Thinking Traps (unhelpful thoughts): How to Identify & Counter Them and Choose Helpful Thoughts and Behaviors

Thinking trap image

tl;dr

  • We can choose what to think and how to behave.
  • (Almost) everyone has thinking traps (unhelpful thoughts).
  • Unhelpful thoughts lead to unhelpful behaviors.
  • Unhelpful thoughts can be noted and countered gently and compassionately with data and alternative scenarios, leading to more helpful behaviors.

The Problem

Thoughts have power. Our thoughts impact our behavior. Helpful thoughts lead to helpful and constructive behavior. Unhelpful thoughts lead to unhelpful behavior.

Identifying our unhelpful thoughts (thinking traps) and countering them with data and compassion makes us lead more effective lives.

Examples of thinking traps:

  1. Overgeneralization: “My friend didn’t text me back. No one texts me.”
  2. Black and White Thinking: “My friend didn’t text me back. She never texts me back when I need her to. Why does she do this to me all the time?”
  3. Personalization: “My friend didn’t text me back, He hates me.”
  4. Catastrophizing: “My friend didn’t text me back. Something is terribly wrong.”
  5. Fortune Telling: “My friend didn’t text me back. She will never text me again.”
  6. Should Statements: “My friend didn’t text me back. She shouldn’t do this to me. Fine, I won’t text her ever again.”

Most thinking traps sit in multiple boxes at the same time. E.g., Examples 5 & 6 are a practice in unhelpful thinking that involve: fortune telling, catastrophizing, black and white thinking, and “should”ing.

Thinking traps get in the way of us engaging in helpful behaviors and action steps. Getting wrapped up in these scenarios where we start thinking in unhelpful ways can make us choose unhelpful behaviors, e.g. not studying for the test coming up, not applying to the job we had wanted to that day, getting angry and grumpy with other friends/family, fighting with the friend when s/he does, finally, text back etc.

This exacerbates the situation and leads to more unhelpful thoughts (e.g. I am such a loser. I should have studied and instead wasted the whole day worrying about her. Now, I will now fail the test tomorrow. I will never graduate with a good GPA and won’t get a job. I might as well throw in the towel and go watch Netflix.) (Overgeneralization; overgeneralization; shoulding; fortune telling; catastrophizing –> unhepful behavioral choice.)

Action Steps

  • We have a choice about how we think & behave
  • Everyone has thinking traps (unhelpful thoughts).
  • Unhelpful thoughts lead to unhelpful behaviors.
  • Unhelpful thoughts can be noted and countered gently and compassionately with data and alternative scenarios, leading to more helpful behaviors. E.g.:
  1. My friend didn’t text me back. But 3 other friends have texted in the last 1 hour.
  2. My friend didn’t text me back. But she did text me the last 3 days.
  3. My friend didn’t text me back. This is not like her. I hope she is ok.
  4. My friend didn’t text me back. Perhaps her phone is out of charge. She will text me when she can.  I will go study for the test now. If I don’t hear from her by 7 p.m., I will text/call her or her sister to make sure she is ok.

The second set of thoughts is kinder to the self, and to the friend. These helpful thoughts come from a place of caring, compassion, and concern rather than judgment and assumptions about how the friend is failing. Helpful thoughts help us choose gentle, self- and other-compassionate behaviors, as well. Helpful behaviors lead to productivity.

Additional Resource

https://www.anxietycanada.com/sites/default/files/ThinkingTraps.pdf

Image credit: https://www.facebook.com/Blurtitout/posts/2864407310259918

 

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