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10 Thinking Traps



It's the New Year and we tend to make resolutions in hopes of change. When (not if) we make one misstep in the new journey we want for ourselves, negative thoughts often block success.


In this post, I am going to walk through the top 10 negative thinking traps we experience. I will offer an example of what the trap sounds like with an alternative thought / curious question to support you in letting go of this thought pattern.


Enjoy!

Thinking Trap 1: Black or White Thinking

This is also called All or Nothing thinking. There’s no in-between, it's either all good or all bad. This trap occurs when we look at situations in terms of one extreme or the other.






Examples:

  • “I botched this project, I am terrible at my job.”

  • “If I can't work out for at least an hour, it's not worth it.”

  • “If I eat this one piece of cake, my diet is ruined.”

Sound familiar?


Alternative: box the experience into an acknowledgment followed by an "I will" statement.

  • "I botched this project but it does not define me. I will own my mistake and learn from it."

  • "Today I only have 20 minutes to work out. I will use that time to very efficiently."

  • "I will enjoy a small slice of cake today and I will decline sweets for the rest of the week."

⚡️ News Flash: perfection is often the enemy of progress. Focus on what you have and what you're willing to do rather than what you don't have or what you haven't done.


Thinking Trap 2: Jumping to Conclusions

This is also called Fortune Telling or Mind Reading and is the one most used in my own head.


Jumping to Conclusions is overestimating your ability to predict the future or assuming you know what others are thinking. Often starts with "I know/knew..." in a dramatic tone.


Examples:

  • "I know they're talking about me when I'm not around."

  • "I know this will fail if I don’t do it all myself.”

  • “I can’t ask for help because I know they are already overloaded.”

  • "The recruiter didn't call me back, so I know they are not interested."

This can become a self-fulfilling prophecy (hello confirmation bias) where we act on our negative belief which makes others act out our prediction which is further evidence for the negative belief (“I knew they hated me”).


Alternative: Start your assumption with "The story I'm telling myself" and create two other perspectives before taking action for forming your conclusion.

  • "The story I'm telling myself is that they're talking about me when I'm not around. They could also be talking about things completely unrelated to me. They could also be worried about me. I am going to ask them if we can all talk together on Friday."

💡 Tip: Create at least one perspective with an assumption of positive intent (the idea that a person meant well or was doing their best).


Thinking Trap 3: Catastrophizing and Minimizing (A double dose!)


Catastrophizing is overestimating the consequences of something negative happening.

Minimizing is the opposite where something is a big deal and you downplay it.


Examples of Catastrophizing:

  • “That unsatisfied customer just left a terrible review and it's going to ruin my/our professional reputation!”

  • “If I take my eyes off of my kids for one moment, they will break their necks or get abducted.”


Alternative: Distinguish fact from story. Acknowledge your experience with a more reasonable/realistic outcome then proceed with courage.

  • "Fact: It is true that a negative review occurred and it is not ideal. Story: It is not a guarantee that my reputation is ruined. Acknowledge: I have seen bad reviews before and proceeded with my purchase based on the majority of reviews, which in this case are positive."

  • "Fact: It is true that they could fall and there are bad people in the world. Story: the guarantee of negative consequences. Acknowledge: It is also true that I have talked with the kids about safety and we've been here before without incident. I will adjust my position so I can talk with this parent and also keep an eye on the kids from a distance."

Examples of Minimizing (hint: Procrastination and dismissiveness often show up):

  • You put a lot of effort into something and when someone notices, you say: "oh it wasn't a big deal".

  • You have an important meeting coming up and you don’t prepare until the last minute because you don’t want to seem too eager.


Alternative: Gratitude, Acknowledgment, and Appreciation.

  • "Thank you. I put in a lot of effort, I appreciate you for noticing."


Also, let go of comparison. If it is a big deal TO YOU, acknowledge that. Schedule time on your calendar to dedicate to this work to challenge the procrastination tendency.


Give yourself permission to feel the magnitude of the experience by differentiating excitement from nervousness. They create similar reactions in our bodies (elevated heart rate, sweaty palms, butterflies) but one is joy-based and the other is fear-based. Choose wisely.


