Do you expect the worst even when you’ve got no evidence an outcome will be negative? Are you prone to catastrophising? Do you think you know what others are thinking? Is letting go of past events an issue for you?
These are “thinking traps” – certain types of patterns or thought processes that lead us into a state of anxiety. Thinking traps make us play safe, hold back and fear change; they make us pull away from people and cling to confrontation.
“People who tend to view things through a negative lens are more susceptible to feeling emotions associated with depression and anxiety,” says Peta Sigley, the Chief Knowledge Officer at Springfox‘s The Resilience Institute. “It can lead us to catastrophise, jump to conclusions, and amplify small issues in our personal lives – all examples of negative thinking traps.”
In a recent Global Resilience Report of over 26,000 people, Springfox found that 55 per cent of professionals worry excessively, and 45 per cent experience symptoms of distress on a daily basis, and at work. Unsurprisingly, some professionals are more at risk of suffering from excessive stress than others.
They’re also going to slow down your entrepreneurial journey. So, how can we avoid thinking traps – or escape should we fall into them? Here, Peta shares her expertise.
1. Be the right kind of optimist
Many experts categorise four different styles of thinking: Pollyanna Optimists (a blindly optimistic person); Realistic Optimists; Pragmatic Pessimists; and Melancholy Pessimists. “[According to studies] auditors, lawyers and police sit at the bottom of the scale – Melancholy Pessimists – where hyper-vigilance to possible problems is high,” says Peta. “At the top end of the scale, you have salespeople – Pollyanna Optimists – known for their ‘nothing can knock me down’ type attitudes. In the middle sit realistic optimists who are both optimistic and realistic within a healthy range. They make the best operators and most successful business leaders.” So, how do you become one?
2. Catch, check, then change or reframe
This is the motto Peta swears by. “While optimism and stress mastery does not come inherently to most of us, it is very learnable and highly beneficial,” she says. “While there are many ways to build resilience, one of the most effective things we can do is learn how to reframe our thinking and break free of the thinking traps we may find ourselves in. A key to building a positive mindset is the ability to shift negative or unhelpful responses into something more constructive and beneficial. To battle thinking traps, it’s important we build the mental capability to dispute irrational or troublesome ideas and emotions in a realistic and positive way.”
3. Get to the root cause
“You must first be able to identify the reason for your negative thoughts so you can adequately challenge them,” says Peta. “Are you blaming others for putting you in a difficult situation? Is there something you ‘should’ have done? Are you thinking the worst-case scenario is imminent?” One of the leading minds on this subject is Don Miguel Ruiz, a bestselling author who teaches methods to break down false beliefs. Meditative exercises can help. “Once you can identify that you’re in a thinking trap, try combating it by being more flexible in your thinking, focusing on the bigger picture and separating fact from feeling,” says Peta. “Put the reality of the situation into context. On a scale of one to a hundred how bad is it really?”
4. Give it time
Don’t panic! Just breathe… “Before you jump to conclusions and think the worst, take the time to slow down and process all of the evidence,” she advises. “This can help you to rationalise your thinking and reduce your levels of stress. Having relaxation built into your daily life also assists in maintaining perspective, which can help you avoid thinking traps. Like anything, building resilience takes time and practice. Remember today is a challenge, but tomorrow will be better.”