We are moving to 2020. We can hope that it will give us better vision into how to make our lives better and to recognize the power we hold ourselves.  With every New Year, there is always talk about getting healthier physically, going on a diet, exercising, and generally being more active.  Yet, rarely does anyone say I am going to get mentally healthier. And even less often do we resolve to watch out for mind traps!

Interesting, seeing as our mental mindset probably plays the biggest role in any success and happiness we have. Recognizing how our mindset is working against us is the best step we can take to get it to work for us.   Therapists reveal ten mind traps that make you unhappy and anxious.

What are mind traps?

We talk to ourselves internally and out loud, far more frequently than we talk to others.  Yes, you are not the only “ crazy one” talking to yourself.  Yet, have you ever really paid attention to what you are saying to yourself?

For example, let’s say you left for work at the same time as you do every day that ensures you arrive on time.  Today there is a traffic accident causing you to arrive late.  Do you chastise yourself for not checking the traffic report and leaving earlier? Do you remind yourself that it is an off chance event, and you have an excellent reputation for arriving to work on time, if not early?

Did you stress out while being stuck in traffic so that you arrived to work anxious and unhappy? Did you contact your work or a coworker, explain the situation, and that you would be there as soon as you could be?  The latter would ensure that you arrived with everyone’s understanding and your energy reserved to jump into work to make up for any lost time.

What you say to yourself matters and can affect how you view events, react to situations, and how you feel about yourself, others, and life in general.  They can determine if you’re unhappy, anxious, or happy and calm. Essentially, your thoughts create your reality.  When those thoughts only create a single reality, usually negative, it is called a mind trap.  Often, these mind trap thoughts are automatic.  We have programmed ourselves to think in this manner when certain situations happen.

Automatic thinking and mind traps

Automatic thoughts are instantaneous internal thoughts that occur based on personal beliefs about yourself and the world.  They can have a positive or negative slant and occur out of reflex to certain triggers.  Usually, they occur so quickly, and you don’t have a chance to stop them. You’ve probably been saying the same ones for so long, that you don’t even realize what you are telling yourself on a daily basis.

For example, you make a mistake on a test in school.  Most people automatically respond with, “Oh my god, I am so stupid.”   A more positive statement would have been, ” Wow! I guess I wasn’t thinking clearly at that moment. ”  One statement is a personalized judgment about yourself, whereas the other acknowledges merely a mistake at that time.

Individuals who battle depression tend to have a negative view of their life and themselves.  They will automatically assume any negative adjective is describing them or their life and tend to only see the negative events in their life to the exclusion of any positive developments.  This continued focus on only one slant of their life is called an attention bias.  The negative attention bias contributes to negative thoughts, further increasing the depression, unhappiness, and anxiety.

10 Mind Traps

There are multiple types of mind traps that many of us do every day.  Learning to recognize them is the first step to calling them to our conscious attention so that we can reshape our automatic thoughts.

1 – Reading minds:

How many times have you met someone you really wanted to impress and felt awkward and nervous?  What do you say to yourself?  Probably something like, ” Oh man, he/she probably thinks I’m lame, stupid, incompetent, unattractive.” Fill in the adjective.  You are essentially acting as if you can read their mind.  The fact is, no one can read minds, and many variables can contribute to how a person responds to you or views you.  We cannot know what they are for that person.  Yet, we will put faith in our opinion of what they must be thinking.

2 – Extremes in thinking:

People may think in extremes such as “I’m always the one left out,” “I never do well on tests,” “Everybody hates me” “Nobody loves me” etc..  Words such as always, never, everybody, nobody, none and all, are words that represent extremes of reality.  Chances are there are tests that you have performed well on; therefore, the statement “I never do well on tests” is a false idea.  Reality is usually somewhere in the middle.  Just like everyone else, good and bad things happen at random periods in your life.

3 – Attention Bias:

As mentioned above, some individuals are only able to see the bad things that happen in their lives to the utter exclusion of anything positive.  For example, “I ran a horrible race!  The coach didn’t even smile at me while everyone else clapped and smiled after I crossed the finish line. ” The attention was on the one individual who didn’t respond as you expected rather than on the multiple other people who congratulated you.

4 – Blame game:

It is great to take responsibility for your mistakes, but often we blame ourselves for things we had no control over, such as in the example up above regarding the car accident resulting in arriving late to work.  Someone playing the blame game would either blame themselves for an accident that they didn’t cause or possibly blame the kids for making them unable to get on the road sooner, potentially avoiding the accident backup.  Neither party was responsible for the accident, but you may feel the need to blame either yourself or someone else.

5 – Emotion as reason:

There is a reason that we are told to calm down in order to discuss things when events occur that strongly affect our emotions.  We tend to use our emotions as the directions for our thoughts to go and then find what we perceive as evidence to support it.

When you are feeling insecure because your partner is working a lot of hours, you may automatically assume that they are having an affair.  You may ignore the fact that they periodically call or text you throughout the day, come home exhausted, and tell you about their day while eating a cold dinner and going to sleep.

6 – Gloom and doom forecasting:

When preparing for a stressful situation, such as a job interview, performance review at work, or a first date and you “predict” that you will fail, underperform, not impress, etc. regardless of how many times you have successfully surpassed these situations in the past.

7 – Broad generalizations:

Imagine you were just in the kitchen and opening up a container of soup.  You didn’t have my hand on the lid properly, and so the soup dumped out all over the kitchen counter.

You could have said, ” Really, I never think about what I am doing and always make a mess.”

Instead, you said (laughing), “well guess I wasn’t paying attention this time.”  The first is a generalized statement against yourself as one who doesn’t think and is messy.  The second acknowledges that this time you weren’t not paying attention.

8 – Giving a label:

When we don’t do well on a test, job interview or even our favorite football team loses a game, and we may label ourselves or the team “losers,” as opposed to stating ” I didn’t pass that test or didn’t get that job or my team didn’t win today.”  Instead, we slap a negative label regardless of its lack of truth.

9 – Saying “should have.”

It seems like an innocent statement enough, “I should cut down on dairy food”  The catch is that “should” implies setting an expectation on ourselves or others that can set us up to fail.  Granted, we try to use them to set us up to succeed, but somehow it works in reverse.

10 – The need to be right.

Everyone likes to have their opinions or conclusions proven to be right or valid.  When proving yourself right is so frequent that you find yourself constantly trying to prove yourself to everyone, that is too much.   Being right doesn’t really gain you much and can hurt many people.  Learn to pick your battles.  Learn when proving to be right is actually important.

mind traps are self sabotage
Read about seven ways you can stop the self-sabotage.

Final Thoughts on Avoiding Mind Traps

Therapists reveal ten mind traps that can make you unhappy and anxious.  Can you think of 10 mind traps that can make you happy and energetic?  Many of these traps were formed a long time ago, and we really don’t even realize what we are saying.  We hear so many other people say them all the time too.  It’s time to catch yourself,  and maybe even catch someone else,  using any of these and question their current role in your life.

Are they motivating you to improve?  Do they make you feel better about yourself?  Do they even truly apply to who you are?  Just because your brain is shooting these thoughts out, doesn’t make them the truth.  Learn to recognize, question, and reword in a way that is more accurate.  You may be surprised to discover you feel happier, more competent, and less anxious once you free yourself of mind traps.