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In my last article, we explored the ways we explain the ups and downs in our lives—these are the explanatory styles that lead to the thinking traps we’ll be exploring here. If you missed it, you can catch up here: Own Your Explanatory Styles: How to Escape Your Pessimistic Ruts.

Now, let’s dig deeper. We’re going to talk about six common “thinking traps” that often come from these explanatory styles. More importantly, we’ll look at how to break free from them.

Hidden Snares: What Are Thinking Traps

Have you ever felt like your thoughts have a mind of their own? Like they’re leading you down a rabbit hole that doesn’t match up with what’s really happening? It’s as if our brains have set little snares for us, ready to trip us up when we least expect it.

Getting caught in these traps can mess with our ability to do well and be our best selves. We might find ourselves in needless arguments, damaging relationships, or beating ourselves up during crucial moments. These thought patterns are like invisible barriers, keeping us from living fully.

Now, let’s be clear: not all of these thought patterns are bad by themselves. It’s when they go to extremes that they become traps. Take the “Me, Me, Me” trap, for example. Books like Extreme Ownership by Jocko Willink teach us that taking responsibility for our actions is a good thing. It helps us focus on what we can control, instead of blaming others. But if we start blaming ourselves for everything, even things out of our control, we can end up in a downward spiral of sadness and self-doubt.

So, how do we escape these thinking traps? We’ll explore six common ones that you might recognize in your own life. The secret to breaking free is to catch yourself in the act and ask yourself a key question. Stay tuned.

Man jumping into a pile of sand, illustrating the Jumping to Conclusions thinking traps.

Jumping to Conclusions: The Mother of All Thinking Traps

Mental Cue: Slow Down

Critical Question: What is the evidence for and against my thoughts?

Jumping to Conclusions is a thinking trap we all fall into sometimes. Picture this: you look outside, see a dark cloud, and immediately assume it’s going to rain all day. We make quick assumptions without having all the facts, and that’s when we get caught in this trap. It’s like believing the worst without any real evidence, and this can cause unnecessary worry and stress in our lives.

To avoid falling into this trap, we need to recognize the mental cue, which is to “Slow Down.” When we catch ourselves jumping to conclusions, we should take a moment to pause and reflect. Then, we can ask ourselves the critical question: “What is the evidence for and against my thoughts?” This helps us challenge our initial assumptions and look for real evidence before we accept them as truth. By slowing down and questioning our conclusions, we can make more informed and rational decisions, reducing stress and anxiety in the process.

This is often called the “mother of all thinking traps.” Why? Because, in a very real sense, all other thinking traps stem from this one. It’s like the root of a tree, and the other traps are the branches.

The word "mind" written on the ground, symbolizing the Mind Reading thinking traps.

Mind Reading

Mental Cue: Speak Up

Critical Question: Did I express myself? Did I ask for information?

Mind Reading is another common thinking trap that many of us experience. You know those times when you’re convinced you know exactly what someone else is thinking, only to discover later that you were completely off track? That’s mind reading in action. It’s when we assume we can read others’ thoughts and emotions without any solid evidence to support our claims. This kind of assumption often leads to misunderstandings and conflicts with the people around us.

To break free from the mind reading trap, we must be aware of the mental cue, which is to “Speak Up.” When we catch ourselves making assumptions about what others are thinking or feeling, we should pause and ask ourselves the critical question: “Did I express myself? Did I ask for information?”

By checking in with ourselves, we can become more aware of our assumptions and remind ourselves that we don’t have the power to read minds. Instead, we should openly communicate with others, sharing our thoughts and feelings, and seeking clarity through genuine conversations. This way, we can build stronger connections and avoid unnecessary conflicts caused by our mind reading tendencies.

A sad looking dog symbolizing the Me, Me, Me thinking traps.

Me, Me, Me

Mental Cue: Look Outward

Critical Question: How did others and/or circumstances contribute?

Ah, the “Me, Me, Me” trap – it’s one we can all relate to. Picture this scenario: something goes wrong, and we find ourselves taking on all the blame, even when we had no control over the situation. It’s like we’re automatically pointing the finger at ourselves, feeling guilty and ashamed, even when we shouldn’t.

To break free from the clutches of the “Me, Me, Me” trap, we need to recognize the mental cue, which is to “Look Outward.” When we catch ourselves spiraling into self-blame, we should stop and ask ourselves the critical question: “How did others and/or circumstances contribute?” By doing this, we open ourselves up to a broader perspective, realizing that not everything is solely our responsibility. We become more compassionate towards ourselves, understanding that life’s mishaps often involve a mix of factors beyond our control.

