Updated: Jun 19, 2019
Have you ever felt stuck in your own brain? If you have, then you’re not alone. I constantly find my brain pushing and pulling me in all directions, sometimes I feel like my mind doesn’t want to let me see all the possibilities out there – almost like it wants to trick me into seeing the world in warped ways. Sometimes I just want to feel a bit more in control. Is it just my messed-up mind? Well apparently not.
I did a little research, and it’s a thing. Thinking traps; and every mind gets lured into them from time to time.
I must admit, it was a relief to discover that this is just part of being human, and that it’s not just me. Our brains do this, and while we can't necessarily stop our minds from falling down these traps completely, the good news is that we can practice techniques that will loosen their grip on our wellbeing, even if just a little bit.
Let's talk about a few thinking traps and what we can do to show them who is the boss around here!
What are Thinking Traps?
Thinking traps are often referred to as ‘biases’ or 'errors' in thoughts. I personally don’t prefer to call them ‘errors’, because it is not something your mind is doing ‘wrong’. Thinking traps make sense.
What are you thinking about right now? Your mind has thousands of thoughts every day even if you don’t consciously realise it. It’s rather busy in these brains of ours, and with all these thoughts buzzing around, it is understandable that our minds quickly cling onto unhelpful patterns.
When falling into thinking traps stop you living the life you want to live, we need to reign them in - and IT IS POSSIBLE! I didn’t think it could ever be possible for me and it is something that takes practice, but even the smallest difference is a difference.
3 Thinking Traps
Let’s explore just a few of the many thinking traps out there and how we can start to challenge them when they are bringing us down.
1. Black and White Thinking:
This is when something is only good or bad, right or wrong, a success or a failure. This one has been a struggle for me for as long as I can remember, especially if someone has let me down in some way. It becomes harder for me to consider that they could still be good people. Looking upon people in this way doesn’t make me feel happy in the long-term, and I want to change it.
However, I think it is important to recognise that sometimes our minds are trying to help us when it starts thinking in black and white ways. While at times we may hate our B&W thinking, in moments when life is too overwhelming, our minds can try to make decisions as simple as possible and a quick way to do this is to get rid of any grey areas. Sound familiar?
Even if B&W thinking can help at times, we don’t necessarily want this to be our brain’s default pattern. There are very few things in life that are black and white, so we need to consider if there is even a tiny little possibility of there being a sprinkle of grey in there somewhere, because there probably is.
Try this out:
If you find yourself stuck in B&W thinking, ask yourself: In this situation, am I going with the most extreme view? What shades of grey could there be in this situation? How many possibilities can I think of? Is it helpful for me to make a decision on this immediately?
2. Emotional reasoning:
This thinking trap involves believing that our thoughts are facts purely because they feel true. This is NOT to say that your feelings aren’t valid at any given time, but because our emotions are so powerful we tend to believe that the thought connected to these emotions are absolute facts.
To demonstrate, a thought based on emotional reasoning could be ‘My friends do ask to see me, but I feel like my friends don’t like me, so that must mean that my friends don’t like me’.
Try this out:
So, what could we do when we are emotional reasoning too much? Ask yourself: What facts do I have that this thought is true? What facts do I have that this thought is not true? Remember, they must be FACTS that could stand up as evidence in court. How could I take my thought and make it more balanced?
The purpose of asking ourselves these questions is to bring our awareness back to the fact that our even though our thoughts feel true, they aren’t always AUTOMATICALLY facts. Thinking about things this way has been really helpful for me and ever so slightly brings a bit more balance back into my mind. Even if the thoughts are slightly less powerful, helps me feel a little less sad or anxious, then that’s something I am willing to try.
Wouldn’t it be such a good superpower to read minds? Well at times I have wondered if I have this power, but I can’t say I have much evidence for this.
How many people are you sure don’t like you? And how many of them have you ever actually spoken to? Sometimes it’s almost like ‘we just know’. And yes, we might be right, but a lot of the time we are just ‘mind-reading’ without any evidence.
Thinking of it metaphorically, imagine you were a judge in a court of law and trying to charge the right person with murder. Now, we would all hope that, as a judge, we would consider the evidence presented before deciding on a sentence, but now imagine that you didn’t consider any evidence at all, and convicted a suspect because you just had a strong feeling that they were the murderer.
It might sound like an extreme comparison, but this is exactly the same process we apply to our thoughts sometimes, and we don’t even realise.
This is not to say that our intuition is always wrong, but when it becomes a constant pattern in our thinking we end up mind-reading too much and making decisions that aren’t rooted in the truth. So, what to do?
Try this out:
The next time you notice you are mind-reading, ask yourself: How do I know for sure, exactly what the other person is thinking? Has the person told me this? What are the signs that it is true? Is this a situation that I could ask the person what they think? I think that I know the truth, but does this mean I am DEFINITELY right? Can I make a decision at this stage purely on how I feel?
This can be difficult especially if we are people that are usually quite in tune with how others feel and pick up on others emotions easily, but this is just a reminder that we can get stuck in a cycle of mind-reading the ‘bad’ things that we assume others must be thinking.
This post has briefly touched on just three key thinking traps and has introduced a few questions for challenging those thoughts. Why should you keep an eye on thinking traps going forward?
Thinking traps can have such a huge impact on your mood, what you do in your life, your relationships, your work life and so much more. Therefore, bringing in alternatives using the thought challenging questions helps to open up our minds to more than just the most negative possibilities.
If you take anything away from this post, I hope that it’s the knowledge that it is completely normal for our minds to fall into thinking traps and that while we can’t get rid of them from the human mind, simply an enhanced awareness of this can help keep us in control and welcomes an element of balance to our thoughts again, which can help improve how we feel day-to-day.
Remember, it is not easy and it takes time and perseverance to notice how our minds respond to thinking traps. We may have particular thinking traps that crop up all the time, or we may have a wide range of them buzzing around. Yet in the moment, it can be too difficult to escape or we might not even notice ourselves doing it.
And that’s okay too, the fact that you have a new found awareness is still a step forward.
This new found awareness in itself has had a positive influence on the relationship I have with my own thoughts, so I hope it helps you too.