The Psychology of Mental Traps: How We Sabotage Ourselves

In this article I shall identify some common mental traps and how to avoid them.

I shall look at the subconscious beliefs that may be stopping you from leading a happier life, the vicious cycle and fruitless thinking which is causing you self doubt. I shall examine the thinking traps you have created for yourself that stifles your creative thinking. With conscious effort these mental traps can be eliminated and a liberated consciousness can be achieved.

Let’s explore some examples of thinking errors and common mental traps and biases which create the thinking traps:

“I’m not good enough”

This is a very common mental trap that people spend their entire lives falling into when they are trying to improve themselves and making enormous efforts into doing so, but still don’t feel good enough. It’s easy to fall into this trap because it feels like an objective fact – mostly because YOU are telling YOURSELF this. Time to change your narrative!

This may mean that you haven’t practiced enough or put in the effort needed to reach proficiency in your chosen field.

The more likely explanation is that your subconscious mind formed some self-sabotaging beliefs and mental traps based on earlier experiences in your life resulting in unproductive patterns of behaviour and is trying to keep you safe by telling you not to put your head above the parapet, for fear it gets chopped off. So best you stay in your miserable rut living that smaller version of you. Harsh but true?

“It’s not Available for Me”

This particular mental trap of black and white thinking can be a direct reflection of your thinking trap that you are not worthy enough to take control of your own life or set ambitious goals. You may be habitually abdicating your personal power and deferring to the opinions and decisions of others, because you think ‘others know best.’

This abdication of personal power can prevent you from growing and achieving success and self-confidence in life because it takes away your ability to make decisions for yourself, which means that you will always feel like something is missing from your life, thus you are living in a state of scarcity.
The best way to avoid abdicating your personal power is by taking responsibility for everything that happens in your life–good or bad! Always avoid the victim mentality.

Confirmation Bias

Confirmation bias is the tendency to search for, interpret, favour and recall information in a way that confirms and supports one’s beliefs or hypotheses, often based on habitual modes of thinking and your own negative thought processes. It is a type of cognitive bias based on emotional reasoning.

People display this bias when they gather or remember information selectively, or when they interpret it in a biased way, then their thoughts develop and if left unchecked into always thinking of the worst case scenario. If you haven’t heard of the negativity bias, time to familiarise yourself with that. The effect is stronger for emotionally charged events rather than minor events. Confirmation biases contribute to overconfidence in personal beliefs and can result in everyday blunders in the face of contrary evidence, resulting in flawed decisions, in a person’s job this causes detrimental problems. It is important to recognize unproductive patterns of thinking here and adopt a more matter of fact approach and down to earth catalogue of opinions.

Fear of being seen and heard is the fear that your ideas will be criticised and rejected. It can lead to self-censorship, which means you don’t share your thoughts or ideas because you’re afraid of what people might say about them. Once again remind yourself that it is your own opinion of yourself that really matters and that your subconscious mind listens to.

Comparing Yourself to Others

Comparing yourself to others is human nature and a common trap. It is a terrible habit and it is far better to play devil’s advocate with yourself and question any conclusions you reach to see if they are based on actual facts or just your own narrative which often simply is not true. Feelings of shame and disappointment arise when you compare yourself to others and it can often lead you down a path of shame and disappointment.

People who compare themselves with others tend to fall into one of two categories: those who think they are better than everyone else, or those who think they are worse than everyone else. Both groups suffer from feelings of insecurity and low self-esteem.

The first group may be thinking they are superior because they believe their achievements are greater than those of others; however, these thinking habits come at the cost of ignoring their own weaknesses, which may be just as significant (or more so) than those of other people but less visible. Far better to refrain from fortune telling and take the middle ground here.

The second group often feels inferior because they believe their achievements are not enough; again this comes at the cost of ignoring their own strengths – for example someone who has overcome great adversity in life and may have many qualities worth admiring but will focus solely on what they haven’t achieved rather than what they have achieved over their lifetime, feeling trapped and not fully living life on their own terms. They may even be guilty of throwing good money away engaging in endless and unnecessary Courses to compensate for this feeling of inferiority.

Getting in Control of Your Own Thinking and Avoiding Mental Traps

Becoming the observer of one’s own actions and thoughts is a good place to start and to simply observe your own thinking can be a revelation in everyday life. It is your thoughts that give rise to your feelings and emotions after all. This is an act of self care as it will draw your attention to readily identifiable patterns of unhelpful thinking that sometimes lead to wrong conclusions and keep a person stuck.

I highly recommend introducing a Mindfulness Practice into your life. A person that acts mindfully will be less prone to act impulsively which is helpful in all areas of life, for instance in your job and relationships in general, less chance of flying off the handle or uncontrolled emotional outbursts. Another advantage is that a calmer mind will be conserving mental energy and is more likely to be positive and see the bigger picture when it counts.

You do actually have to do the Mindfulness practices though and not just read about them!, Experiential learning is key here. You will find that just sitting in silence for 10 minutes a day will make a huge difference to your mental health and is a good place to start.

It is true that you can choose to think a particular thought about whatever you want, but that doesn’t mean that those thoughts are actually under your control. If you ask yourself ‘I wonder what the next thought that pops into my head will be?’ you just won’t know.

However if someone tells you not to think about pink elephants, it may be hard at first but eventually they’ll pop into your head anyway (especially if they were there before). The same goes for other things like food or money or people who make you angry as once we’ve formed associations between these concepts and certain stimuli (such as hearing their name), our brains will naturally seek out those connections again and again until we learn otherwise.

This tendency toward automaticity is called “locus coeruleus-norepinephrine function,” which means that when something happens enough times in quick succession (like seeing someone who makes us mad), our bodies become used to reacting automatically rather than consciously deciding how best to respond each time something occurs – and this can lead us into a really reduced state of emotional intelligence and making bad decisions based on faulty assumptions about what others’ intentions might be based solely upon past experiences instead of current reality! In summary it can get us into a lot of trouble in life.

Next Steps

If you would like to explore these topics further and read more about this whole subject I recommend reading Mental Traps. It is the first foray into writing for the general public from André Kukla, Professor Emeritus at the University of Toronto.

André Kukla’s immensely enjoyable and down to earth catalogue of the everyday blunders we make in our thinking habits which can alter even the smallest elements of our lives and what we can do about it is truly fascinating. André Kukla compares both positive and negative thinking in an engaging way.

Psychology professor André Kukla makes clear that we need to identify mental traps and our related thinking traps which keep us stuck in habitual modes of wasteful thinking that make us anxious and waste enormous amounts of time, subvert major career goals and deplete our energy without accomplishing anything of value.

You can contact me here if you would like to find out more about Mindfulness and how I can help you to avoid your mental and thinking traps: https://myramchale.com/#contact

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