle of negative emotion with a thought pattern. So it’s not daily, it’s as and when they occur.

  5. Graham English says:

    Thanks for your post, Glyn. I can relate to the ANTS. What role do you think the Spirit plays between the experiencing self and the remembering self?
    I was also wondering about having a more facilitative mindset or an assigned group facilitator lead group meetings. One that would cause us to ask good questions and enter into discernment mode to seek the mind of Christ. Most of us pastors would say that “Jesus is the functional head of the church, leading his church in real time, and that we are the undershepherds who take our cues from him.” I have found, in my personal experience, that this is easier said than done. How might you invite Jesus to lead his church in real time in a team meeting?

    • mm Glyn Barrett says:

      Hi Graham, thanks. Great questions. May I adopt preaching mode for the first question? Well, as a Pentecostal Pastor and Holy Spirit man, I can honestly say the Spirit is involved in both the experiencing self and the remembering self. One aspect of Theology that I love has to do with the greatness of God. He is Omnipresent (everyWHERE), but by virtue of that, He also must be everyWHEN. That God sits outside of time should be of no surprise to any of us. Time is a construct that God created, He, therefore, is not controlled by anything He has made. Time is a tool in God’s hand. God doesn’t have to wait until tomorrow because He is already there. Equally, God is still 10, 100 and 1000 years ago. It’s a mind-boggling idea.
      Because of that, I believe the Holy Spirit is still in our past moments. When it comes to the remembering self, I’m convinced that the Holy Spirit can bring accurate recall but also cause us to forget (or heal) painful past memories so that our experiencing self is able to endure, by God’s grace, those moments. Thinking through Kahneman’s System 1 and System 2 concepts, The Holy Spirit must be at work in each of the processes. There are of course, Bible references for each of my thoughts above, but you’re a preacher too, you get it.
      In responding to question 2, welcoming Jesus to guide His church in the present moment is as straightforward as saying, “Holy Spirit, be present!” Recognising my role as a steward or servant of God should naturally heighten my awareness of His presence. Yet, frequently, I find myself leading from a state of habit rather than genuine awareness.

  6. mm Kari says:

    Hi Glyn, I skimmed the above comments and your responses and I want to tag on to those. I love that you have “ANT time” for yourself daily and a Sunday check-in meeting with your team during the week. What changes have you seen in your family, staff, and church services that may be a direct result of you taking these “ANT times”?

    • mm Glyn Barrett says:

      Hi Kari, thank you. The ANT moments are not daily, they happen as and when I need to shake an ANT. They are powerful moments. The direct result is that I’m a less anxious presence in my family, friends and team’s lives. Everyone wins.

  7. Christy Liner says:

    Hi Glyn, I like the idea of leaving the ANTs for a later time. It’s like having boundaries with yourself – you’re giving space to process them, but not allowing them to control your day.

    However, some of these ANTs may also implanted thoughts from the enemy that we simply need to reject. Do you find greater discernment when you revisit the ANTs vs. when they first appear?

    • mm Glyn Barrett says:

      Great question Christy. Yes, I find that when my emotions are not clouding rational thinking and spiritual processing, I am more able to discern the enemy’s tactics in this area. It’s part of “taking every thought captive” that has proven incredibly rewarding.

  8. Elysse Burns says:

    Hi Glyn, thank you for the parallels you found in Kahneman’s Thinking Fast and Slow to the reality of ministry.

    What are some things you do in the moment to not let the “one percenters” drain your tank? Especially, on Sundays.

    • mm Glyn Barrett says:

      Hi Elysse. Thank you. I simply write them down on my phone or if one of my assistants is with me (Service Producer, Manager or PA) I will mention it to them and it goes onto the agenda for the Tuesday review meeting.

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