Thinking Traps Guide

Thinking traps are 8 common issues that many people fall prey to. The following is a guide for you to realize what they are, if you’re falling prey to them, and how to avoid falling into those routines! See if any of these relate to you. Source: The Resilience Factor by Karen Reivich, Ph. D. and Andrew Shatte, Ph. D.

  1. Jumping to Conclusions: As this thinking trap is accurately named, this occurs when you receive a piece of news and your mind automatically jumps to a conclusion - usually one of the worst case scenarios. Usually, this also goes along with the belief that you caused this worst case scenario. Tip: First, slow down those racing thoughts. Second, Are you certain? Or are you guessing? What evidence do you have?

  2. Tunnel Vision: This thinking trap most often occurs when we can’t process all of the information that is coming at us at the speed of light. Instead of taking an unbiased sample of all the stimuli coming in, those with tunnel vision usually only notice and focus on the negative stimuli, which then creates a negative viewpoint of whatever situation we’re in. Tip: Ask, “what’s a fair assessment of the whole/big picture?” How important is that one “negative” to the whole aspect?

  3. Magnifying and Minimizing: Unlike tunnel vision, those that fall into this thinking trap see the ups and the downs, they’re just a little out of focus. You can magnify the bad or the good, which can make this difficult to realize that you’re falling into this trap. Tip: A few questions to ask: Were there any good things that happened? Did I do anything well? Am I overlooking any problems? Were there any negative elements that I’m dismissing the importance of?

  4. Personalizing: This trap is the reflex tendency to attribute problems to one’s own doing. Usually this trap makes you think that there’s a deep character flaw within yourself, and that when something goes wrong it’s because there is something wrong with you, instead of the situation at hand. Tip: Ask, “did anyone or anything else contribute to this situation? How much of the problem is due to me, and how much is due to others?”

  5. Externalizing: This is the flipside to personalizing. Externalizing places the blame on outside forces - problems are rarely your fault. For example: “no one can sell in this market.” This is when we aren’t available to criticism, and to bettering ourselves and instead feel that the rest of the world is against us. Tip: Ask yourself,” What did I do to contribute to this situation? How much of the problem is due to others, and how much is due to me?”

  6. Overgeneralizing: This thinking trap is when we ignore the nuances of a person or situation and instead assign broad, sweeping statements to situations and people. Many times this will go along with character assassination - attack a person and labeling them as a broad statement “lazy, dumb, uncaring, forgetful etc” instead of looking at the specific behavior in the moment. Tip: If you overgeneralize, you need to look more closely at the behaviors involved. Ask: “Is there a narrower explanation than the one I’ve assumed is true? Is there a specific behavior that explains the situation?”

  7. Mind Reading: This thinking trap is when we believe that we know what is going on in the other person’s mind. We assume that we know what they’re thinking, and therefore what the outcome is going to be based on the thoughts that we believe they have. As we can see, this is an intense mind game. It’s important to remember that we don’t know 100% what another person is thinking and we can’t always tell by their physical stance. Tip: In order to be clear on what others are thinking it’ll be important to speak up and ask questions of others. Ask yourself: “Did I make my beliefs or feelings known directly and clearly? Did I convey all of the pertinent information? Am I expecting the other person to work hard at figuring out my needs or goals?

  8. Emotional Reasoning: Emotional reasoning is a trap the occurs when we base our outlooks on how we feel, versus on the facts that are surrounding a situation. Are you anxious and therefore a situation will not go well? Are you angry, so nothing is going right? Tip: Ask: Have there been times when my feelings didn’t accurately reflect the facts of a situation? What questions must I ask to know the facts?

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