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Article: Thinking Traps


"Thoughts are like an open ocean, they can either move you forward within its waves,
or sink you under deep into its abyss." ~ Anthony Liccione

Thinking Traps, are a way of thinking that we all fall into now and again. We will find ourselves experiencing unpleasant emotions when we have fallen into a thinking traps. Have a look through the list below, and identify the thoughts that are causing your unpleasant emotions - the ones that lead to suffering. Do you tend fall into the same trap again and again?

Thinking Trap: Black-and-white thinking:
This is when we only look at situations in terms of extremes. For example, things are either good or bad, a success or a failure. But, in reality, most events call for a more “moderate” explanation. For example, cheating once on your diet does not mean you have failed completely. You had a small setback, and all you need to do is to get back on your diet tomorrow.
Examples of Black-and-white thinking: “Anything less than perfect is a failure.” “I planned to eat only healthy foods, but I had a piece of chocolate cake. Now my diet is completely ruined!”

Thinking Trap:Catastrophising:
This is when we imagine that the worst possible thing is about to happen, and predict that we won’t be able to cope with the outcome. But, the imagined worst-case scenario usually never happens and even if it did, we are most likely able to cope with it.
Examples of Catastrophising:
“I’ll freak out and no one will help.” “I’m going to make such a fool of myself, everyone will laugh a me, and I won’t be able to survive the embarrassment.”

Thinking Trap: Emotional Reasoning:
Using changes in your emotions to tell you something about your world.
Examples of Emotional Reasoning: "I feel embarassed, I must be an idiot." “I feel angry. This proves that I’m being treated unfairly.” “I feel so inferior. This means I’m a second rate person.” Or, “I feel hopeless. Things must really be hopeless.”

Thinking Trap: Evaluations / Judgements:
Making judgements about events, ourselves, others, or the world, rather than describing what we actually see and have evidence for
Examples of Evaluations / Judgements: I’m making an evaluation about the situation or person. It’s how I make sense of the world, but that doesn’t mean my judgements are always right or helpful. Is there another perspective?

Thinking Trap: Externalizing - Blaming:
The tendency to blame others or circumstances when something goes wrong.
Examples of Externalizing - Blaming: "It's my mother's/father's/bosses/husband's/wife's fault that I am not happy"

Thinking Trap: Magnifying or Minimising: Mountains and Molehills
Exaggerating the importance of certain aspects of a situation and underestimating the importance of others. Not keeping things in proportion.
Examples of Magnifying or Minimising: "I didn't get my way on that issue - this relationship will never work out."

Thinking Trap: Personalising:
The tendency to blame yourself when things go wrong.
Examples of Personalising: "It's probably my fault. I'm such an idiot."

Thinking Trap: Jumping to Conclusions - Fortune-telling:
This is when we predict that things will turn out badly. In reality, we cannot predict the future because we don’t have a crystal ball!
Examples of Fortune Telling: “I know I’ll mess up.” “I will never be able to manage my anxiety.”

Thinking Trap: Jumping to Conclusions - Mind-reading:
This trap happens when we believe that we know what others are thinking and we assume that they are thinking the worst of us. The problem is that no one can read minds, so we don’t really know what others are thinking!
Examples of Mind-reading:“Others think I’m stupid.” “She doesn’t like me.”

Thinking Trap: Over-generalization:
This is when we use words like “always” or “never” to describe situations or events. This type of thinking is not helpful because it does not take all situations or events into account. For example, sometimes we make mistakes, but we don’t always make mistakes.
Examples of Over-generalization:“I always make mistakes.” “I am never good at public speaking.”

Thinking Trap: Labeling:
Sometimes we talk to ourselves in mean ways and use a single negative word to describe ourselves. This kind of thinking is unhelpful and unfair. We are too complex to be summed up in a single word!
Examples of Labeling:
“I’m stupid.” “I’m / he / she (is) a loser.”

Thinking Trap: Over-estimating danger:
This is when we believe that something that is unlikely to happen is actually right around the corner. This type of thinking can create and maintain your anxiety. For example, how can you not feel scared if you think that you could have a heart attack any time?
Examples of Over-estimating danger: “I will faint.” “I’ll go crazy.” “I’m dying.”

Thinking Trap: Mental Filter:
Noticing our failures but ignoring our successes. When we only pay attention to certain things that happen.
Examples of Filtering: Believing that you did a poor job on a presentation because some people looked bored, even though a number of people looked interested and you received several compliments on how well you did.

Thinking Trap: Should statements:
This is when you tell yourself how you “should”, “must”, or “ought” to feel and behave. The result is that you are constantly anxious and disappointed with yourself and/or with others around you.
Examples of Should statements: “I should never feel anxious.” “I must control my feelings.” “I should never make mistakes.”
There are helpful shoulds, for instance: 'I shouldn't drive when I have been drinking.'

Thinking Trap: Stewing or Ruminating:
Stewing or ruminating is where you find yourself going over and over things in your mind. Stewing or ruminating leads to problems growing in size and appearing even more difficult to deal with.

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