You play back last night’s pub quiz in your head. It was your first time out with your new work colleagues; nervous and shy you want to impress. You are answering most of the questions and you think to yourself ” I’m on bloody fire here”. Suddenly you convince yourself that in an effort to support your team, you must have come across as a real “know it all”. Hold on, you think, Matt seemed a little offish towards the end “I bet he thinks I love myself”.
Ever spent time worrying about how you came across in a particular situation? You’re convinced that the people you just met found you rude, or a little standoffish. In the world of Psychology and Coaching these unsettling thoughts would be seen as Thinking Traps or Distorted Thinking. These thoughts are generally unsupported, popping into your head automatically. When we are anxious or upset we can often process incoming information in a biased and distorted way; this can work towards maintaining our low mood. The way forward is to examine, then challenge the negative thought.
So back to the quiz night at the pub. You now firmly believe that Matt thinks you love yourself but based on what evidence? This is the thinking trap Mind-Reading at work.
The ability to know the thoughts of others without using the normal means of communication. You come to the conclusion that someone has negative thoughts regarding you, even though that person has never given you any firm indication to support your concerns.
Ask yourself “Is what I am thinking really true, does this person really feel this way?” If the answer is YES then ask yourself “What evidence do I have to support this?
It’s not a surprise that our mind is so adept at distorted thinking. We can fall into the various negative streams of thought very easily. Thinking Traps piqued my interest early on in my coaching education; as my lecturer reeled them off I knew that several had made an appearance in my thought process, a few of them even before breakfast. If we can recognise the point at which we begin to upset ourselves with this type of negative internal narrative; we can take a step back, giving ourselves the chance to shift our thinking to more rational helpful thoughts.
Call it the curse or blessing of the coaching ear; I often pick up on Thinking Trap conversations as I go about my day to day (please see below). We roll into distorted thinking with such ease; however, it is encouraging to hear people take a moment to recognise the unhelpful train of thought, understanding that this is not the most helpful outlook to adopt.
“Oh so, you own a crystal ball then mum? I’m guessing this is how you know you will never find anyone on Tinder.” Lucas, Uber Driver
Believing you can predict the future; the predictions are usually negative in their outcome.
Ask yourself, “What evidence do I have to support this prediction?” “How often are my predictions on point?”””‘
“Not being able to upload a picture on Instagram doesn’t make you stupid, dad; let’s look at getting you up to speed.” A man on the phone to his dad in Boots.
Attaching an overall and negative label to yourself based on specific behaviour.
Attach the label to the behaviour instead of the person. Focus on changing the behaviour in the long run.
“So you are ready to give up on your whole summer because you can’t make it to Glastonbury? What about something closer to home?” Mum speaking to her son on the 243 Bus.
Black and White Thinking
Seeing situations in extreme terms with an all or nothing approach. No grey area.
Life is not made up of absolute certainties. There are undoubtedly parts that do not fit comfortably into a B&W framework of thinking. Focus on a balanced outlook, allowing for more options
Bob Marley said
“You just can’t live in that negative way…..make way for the positive day”
Great words to live by; if only it were that simple. Sometimes negativity finds us, we can be misunderstood, undervalued, and unappreciated: but let’s not add to the load by getting behind unhelpful, unsubstantiated thoughts which bring about unnecessary stress. Challenge and Change those Thinking Traps.
Neenan, M., Dryden.W. Life Coaching. A cognitive-behavioral approach. New York Routledge 2013.
Find out more about Thinking Traps