Remember, it’s okay to take responsibility for our actions, but we don’t need to shoulder the burden of everything. Embracing a more balanced view allows us to let go of unnecessary guilt and shame, fostering a healthier and more forgiving relationship with ourselves.

A hand pointing away symbolizing the them, them, them thinking traps.

Them, Them, Them

Mental Cue: Look Inward

Critical Questions: How did I contribute?

Ah, the “Them, Them, Them” trap – we’ve all been there. It’s when we find ourselves constantly pointing fingers at others, refusing to take responsibility for our own actions. This mindset becomes a roadblock to personal growth and can seriously strain our relationships.

To liberate ourselves from the “Them, Them, Them” trap, we must recognize the mental cue, which is to “Look Inward.” When we catch ourselves blaming others, we need to pause and ask ourselves the critical questions: “How did I contribute?” This self-inquiry opens the door to self-awareness and accountability.

By examining our role in a situation, we can see how our actions, attitudes, or responses might have influenced the outcome. This doesn’t mean we have to take all the blame, but rather, it empowers us to own up to our part and learn from it. Embracing this perspective allows us to foster healthier relationships, build trust, and grow personally, making way for more meaningful connections with others.

A man looking frustrated symbolizing the Always, Always, Always thinking traps.

Always, Always, Always

Mental Cue: Grab Control

Critical Question: What is changeable? What can I control?

Let’s talk about the “Always, Always, Always” trap – one we can all recognize in ourselves at times. This trap revolves around thinking in absolutes, using phrases like “I always mess up” or “You never listen to me.” It’s like we’re seeing life in black and white, disregarding the shades of gray that exist. This kind of thinking can distort reality and add unnecessary tension to our lives.

To break free from the grip of the “Always, Always, Always” trap, we need to pay attention to the mental cue, which is to “Grab Control.” When we catch ourselves using extreme language or making sweeping statements, we should pause and ask ourselves the critical question: “What is changeable? What can I control?” This helps us shift our perspective to focus on what we have the power to influence.

By identifying the aspects we can change, we can take proactive steps towards growth and improvement. Embracing a more nuanced outlook, we can release ourselves from the rigidity of absolutes, leading to greater acceptance and a more balanced view of life’s complexities.

A set of dominoes about to be pushed over symbolizing the everything, everything, everything thinking traps.

Everything, Everything, Everything

Mental Cue: Get Specific

Critical Question: What is the specific behavior that explains the situation? What specific area of my life will be affected?

Ah, the “Everything, Everything, Everything” trap – a familiar experience for many of us. It’s that feeling when we believe that if one thing goes wrong, it will set off a chain reaction, leading to everything else falling apart. We connect unrelated events, like thinking that failing a test means we’ll never succeed in our career. This kind of thinking can be paralyzing, holding us back from moving forward.

To liberate ourselves from the clutches of the “Everything, Everything, Everything” trap, we must be aware of the mental cue, which is to “Get Specific.” When we find ourselves overwhelmed by the idea that everything is going wrong, we should pause and ask ourselves the critical questions: “What is the specific behavior that explains the situation?” and “What specific area of my life will be affected?”

By getting specific, we can isolate the actual problem and gain a clearer understanding of its impact. This allows us to take a step back from the all-encompassing fear and focus on addressing the specific issue at hand. Embracing this approach empowers us to confront challenges head-on and move forward with a sense of purpose and clarity.

Recognize and Combat Your Thinking Traps

Life is a journey filled with twists and turns, and our minds can sometimes lead us astray. These thinking traps are like sneaky little roadblocks that catch us off guard. They can hinder our growth and keep us from reaching our full potential. But don’t worry, there’s a silver lining: once we become aware of these traps, we gain the power to navigate around them. It’s all about understanding how our minds work and choosing to think in a way that aligns with the complexities of the real world.

We all stumble into these traps at times, and that’s okay. The key is to recognize them when they arise and find a way to break free. It’s like finding a detour when you encounter a roadblock on your journey. Life isn’t about avoiding every obstacle; it’s about learning how to overcome them. And just like in life, the path to self-awareness and personal growth isn’t always smooth. It can be bumpy, and we may face challenges, but with a dash of awareness and a sprinkle of determination, we can gracefully navigate our way forward.

These thinking traps are part of the human experience. But by recognizing them and using the mental cues and critical questions, we can break free from their grip. Embrace the journey of self-awareness and personal growth, knowing that the path may not always be smooth, but with awareness and determination, you can navigate it with grace and wisdom. Remember, the key is not to avoid all obstacles but to overcome them and thrive.

Nicholas Cardot

The transformation begins with you. Develop the leader inside you and become the driving influence your community is looking for.

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