‘Mind traps‘ or ‘thinking traps’ are patterns of thought and are also know as ‘cognitive distortions’ as they usually come with a negative swing which prevent us from seeing things as they really are. It is a way that our mind convinces us of one thing when in reality its completely untrue. Mind traps can limit possibilities and undermine your resources to cope with life’s inevitable challenges. When you’re under stress, it’s easy to get swept away by negative thought patterns that over-personalise and distort the actual event.
Being Mindful about how we think will allow you to become more aware of your thought processes and by becoming familiar with your own negative thought patterns you can recognise which mind traps you use. This will help to reduce your stress and anxiety levels. Understanding our thoughts is one of the most powerful things we can do if we want to take ownership over our lives.
Mind traps are irrational thought patterns that blind you to the truth, causing you to make errors in judgment. As you become more conscious of your mind traps, you learn that each one is a combined exaggeration of a threat and an underestimation of your ability to deal with it.
Common Mind Traps
“I feel stupid, so I must be stupid”
This is one of the common mind traps we can fall into. Taking your emotions as evidence of truth. when you follow your emotion and believe that to be the truth without considering the wider contact or the evidence in front of you. This can be really harmful as it will create a ‘communication loop’ you think something negative, it makes you feel sad or anxious, which then makes you feel even worse! It can be hard to snap out.
My leg hurts, so it’s surely broken.
Imagining the worse case scenario, no matter how unlikely in reality. Having absolute responses that greatly exaggerate the severity of a situation. This is my favourite might trap and one that I have become better at managing now that I am aware of it. To resolve this when you catch yourself worrying over something that hasn’t happened, identify your negative prediction. Then ask yourself, “Where’s the evidence for this conclusion?”
All or Nothing: Black and White Thinking
“I either going to be brilliant at this or its going to be a disaster”
Thinking only of possible outcomes at either extreme, so really good or really bad andnot actually seeing the possible outcomes in between, or the grey bits. Of course we know that life is somewhere in the middle.
The “Shoulds” and the ‘Musts’
“I shouldn’t eat any junk food again”
“I must get my child potty trained by the time he is 2”
This is when you have rules for how you, or others should or shouldn’t behave. When our expectations fall short we can feel disappointed or even angry. These often come from what you think you should or must do and are most likely a result of the influence of others. It is possible that these ‘shoulds’ could motivate you but in reality they end up becoming a hinderence as you will give yourself such high expectations that they are unlikely to be met and therefore you will be in a constant cycle of disappointment.
Exaggerate the Negatives: Discount the positives
“If I have another panic attack I’m going to have a heart attack and die”.
“Yes it was ok, but not that good”
Exaggerating the likelihood of something bad happening, like when you catch yourself viewing a negative event as a never-ending pattern of defeat. It is also about discounting the positive: You reject positive experiences by insisting that they “don’t count.” If you do a good job, you may tell yourself that it wasn’t good enough or that anyone could have done as well. Discounting the positive takes the joy out of life and makes you feel inadequate and unrewarded.
“I know that they are thinking I am a bad mother”
I am probably guilting of this one too. Convincing yourself what other people are thinking and feeling. You connect the dots about a situation based on your beliefs, not the facts. When you automatically accept your thoughts as truth, instead of questioning or checking them out, you’ve sold yourself a bill of goods. Remind yourself that your assumptions are not the truth. You can check out the facts before making conclusions to save yourself a lot of unnecessary worry and stress.
“It was your fault I was late for work”
“It’s my fault George failed his exam, I should have done more”
This is when you hold others responsible for your own pain or holding yourself responsible for the problems of others. Ask yourself if you’re blaming someone for your actions? If you are then think about how much of the situation you are truly responsible for. Be willing to take ownership of your part, but avoid becoming overly responsible for situations outside your control.
What can you do to help yourself?
If left unchecked mind traps can become consuming and play tricks on us, leaving us feeling trapped. Becoming aware of when you’re using one and to take a step back and see if you could do or say something different and better. By labelling your response, e.g. “the mind is catastrophizing”, we can depersonalise it and create space and the choice to change it.
Practice self-care as much as possible – Mind traps tend to get worse the more rundown and tired we are. Make sure you’re doing things that support your mental wellbeing.
Remember if you are feeling really down or feel like you have fallen into a pattern of negative thinking which is causing damage to your overall wellbeing it is really important to seek professional help. Resources