Thinking Trap 4: Emotional Reasoning

This is the most common thinking trap. So much so, psychologists have created a countermand for the experience.


Emotional reasoning is accepting feelings or emotions as truth, without objective evidence.



Examples:

  • “I feel inadequate, so I must be worthless.”

  • “I feel guilty, so I must have done something wrong.”

  • “I feel scared, so I must be in danger.”


The countermand is "real but not true."


When you experience a feeling or emotion, you cannot unfeel it. Same goes for thoughts: you cannot unthink a thought. They are real because they happened. That does not mean they are rooted in fact or that they are permanent.


Alternative: Similar to catastrophizing, notice the piece of truth in the feeling or emotion. State the fact. "I do feel (inadequate/guilty/scared).” Then, say "this can be real, but not true." Turn the feeling/thought into a limiting belief statement and find the evidence for the contrary.


⚡️ Power move: do all of this out loud.


This one was personal. Here's mine:

  • "It is true, I feel unoriginal in this moment. I am letting go of the limiting belief that what I have to say is not interesting or helpful. This is helpful and interesting to me and I will share it with others. What happens after that is out of my control.”


💡 Tip: if your emotional reasoning is chronic, commit to saying your limiting belief statement every day. I said mine aloud to myself every morning in 2022. I no longer believe I am unoriginal or uninteresting or unhelpful. So much so, I'm creating a self-guided portal for others to explore my materials.


Hal Elrod, the creator and author of The Miracle Morning, introduced me to the limiting belief statement. Here's his:

  • “I am letting go of the limiting belief that I have a horrible memory. My brain is a miraculous organism capable of healing itself, and my memory can improve, but only in proportion to how much I believe it can improve. So, from this moment on, I am maintaining the unwavering belief that I have an excellent memory, and it’s continuing to get better every day.”


Thinking Trap 5: Labelling

Labeling often goes hand-in-hand with emotional reasoning.


Labeling is an extreme form of generalization when you place a negative label on yourself or someone else rather than acknowledging a mistake or mishap.




Examples:

  • “I feel bad, therefore I am a bad person.”

  • “They are late, they are irresponsible.”

  • “I feel stupid for saying/thinking that, therefore I must be stupid.”

  • “That’s not true. You are a liar.”


Alternative: “They are not (label), they are just (action) right now. What would be helpful to them/me in this moment?”

  • “I am not a bad person, I just feel bad right now.”

  • “They are not irresponsible, they are running late right now.”

  • “I am not stupid, I just feel stupid right now.”

  • “They are not a liar, what they said is not true.”


Remember the assumption of positive intent from Jumping to Conclusions? It applies here. People make mistakes even when doing the best they can. Also, humans are too complex to be described in a single word.


Thinking Trap 6: Disqualifying the Positive

When things feel hard, we tend to focus on the negative, leaving out the positive perspectives and facts.


Worse, when we experience something good, or even neutral, we convince ourselves that it is a fluke and not actually positive. Or when a difficult situation arises, we only see the negative aspects and none of the solutions or opportunities in front of us. When an explanation or solution is offered, it's often retorted with "yea, but..." rather than curiosity.


Examples:

  • I only achieved 92% of my goal. Why couldn’t I get that final 8%? (This could be tied to revenue in a business, a bonus or quota at work, a grade for school, or your kid's school grade)

  • Or - you did achieve 100% and your response is "yea, but that was just luck, chances are it won't happen again."


Sound familiar?


Alternative: Incorporate the word "yet" into your thinking with a curious learning inquiry:

  • "OK, I didn't meet my goal this time, so I haven't gotten it right...yet. What did I learn from this?"

Alternative #2: Turn it around. Look at the completion rate vs the incompletion rate.

  • You scored a 92% on your test. Let's look at the answers you got right and how you chose the right answers! When you're ready, let's explore the ones you got wrong too!


❗True Story: I achieved 92% of my revenue goal for my business in 2021. In 2022, I set a goal 130% higher based on what I learned about my efforts in 2021. Guess what? I achieved 109% of my goal in 2022 - which is a 154% increase year over year. I focused on the glass that was 92% full....not the glass that was 8% empty.


