HOW MANY OF THESE THOUGHT TRAPS ARE YOU FALLING INTO EVERY DAY?
ANTs & Thought Traps
When we are feeling low or anxious, it's common to have Automatic Negative Thoughts (ANTs). These unhelpful thoughts are subtle, sneaky and can pop into our minds without any effort. As our thoughts, feelings and actions are all interconnected, when we start thinking negatively we start to feel bad – which then impacts our behaviour. Or we think negatively, which impacts how we feel – which then impacts our actions.
On the flip side, improving one of these thought traps will impact the others in a positive way.
Have a look at the following list of thought traps to see if you can recognise any of your thinking patterns.
You see things in extreme or in black and white.
“Anything less than perfect is a failure.”
“I planned to eat only healthy foods, but I had a piece of chocolate cake. Now my diet is completely ruined!”
You see a single negative event as proof that other similar events will turn out the same way.
“I always make mistakes.”
“I am never good at public speaking.”
You pick out a single negative detail and dwell on it, viewing the whole situation as negative.
Believing that you did a poor job on a presentation because some people looked bored, even though a number of people looked interested and you received several compliments on how well you did.
Disqualifying the positive
Disqualifying the positive is one of the most destructive forms of cognitive distortion.
You're like a scientist intent on finding evidence to support some pet hypothesis. It is all-or-nothing thinking, without the 'all'! This cognitive distortion will produce automatic thoughts that reinforce negative feelings and explain away positive ones. If you've ever tried to argue someone out of a bad mood, you've probably seen this cognitive distortion from the outside. If you've ever been in a bad mood yourself, you may have seen it from the inside!
Jumping to conclusions
You make a negative interpretation even though there are no definite facts that support your conclusion.
Mind Reading – You conclude that someone is reacting negatively to you, but you do not check this out with them.
“Others think I’m stupid.”
“She doesn’t like me.”
Fortune Telling – You anticipate that things will turn out badly, and you feel that your prediction is an already established fact.
“I know I’ll mess up.”
“I will never be able to to get a job.”
You expect disaster to strike and the disaster will be of massive proportions.
“I’ll freak out and no one will help.”
“I’m going to make such a fool of myself, everyone will laugh a me, and I won’t be able to survive the embarrassment.”
“I will faint.”
“I’ll go crazy.”
You assume that your negative emotions necessarily reflect the way things really are.
“I feel like a failure; therefore, I am one.”
You set yourself standards of what you perceive you and others ‘should’ or ‘must’ be doing. These standards are often too high and unrealistic.
“I should never feel anxious.”
“I must control my feelings.”
“I should never make mistakes.”
Labelling and mislabelling
This is an extreme form of over-generalising. Instead of describing your error, you attach a negative label to yourself: ‘I’m a loser’. When someone else’s behaviour bothers you, you attach a general label to them: ‘He’s an idiot’.
A person engaging in personalisation will automatically assume responsibility and blame for negative events that are not under their control.
For example, when a mother receives her child's school report, plus a note from the form tutor indicating her child is not working well, she immediately concludes, "I must be a bad mother. This shows how I've failed".
So... how many could you tick? I could tick most of them when I first looked at the list! The first step to overcoming these common thought traps is awareness. Turn up the volume on your thoughts and listen to what you are saying to yourself. Don't beat yourself up when you catch yourself falling into one of these traps. Just acknowledge that a thought is just a thought. Just because you think it, it doesn't mean it's true.
What gives power to our thoughts is the emotion we attach to them. These thoughts usually come from our chimp brain, so learn to recognise when your chimp is running the show!
Keeping you positive :-)
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