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Thinking Traps List

Thinking Traps

By: Elizabeth Louis

How We Distort Our Experiences!

The language we use in everyday life both represents and impacts how we experience our world. We attempt to capture thoughts, and ideas and describe what we see around us using words. Inevitably, things get “lost in translation”.

We lose information through “Generalizing”, “Deletion” of information, and “Thinking Traps”. Distortion is where some aspects of ideas and experiences are given more weight and focus than others. We all do this both consciously and unconsciously, and how we do this provides pointers to our underlying beliefs about ourselves, others, and the world.

Here is a list of the Top 17 Thinking Traps

Which of these do you do? Check the areas below that you might like to discuss with your coach.

1. All or Nothing Thinking: Seeing things as black-or-white, right-or-wrong with nothing in-between. Essentially, if I’m not perfect then I’m a failure.

I didn’t finish writing that paper so it was a complete waste of time. There’s no point in playing if I’m not 100% in shape.
They didn’t show, they’re completely unreliable!

2. Overgeneralization: Focusing on one incident or describing a situation or a person. Using words like always, never in relation to a single event or experience.

I’ll never get that promotion
She always does that…
You focus on your partner’s failure to ask about your day and ignore all the other caring things s/he does.

3. Minimizing or Magnifying: Seeing things as dramatically more or less important than they actually are. Often creating a “catastrophe” that follows.

Because my boss publicly thanked her she’ll get that promotion, not me (even though I had a great performance review and just won an industry award).
I forgot that email! That means my boss won’t trust me again, I won’t get that raise and my wife will leave me.

4. Catastrophizing: Overestimate the consequences of something negative happening

You imagine a bad review will get you fired.
You have to talk with your boss about a raise and you imagine it going terrible, even though she’s quite approachable.

5. “Shoulds”: Rigid rules for how your inner and external world needs to operate. You leave little in-between room. Using “should”, “need to”, “must”, and “ought to” to motivate oneself, then feeling guilty when you don’t follow through (or anger and resentment when someone else doesn’t follow through).

I should have got the painting done this weekend.
They ought to have been more considerate of my feelings, they should know that would upset me.

6. Labelling/Mislabelling: Attaching a negative label to yourself or others following a single event.

I didn’t stand up to my co-worker, I’m such a wimp!    What an idiot, he couldn’t even see that coming!

7. Jumping to Conclusions: Making assumptions about yourself or others without any evidence.

Your partner is abnormally quiet when meeting your parents, so you assume he/she doesn’t like them.

1) Mind-Reading: Making negative assumptions about how people see you without evidence or factual support. You assume you know what someone is thinking without any evidence to support your assumption. Your friend is preoccupied and you don’t bother to find out why. You’re thinking:

She thinks I’m exaggerating again or He still hasn’t forgiven me for telling Fred about his illness.

2) Fortune Telling: Making negative predictions about the future without evidence or factual support

I won’t be able to sell my house and I’ll be stuck here (even though the housing market is good). No one will understand. I won’t be invited back again (even though they are supportive friends).

8. Discounting the Positive: Not acknowledging the positive. Saying anyone could have done it or insisting that your positive actions, qualities or achievements don’t count…

That doesn’t count, anyone could have done it.
I’ve only cut back from smoking 40 cigarettes a day to 10. It doesn’t count because I’ve not fully given up yet.

9. Blame: Blaming yourself when you weren’t entirely responsible or blaming other people and denying your role in the situation. Personal

If only I was younger, I would have got the job
If only I hadn’t said that, they wouldn’t have…
If only she hadn’t yelled at me, I wouldn’t have been angry and wouldn’t have had that car accident.

10. Personalization: Overestimating your influence on negative events; taking things personally. Running other people’s choices and decisions through your own belief system without considering their beliefs.

Get frustrated with how someone chose to do something.
You assume your partner doesn’t care about you when they fail to keep their word.

11. Emotional Reasoning: I feel, therefore I am. Assuming that a feeling is true – without digging deeper to see if this is accurate. Your perspective and decisions are solely based on your emotional reactions.

I feel like such an idiot (it must be true) I feel guilty (I must have done something wrong). I feel really bad for yelling at my partner, I must be really selfish and inconsiderate.

12. Mental Filter: Allowing (dwelling on) one negative detail or fact to spoil our enjoyment, happiness, hope, etc.

You have a great evening and dinner at a restaurant with friends, but your chicken was undercooked and that spoiled the whole evening.

13. Thoughts are What They Say They Are: Treating thoughts like facts. Potential subjective information becomes fact

You think your wife is mad at you, therefore it’s true You believe you will fail, so therefore it’s true.

14. “It’s Not Fair”: Hyper focusing on whether things are fair or not
It’s not fair that she got the job I wanted. It’s not fair that I have to do summer school and she doesn’t.

15. “If Only…”: Hyper focusing on an imagined outcome as the solution to your problems. It’s believing an external reality will solve your problems and bring happiness. There are subtle hints of envy and jealousy.

If only I had more money If only I got a promotion.

16. Tunnel Vision: Fixating on another’s behavior that fits your assumptions and/or judgments about the individual

You believe your boyfriend is selfish, and only focus on that.
You believe your spouse doesn’t’ earn enough money, and only see the lack he/she provides and neglect the fact all the bills are paid.

17. Biased Explanation: Believing another person has negative motives without any evidence. Believing another person has negative motives without any evidence.
Your mom is only being nice because she wants something.

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The greatest opponent you have lives in your mind – you have to learn how to win & that takes practice.