Thinking Trap 7: Mental Filter

Another name for your Mental Filter is Confirmation Bias: only paying attention to the evidence that confirms our existing, often negative, beliefs. This often results in a spiral of miscommunication and overlooking key information.




Examples:

  • “See, I knew I was right, this article {from my favorite source} confirms my fear.”

  • “My friend {who looks like me and has similar views to me} agrees with my theory.”

  • “Everyone thinks I am wrong because Sam pointed out that different perspective. It doesn’t matter that 3 other people gave me praise.”

Alternatives: Acknowledge your opinion is a hypothesis. Then, get out of your echo chamber and test your hypothesis.

  • Consult sources outside of your typical circle by asking a colleague, friend or mentor/coach to offer an objective (non-judgmental) alternative

  • Seek a new (credible) source that is not a part of your normal research


🎲 Play two truths and a lie: two things can be true at the same time…and you don’t have to believe the lie in between.

  • Sam did point out a valid area that warrants more research AND others found the rest of the information valuable. It is not true that I am wrong simply because there’s a different perspective or opinion.


Thinking Trap 8: Overgeneralizing

Overgeneralizing is seeing a pattern based on a single event or small subset of data.


This thought often leads to an overly broad conclusion or assumption about ourselves or others. Words like "always" and "never" are used in this thinking trap. The "yea, but" retort from Day 5 is also a common practice here.

Examples:

  • “I (my partner) misplaced the keys...again. I (they) always lose things and never put them back where they belong.”

  • “I always fail at new things...Yea, but I am terrible at this and will never get it right.”

Sound familiar?


⚡️ News Flash: humans are rarely consistent enough to warrant an "always" or "never" statement. If we had that level of consistency, we'd likely have much higher success with our desired healthy habits! Give yourself a break and remember: F.A.I.L. is simply a First Attempt In Learning.


Alternatives:

Replace all-or-nothing language with specific, qualifying language (“sometimes” or “yet” are helpful). Then, as I tell my kids, make a request vs a complaint.

  • “Sometimes I do misplace my keys. I will tie a ribbon on the keychain as a reminder to put them on the hook when I get home."

  • "I sometimes fail when I try new things. It means I haven't mastered it…yet. I learned ___ from this and will try again tomorrow."


Thinking Trap 9: Should Statements

Shoulding is when you use the word “should” to set rigid rules for how the world should operate and for how people (including yourself) should think, feel, and behave.






Examples:

  • “I shouldn’t feel like this.”

  • “I should eat a salad instead of pizza.”

  • "I should just quit on this dream and get a stable middle management job."

⚡ News Flash: Don’t should all over yourself 💩(perfect emoji right!?)


Alternative: Let go of self-judgment to make space for curiosity and ask yourself "Why should I?"


If the justification is coming from an authentic place inside, proceed.

  • "I want to eat a salad because it supports my goal to lose 10lbs and it honors my value of an active lifestyle”.

  • Thinking Trap 8’s example: “I want to stop losing my keys because it makes me feel panicked right before I leave, so I want to create that habit of putting them back every time I get home.”

If the justification is because of an external source (the proverbial "they" or "experts"), find what personal value the action is supporting.

  • "Yes, a middle management desk job would be more financially stable and that has benefits. I am choosing to honor my values of making an impact and pursuing my passion. What does it look like to create stability in this choice?”


⚠️ Warning: The "should" might come out as “If/then…” statements where you over-focus on an imagined outcome as the solution to all your problems. Examples:

  • "If I would just get a middle management desk job, then our financial stability would be set."

  • "If only I could find a life partner, then everything else will work out."


News Flash: the grass is greener where you water it (not simply on the other side of your current situation)


Alternative: When an if-then statement comes out, identify the tradeoffs and what you're willing to do consistently toward the goal. This is not a pros/cons list, it is a yes/no list to identify the tradeoffs you accept in those choices.

  • "If I say yes to a middle management desk job, what am I saying yes/no to? Alternatively, if I say yes to pursuing my dream, what am I saying "yes/no to?"

Then, make a commitment to consistent action: "If I say yes to prioritizing finding a life partner, what am I willing to do every single day to make this happen?"


Thinking Trap 10: Personalization


Personalization: believing everything others do or say is directly related to something you've said or done.