“Drag your thoughts away from your troubles… by the ears, by the heels, or any other way you can manage it.” – Mark Twain
When have you felt trapped in life? Sometimes we feel burdened, exhausted, and stuck, as if life’s steel trap has clamped down on us. We can’t seem to shake the fear, anxiety, and anger that hold us hostage. These feelings come from our thinking.
If our thinking is negative, then we are going to feel negative and make choices accordingly. When we caught by these “Thinking TRAPS” we can find ourselves on a downward spiral of negative thinking.
Fortunately when we become more aware of our thinking patterns, we can start to break free from their hold. Learning to acknowledge and reframe our automatic negative thinking allows us to be in the driver’s seat of life, instead of letting our negative thoughts navigate the course.
To do this we need to become more mindful of our thinking, and realize when we’re getting trapped so we can loosen the hold of these thinking errors. Here are the TRAPS to become aware of.
Tolerance refers to our tendency to have rigid or intolerant thinking. Our opinions can be twisted into rigid facts if we aren’t careful. When we have rigid or intolerant thinking we tend to view the world in a more black and white perspective and find ourselves taking an all or nothing approach to dealing with problems.
This leads to blaming others, judging, and criticizing, all of which can leave us stuck in a negative cycle. Practice thinking more flexibly. Be willing to look at things from other people’s perspective. Realize that there are many ways of looking at the same situation.
We all have worries and concerns, but sometimes chewing over these concerns can leave us debilitated. It’s as if there is a tape recording in our mind playing a negative message over and over again. When we ruminate on a negative thought long enough we will feel depleted and depressed.
Notice what time during the day you tend to ruminate most often. As you start to catch yourself ruminating, find ways to distract yourself and occupy your mind. Engage in a hobby, call a trusted friend, or take action on something you have control over.
We aren’t always going to be able to find something good in a bad situation, but the least we can do is not make things worse. When we awfulize we look at everything in a negative way. We focus on how it’s terrible, awful, and that we can’t stand it. Thinking that we can’t stand something simply isn’t true.
If it doesn’t kill us we can deal with. When we blow things out of proportion it only makes then more difficult to deal with. Keeps things in perspective by remembering all the victories you have had in life. You’ve made it this far, what makes you think you can’t keep going?
Put downs refer to using language that belittles ourselves and others. We all have an inner-critic that fills our head with negative messages. Our inner-critic may tell us we’re not good enough, or that we don’t deserve to be happy. Learning to notice and challenge our inner-critic is a fundamental part of self-growth. Start paying attention to the voice of your inner-critic.
The more you get to know your inner-critic the more likely you can recognize it’s deceitful voice. Along with an inner-critic we all have an inner-hero. The inner-hero is the voice that encourages us and sends us good vibes. When you’re inner-critic pipes up, challenge it by asking you inner-hero to interpret things as well. What would your inner-hero have to say in the situation?
Nothing good comes from “shoulding” all over ourselves. When we use demanding language like “should” “ought to” “must” and “have to” it leaves us feeling urgent and pressured. Instead try using words like “prefer,” “choose to” and even “want to.”
There are many important things we choose to do, but we rarely “have to” do anything. Remind yourself that you’re “choosing” to do what you do. Isn’t this really what you’re doing anyway? We all get caught up in negative thinking from time to time, so be aware of these thinking patterns before you get trapped.