What’s not to like?
Well, for one thing, I wasn’t liking the busy county highway and all the vehicles roaring past us. I spent a little time figuring out a slightly different route, proposed the changes to a couple of the women, got their agreement, and then I suggested it to the rest of the group. Life in paradise continued….
Actually, paradise melted down. There was some yelling, hurt feelings and confusion; a WTF moment ensued. All over a proposed route change! What the HELL happened?
A clash of perspectives – that’s what happened. To my way of thinking, a route is fluid and changeable, if necessary. However, one of the riders* was vehemently against the idea of changing the route. Perspectives are funny things and I do mean it in the sense of something comical and laughable. Except it didn’t feel like a laughing moment standing there next to our bikes “discussing” our options. Instead, we were women trapped by our own ways of thinking about the world.
Thinking Traps: Shortcuts for the Mind
Thinking traps are created because our minds love to take shortcuts on their way from point A to point B. As, Karen Reivich and Andrew Shatte, authors of The Resilience Factor: 7 Keys to Finding Your Inner Strength and Overcoming Life’s Hurdles, point out, our five senses are capable of taking in much more information than our brains are able to compute. Our minds, therefore, simplify the information streaming through our eyes and ears by cutting corners to better handle the sensory load. Our minds go looking for rules and patterns which will help it assess the incoming data. Our perspectives about our world forms as we play around applying these “rules”.
Things get a little complicated since life doesn’t come with an operating manual. Instead, we create one for ourselves by building general rules for life – shortcuts – from an accumulation of specific examples and experiences. For example, a quiet, helpful child is praised; a boisterous child is spanked (when I was young spanking was A-Okay!). Yep. Many of these “rules” formed in our youth and are what we learned from our families, religion, friends, and first loves. Initially these “rules” provide us with guiding principles; they keep us safe, thereby enhancing their appeal and our tendency to use them. A “should” on our list may have come from our mother about how to keep a house or treat a friend. It may have been helpful to “mind-read” what our father was going to yell about next so we could stay out of his way.
Eight Common Thinking Traps:
Back in the day, a pioneering psychologist, Dr. Aaron T. Beck, took note of and categorized some of the common thinking traps we silly humans tend to fall into – and what a list it is!
All-or-nothing thinking (black-and white thinking): You view a situation in only two categories instead of on a continuum.
Example: “If I am not a total success, I’m a failure.”
Catastrophizing (also known as fortune-telling): You predict the future negatively without considering other, more likely outcomes.
Example: “I can’t pay the credit card bill! I’m going to be a bag lady.”
Magnification/minimization: When you evaluate yourself, another person, or situation, you unreasonably magnify the negative and/or minimize the positive.
Example: “Getting a mediocre evaluation proves how inadequate I am.”
Example: “Getting high marks doesn’t mean I’m smart.”
Mind-reading (otherwise known as projection): You believe you know what others are thinking, failing to consider other, more likely possibilities.
Example: “This is road is so busy – it sucks. Everyone else must hate it too!”
Overgeneralization: You make sweeping negative or positive conclusions that go far beyond the current situation. You also assign broad labels to yourself and others, attacking character.
Example: “Awesome! It is a go! I have the green light from these two gals! Everyone is going to LOVE this route change.”
Example: “I feel so out of place at this party. I don’t have what it takes to make friends.” “I’m such a loser.”
Personalization: You believe others are behaving negatively because of you, without considering more plausible explanations for their behavior.
Example: “The repairman was curt to me – he thinks I am stupid because I couldn’t figure out the wiring myself.”
“Should” and “Must” statements: You have a precise, fixed idea of how you or others should behave, and you overestimate how bad it is that these expectations are not met.
Example: “The route should not be changed. How disrespectful! A lot of work went into creating this route. The ride leader is going to be angry and feel disrespected – and she should!”
Example: “It’s terrible that I made a mistake. I should always do my best.”
Tunnel vision: You only see negative aspects of a situation.
Example: “My husband can’t do anything right. He can’t manage to put the kids to bed on time, the bathroom is a wreck of wet towels, and he left dishes in the sink.”
In “the-day-the-bike-ride-fell-apart” scenario, I fell into the trap of thinking everyone else on the ride hated the busy road as much as I did; essentially I was “mind-reading”. Based on that trap I stormed ahead, proposing a change of plans, and proceeded to “overgeneralize” enthusiasm based on the “thumbs-up” nod from only two of the riders. The strongest voice against the route change firmly held the position we “should not” change the route. From her point of view, my suggestion was a sign of disrespect to the ride leader who had created the route (and map) in the first place. While I won’t further illuminate my friend (and dissenter’s) point of view, I recognize my thinking traps in play that day were further fueled by my perspective, based on my experiences on other rides: routes are malleable and are considered good solid guidelines, not something carved in stone. While I will continue to hold this perspective, I also learned a valuable lesson about how I can be trapped by my thinking, and the extent to which this entrapment can create upset. Ahh…what a sticky web we weave when we trap ourselves in our own thinking! The beauty comes, of course, by being able to watch ourselves in action, learn from this observation, and make corrections in the future.
*And for the record, the two of us are still friends. We talked it through; apologies were offered and accepted on both sides!
What are your favorite thinking traps?
What are the patterns you tend to notice?
What rules do you live by?
What perspective of the world do you hold and how has it been shaped by your favorite thinking traps?
Where and when do your thinking traps get you into trouble?