What’s the funniest joke you’ve seen on social media this year? Take a few moments to remember it. Did you smile and feel a little warmer inside? I bet you did. Here’s what a lot of people haven’t realized: our emotions or moods are actually shaped by our thoughts. True story. What you think determines how you feel. How else do you explain how pissed off you get when you remember a big fight you had with someone days ago?
Many of us have developed certain thought patterns or thinking traps that always keep our emotional health on the negative end of the spectrum.I’ll run through some of the most common thinking traps and help you identify how to deal with them.
Fun Fact: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy in Psychology is based on the principle that thoughts shape emotions and emotions shape behaviour.
1. Overgeneralization: This happens when taking one or two experiences and expect it to permanently be true for you. You probably use words like “always” or “never” in your thoughts.
E.g. You fail one test and decide, “I’ll never succeed at anything.” Or you do badly on one presentation at work and tell yourself, “I always mess things up.”
Solution: Remind yourself that a single experience doesn’t always hold true forever. You can spend time recalling events that defied this thought pattern. E.g., a time when you didn’t “mess things up.”
2. Filtering: You filter when you only pay attention to the negative part of things. People that filter ignores the good parts and believe the entire situation was bad. For example, someone ends up having a bad day at the office party because one person said they look fat, forgetting the compliments they got from a dozen other people.
Solution: Train your mind to focus on the positives. If you can, start a note on your phone trying to recall all the good things about that situation.
3. Labelling: Labelling happens when you describe yourself by an event or mistake. E.g. “I am a stupid person” instead of “That was a stupid decision.” Or telling yourself “I am a failure” instead of “I failed that exam.”
Solution: Recognize when you are thinking this way and remind yourself that who you are is too complex to be described by a single experience.
4. Fortune Telling: This happens when you predict that things will go bad for you. Believing that the future is already a done deal – a negative one, where your life is concerned. Worse still, it can be a self-fulfilling prophecy because you tend to act according to what you expect.
E.g. “I know I’m going to fail that test because I failed the last one.” Or making a statement like “I know I won’t get that job.”
Solution: Remind yourself you most likely don’t have enough evidence to make an accurate prediction. Plus, you don’t even have superhero type powers to see the future, so why bother.
5. Mind Reading: This happens when you believe you can tell what other people are thinking about you. Hint: whatever they’re thinking about you is usually negative. E.g. “I know everyone in this office is talking about me.” “So and so didn’t show up for my birthday party because they hate me.”
Solution: When you identify these thoughts, remind yourself that your assumptions are false and there’s probably another reason why what you think happened actually happened.
Dealing with negative emotional states like anxiety, pessimism and depression become possible when you are able to identify the thoughts that preceded them and counter such thoughts. This is by no means an exhaustive list of thinking traps but I hope this helps you. Got any questions? Do send me a mail at email@example.com.
What are your thinking traps? How do you deal with them? Let me know what you think in the comments!
As always, thank you for reading!
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‘Tola Oladiji is a Psychologist, Emotional Wellness Tutor and Counselor. He is a Certified Life Coach with The Academy of Modern Applied Psychology as well as a member of the Life Coaches Association of Nigeria.
‘Tola is also the Founder, Centre for Emotional Wellness Africa (CEWA), an organization that equips people with the tools and resources they need to live emotionally healthy lives.
You can follow him on Instagram and Twitter via @tolaoladiji.