Common thinking traps and how to avoid them

Over the coming weeks starting today I’m writing a new series on common thinking traps that people can find themselves in and ways that we can overcome them. All of them have strategies that can be used to help avoid the traps that can hold us. There are some important assumptions to our thinking that these solutions make:
  1. Accept that no one else is the cause of your thinking and acting in the ways that you do. The ‘blame culture’ will get us nowhere and it creates what I call the Adam and Eve Syndrome: “She told me to eat it; the serpent said it was ok.” We don’t have to do what others say to us to do. We are fully responsible for our actions; no one else is to blame.
  2. There is a way out; there is ‘light at the end of the tunnel’. Hopelessness is one of the most damaging of conditions. The strategies that are offered today and over the coming weeks will work if enough effort is put in by you. It will need your commitment; nothing truly worth having is easy to achieve is it?
  3. What you do is simply that: what you do. What you have is simply that: what you have. Your worth is in who you are.
Please read point 3 again and preferably read it in the morning and evening for a week. It’s that powerful. The moment our identity is connected to what we have or what we do we are on a slippery slope to failure. If you find yourself slipping up say to yourself:
I have said [whatever it is that’s a common thinking trap] but that is what I do and I fully commit to change that response to the best of my ability. My worth is in who I am.

You never know, just saying the above for a week or two might be the single greatest investment in yourself that you can possibly ever make.

The common thinking traps are not hierarchical. The last one is no less significant that the first one. Together, they represent the ones that many people find themselves thinking and then saying.

Each of the common thinking traps will follow a pattern. First, there is the challenge that we’re going to overcome. Second, is the opportunity for us to impact the challenge and offer opportunities for our conscious mind to add in information and ultimately change the feelings we’re experiencing. Third, is a reflective thought to consolidate the change in thinking and forth is something to say. Saying it out loud (if it’s not too embarrassing!) is a very effective strategy but so is saying it in your head when in front of the neighbours, work colleagues and the family!
So, in terms of common thinking traps what’s the first one?

1. Catastrophising

Catastrophising is one of those words that behavioural therapists and coaches have invented. Type it in and you’ll probably see a red line or squiggle underneath it. Turning nouns into verbs can often do that. The noun, of course, is catastrophe. “A disaster!” may well be our thoughts or verbal response to supposed catastrophes that are heading our way.

It’s our unconscious feeling unsafe that induces those thoughts and the ensuing words. And it’s our unconscious that needs calming down. The probable challenge with catastrophising is: “It’s all over! It will happen!”

Facing the challenge of whatever the event is we must ask ourselves a series of opportunity questions. Perhaps, most important of all is: “How likely is this to happen?” The cognitive conclusion that we’re working towards (using the problem-solving part of our brain: the neocortex), as we explore the catastrophising is, this isn’t likely to happen.
“But what if it did! How would I cope?”
is what I’ve heard people say to this conclusion . There is always the possibility of anything happening and no amount of planning and calculation can eliminate us from the possibility. The fact is people often over-estimate the likelihood of something happening and under-estimate their ability to cope of it did.
So, we can say: “I am over-estimating the likelihood of [whatever it is] happening and under-estimating my ability to cope if it did. I will cope.”
It’s going to take practice. Face the situation and say the above words. Face it for as long as you can. Then, next time, face it for longer. Keep repeating the exposure and you’ll find yourself becoming more and more de-sensitised to the unhelpful feelings. As you repeat the exposure and become more and more de-sensitised, the meaning of the event will change and you will find yourself behaving more and more like everyone else.
To repeat, it’s going to take determination and effort: effort that says “I Will” whether I feel like it or not.
So, next time you find yourself catastrophising you now know what to do.

Here’s a summary:

1. Catastrophising
Challenge: “It’s all over! It will happen!”
Opportunity: Review realistically. Ask yourself: “How likely is this to happen?”
Reflection: People often over-estimate the likelihood of something happening and under-estimate their ability to cope of it did.
Say, as well as the previous things to say: “I may not like this but I will cope.”