Dan Lippmann LCSW. Practical, Sustainable Happiness

Which “Thought Traps” Trigger Your Negative Thinking?

My husband will never understand me.

I don’t have enough money.

My kids should call more often.

Everyone will think I’m incompetent.

Negative thinking probably occupies more of your brain activity than you’d like to admit.

If you were to track your negative thoughts for a day – actually write them down and analyze them – you’d likely discover that you engage in a particular “brand” of negative thinking that triggers most of your upset and discontent.

The Mood Switch gives us a simple way to understand the irrational, automatic thoughts we all have that cause our emotional pain.

I call these “Thought Traps,” and they tend to fall into these four categories:

Controlling Thought Traps:

Thoughts that focus on gaining control of yourself, others and situations.

Assuming Thoughts Traps:

Thoughts that lead you to assume, guess or imagine various possibilities and outcomes that are not based on fact or logic.

Clouding Thought Traps:

Thoughts that cloud reality and lead to a distorted view of yourself, others, situations and events.

Oversimplifying Thought Traps:

Thoughts that are an attempt to reduce complex, multilayered ideas and situations into simple concepts that appear, at least on the surface, to be easier to grasp and deal with.

Here are some examples of negative, automatic thoughts that contain Thought Traps:

When David’s boss told him that he didn’t need that spreadsheet for the meeting anymore, David felt his blood start to boil. Automatically, he thought:

  • He doesn’t realize how much time I spent on this report!
  • I just wasted a lot of time.
  • He should plan better so that he doesn’t waste my time.
  • He doesn’t respect my time.

Let’s uncover the Thought Trap in that last thought, He doesn’t respect my time.

This would be an “Assuming Thought Trap.” Why? Because David can’t read his boss’s mind. Can he really know for sure that this change in plans is based on lack of respect? Isn’t it just as likely that his boss informed David as soon as he knew there was a change?

Now let’s look at one of David’s other thoughts: I just wasted a lot of time.

This would be an “Oversimplifying Thought Trap.” Why? Because assuming that there was absolutely no value in this experience is an “all or nothing” type of thought.

The reality is that there are both good and bad elements to the experience. He learned that sometimes his boss changes plans at the last minute. He got more practice working on this kind of report. His boss may not need the information in the meeting, but that doesn’t mean it won’t be useful anywhere, ever.

The next time you start to get hot under the collar, write down the thoughts you are having and ask yourself: Is this really true? Is this an accurate description of reality?

Is it an unrealistic standard? (Controlling)

Is it trying to read minds? (Assuming)

Is it skewed toward the negative? (Clouding)

Is it black and white? (Oversimplifying)

If you want to learn how to uncover your own Thought Traps, register for my upcoming Feeling Better Daily teleseminar series. Stop your negative thoughts in their tracks and regain control of your life!

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