Bamber Gascoigne, famed quiz master and host of University Challenge, once noted in his book The Quest For The Golden Hare, that people are very good at pattern recognition to such an extent that it can lead to self-delusion.
For many people, this takes the form of thinking traps, a situation where our thoughts when reacting to a situation are misguided, distorted or irrational but in the moment we believe them to be true.
There are many different examples of cognitive distortions like this, such as when we jump to conclusions or engage in sliding scale fallacies, and it can be very distressing or accentuate negative thoughts and feelings.
With this in mind, cognitive behavioural therapy and many of the principles underpinning it can help us to avoid falling into a thinking trap or help us navigate our way out of them if we do get caught.
The underlying principle of CBT is that our thoughts, behaviours and how we recognise patterns impact our emotions and our perception of situations.
The first step to avoiding a thinking trap is to identify when you are about to fall into one. The best way to do this is to take a step back after you react to a situation and see if your initial belief has any grounding to it.
After this, the next step is to replace them with more helpful thoughts. Here are some common examples of thinking traps and more helpful ways to consider a situation.
* Instead of assuming the worst possible outcome of a situation, focus on the most likely situation. For example, if someone does not respond to an enquiry, it is far more likely that their phone is off or they are busy.
* Emotions are not facts, and so having a bad feeling about something does not necessarily mean that a negative event is about to happen.
* None of us can know exactly what other people are thinking, and so unless you know for sure someone’s opinion about you, there is no reason to believe they have a negative opinion.
* Eliminate the terms “always” and “never” from your thoughts, as it is very easy to overgeneralise that one negative outcome is a sign that every outcome will also be negative.
* Be flexible with your self-reflections, and try not to think of goals as ones that you either pass or fail at. All progress is positive progress and brings you closer to your ultimate goals.