Thinking Traps - A Guide to Identifying and Escaping Them
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Do you often compare yourself to others? Do you think that you are inadequate every time something bad happens in your life? Or do you tend to expect the worst from others or from the future? These styles of thinking are often referred to as thinking traps or unhelpful thinking styles, and lot of us engage in them. A lot of times, we may not notice that we engage in them. Yet, these ways of thinking can have a large impact on our well-being and how we go about with our daily lives. This article will help you identify some common thinking traps and how to escape them.
Judging Instead of Describing
Blaming Yourself for Bad Events and Dismissing Positive Events
If you tend to blame failures or bad events on your own shortcomings, there is also a chance that you find it hard to acknowledge your achievements. Say you did very well on an exam. Do you acknowledge the hard work you put in to prepare for the exam? Or do you instead dismiss your efforts by convincing yourself that the exam was easy and that anyone could have done well on it? If you tend to dismiss your efforts when you achieve something, and at the same time blame yourself when you fail something, you are probably under- evaluating your efforts and exaggerating your shortcomings. When these unhelpful ways of thinking are combined, they may result in chronic feelings of not being good enough.
Thinking That Everyone Else Is Better off than Yourself
When we evaluate our success, happiness, or other aspects of life, we often compare ourselves to others. And very often, the people we compare ourselves to, are people we view as better off than ourselves. We may compare ourselves to someone who earns more money than us. A colleague who we view as more successful than us. Or a friend who seems happier than us. These types of comparisons are not all bad. They may motivate us to work harder or make positive life changes. However, if we constantly compare ourselves to people who we think are better off than us, we may also end up feeling constantly dissatisfied, and like our life will never be good enough.
Black and White Thinking Style
If we go back to the example of completing an exam, a person who engages in black and white thinking may believe that they are only good enough if they get an A on the exam. Anything less is a failure. Another person may believe that the only way to become happy in life is to be accepted by their dream university. If they are not accepted, they will never be truly happy. Of course, these conclusions are not necessarily true. Getting a B on an exam is still a great achievement. And while it may seem like it, being rejected by your dream university may not be the end of the world. However, for someone who engages in black and white thinking, this can be almost impossible to see.
Should and Must Thinking Style
For example, we may feel that we should go for a run three times a week. If we miss out on a run, we feel guilty about it. Or we may feel that we should work more or spend more time with our parents. If we do not have enough time or energy for that, we feel inadequate. And even if we do succeed in sticking to our run schedule or spending more time with our parents, we might not be able to fully enjoy those moments, because there are always more “should” or “musts” waiting to be completed.
How to Escape Thinking Traps
By challenging your unhelpful thinking styles you may be able develop new and more helpful ways of viewing yourself and the world around you. Of course, this requires some effort and may not be easy. Luckily, there are available tools and techniques that can help you on the way. At Epsychonline we have a series of self-help courses, including one on “Overcoming Perfectionism“. You can visit our Courses page to find a course that suits you. You may also want to read up a bit more on “Should Statements: How They Affect the Way You Think” to get a better understanding of “Personalisation & Internalising Behaviour – Thinking Trap Guide”.