I am currently taking a Resilience Skills: Positive Psychology Course through the University of Pennsylvania. Professor Karen Reivich talks about thinking traps. Our thoughts become our emotions and reactions and truly set the stage for how resilient we can be.
The thinking traps she mentions are Mind Reading, Me, Them, Catastrophizing and Helplessness.
In the Mind Reading thinking trap, you believe you know what others are thinking and expect them to know what you are thinking. This leads to disappointment and feeling down when things don’t go as planned. Communication is key because if we clarified what others were saying and shared our side of the story, things would turn out better.
In the Me thinking trap, you feel that you are the sole cause of the problem. You are not smart enough, not accomplished enough, not connected enough, not organized enough. You also feel that you are the cause of the problems of those around you. This can lead to guilt and sad thoughts. If we realize that there are many factors that affect any given situation and that we have the power to control our thoughts and choose where to take action, we can move in the right direction.
In the Them thinking trap, you feel that other people or situations are the sole cause of the problem. Others are inept, work has set us up for failure, and nothing goes our way. This can lead to anger, blowing up and quitting. If we see that we can’t control what others do or say but can only control our thoughts and actions, this can help us walk through the fire, grow and succeed. We must own our own story.
In the Catastrophizing thinking trap, we waste all our energy thinking about worst case scenarios. Because this happened we will get fired, get sick, lose everything and be a failure. This can lead to anxiety and agitation causing our cortisol levels to flow and our fight or flight response at show up full force. We think a bear is chasing us at all times. If we frame the situation by whether it will matter in five years and only focus on what we know today and what action we can take immediately, we will be better off.
In the Helplessness thinking trap, we believe that a negative event will impact our entire lives. That negative things are permanent and unchangeable. That there is nothing we can do to make it better. This makes us feel demotivated, passive, depleted and helpless. If we focus on the fact that perspective is everything, that one situation or mistake or relationship or diagnosis does not define us, and that we can take small steps each day to make change, we will strengthen our resilience.
If we think we are succeeding, we are. If we think we are failing, we are. The best and the brightest are not always the ones who cross the finish line first or reach the mountain summit. It is those who train their minds to be resilient, take lessons from mistakes and ensure the story in their head is serving them in their quest. Breathe deep, think about the action you can take to move in the right direction, and be aware of the thinking traps that can challenge your resilience. You have all you need to succeed. Never give up.