Thinking traps are common thinking habits that drain our energy and lead to poor decisions. Wellbeing expert Kim Tay describes some thinking traps that we all fall into, and tells us how to avoid them. Some content has been adapted from New Zealand Institute of Wellbeing and Resilience’s resources.
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[Visual: Waist up shot of Kim Tay in an office space. White lettering saying “Kim Tay” in bottom right, dissapears after 5 seconds. White business.govt.nz logo in bottom left that remain for the entirety of the video.]
In our previous videos, we talking about using mental flexibility to overcome the negativity bias and to adopt a Growth Mindset.
We also need mental flexibility because it’s really common to fall into a Thinking Trap, especially when we’re tired or stressed.
[Visual: White lettering appears to the right of Kim saying “Errors in logic”. This cycles into the word “Automatic”, which then cycles into the word “Draining”, before dissapearing.]
Thinking Traps are errors in logic. They can be automatic, fixed patterns of thinking. They drain our energy, and can lead to poor decision-making. Let’s talk about several types of thinking traps.
[Visual: White graphic of a brain appears to the left of Kim with sparkles. White lettering underneath the brain saying “Mind-reading is one trap”. This dissapears after 5 seconds.]
Mindreading is one trap. Imagine you’ve had a drop in sales. You ask John in your team if he’s noticed anything that might be contributing sales being down. John thinks “oh no, the boss thinks I’m useless”.
He’s fallen into the Mindreading trap, believing he knows what you’re thinking. He makes up a story inside his head, and thinks you’re blaming him for the decline. He responds defensively and says “oh I dunno”.
He feels anxious, demotivated, and doesn’t feel like coming to you with any of his ideas on what actually might be going on.
You can see how mindreading plays out. It leads to miscommunication or blocked communication, negative emotions and ultimately poor performance. John’s not exactly going to be great dealing with customers when he’s feeling this way.
[Visual: White lettering appears to the left of Kim saying “To challenge mindreading”. Then, one-by-one white lettering appears as a subheader under this saying “Look for evidence”, then “Communicate clearly”, before all wording dissapears off the screen after 5 seconds.]
To challenge mindreading, we need to ask ourselves “what’s the evidence for thinking this way”. “How do I know my boss is blaming me for the drop in sales?”
So that others don’t have to read our mind, we need to make sure we’re really clear in our communication so there’s no room for confusion or second-guessing. It seems so simple, but often when we’re in a hurry, we assume everyone knows what’s going inside our heads.
[Visual: Light blue, semi-opaque screen with white lettering “Magnifying and minimising trap”. Wording rises off screen as two blue circles and a magnifying glass rise up to the centre of the screen. One circle is dark blue and sits on the left with white lettering “Bad”, the other circle is a medium blue and sits on the right with white lettering “Good”. The white magnifying glass is in the middle. The magnifying glass shifts over the “Bad” circle and warps it, before expaning as the “Good” circle shrinks and blurs into background.]
A second example of a thinking trap is the ‘magnifying and minimising trap’. This can happen when we focus too much on the bad aspects of a situation and ignore the good aspects.
[Visual: The circles and magnifying glass lift out of the screen as lines of wording lift up on the screen. White lettering saying “Unresponsive customer service; lacked assistance.”, “Quick delivery, received it ahead of schedule.”, “Sturdy construction, built to last.”, “Excellent customer service, very responseive and helpful.”, “Solved my problem, highly functional.” These then split to two columns, the last four to the left and the first, negative review to the right.]
For example, we might get customer reviews that make us question whether we should stick with a new product line. But if we counted the reviews, we might see there are more positive than negative reviews.
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Another example of ‘magnifying and minimising’ is magnifying the financial losses in one area of our business. We might focus on them and feel like the business is failing. We might minimise the area where we are profitable – which means we miss opportunities to strengthen what we’re doing well, and build up that area.
[Visual: White lettering appears to the left of Kim saying “Notice good and bad equally”. This dissapears after 5 seconds.]
To avoid falling into the Magnifying and Minimising trap, we need to weigh up all evidence, take a broader look, and make ourselves notice the good and bad equally.
[Visual: White lettering appears to the left of Kim saying “Catastrophising”. This dissapears after 5 seconds.]
Another thinking trap is called ‘catastrophising’. When you fall into this trap, you expect things to go really, really badly. For example, you think that not only will the meeting go badly, but the client will post a negative review about your business, the review will go viral, you will end up with no new customers, the client takes you to court, you spend all your money on legal fees, you exhaust your mortgage lending, you have to sell the house and move into a caravan park, your partner leaves you, and you end up alone and penniless.
Now of course I’ve taken this example to the extreme, but that’s exactly what you need to do when you find yourself catastrophising.
[Visual: White lettering appears to the left of Kim saying “What’s the worst-case scenario?”. This cycles into white lettering saying “What’s the best-case scenario?”. This dissapears after 15 seconds.]
Imagine the worst-case scenario. Write down all the possible horrific things.
Then do the opposite. Force yourself to write down the most extreme best-case scenario. Maybe the meeting goes really well, the client posts an incredibly positive review that goes viral, you end up with more customers than you can handle, a big player in the market buys your business, you give some of the profits to cancer research, the researchers makes a breakthrough and you end up on the cover of Time magazine.
Again, you can hear this is extreme but what’s happened now is that you’re feeling a bit more light-hearted. Now that you’re in a more positive frame of mind, your brain can think more accurately instead of focusing on the negative.
[Visual: White lettering appears to the left of Kim saying “What’s the most-likely scenario?”. This cycles into different white lettering saying “Plan for the most likely scenario”. This disappears after 5 seconds.]
The third step is to write down what is most likely to happen. The client is difficult, you struggle through the meeting and you don’t fully agree on the next steps, but you make progress.
The fourth step is to make a plan to deal with the probable situation. You go into the meeting with a list of compromises you’re willing to make, a list of questions to ask, like getting the client to explain what’s really important to them, and you plan that if things get heated, you’ll suggest pausing and getting back together another day.
[Visual: White lettering appears to the left of Kim saying “Check if you’re jumping to conclusions”. This cycles into white lettering saying “Mental flexibility saves time and energy”. This disappears after 5 seconds.]
And for any kind of Thinking Trap – make sure you’re not jumping to conclusions.
Learning to be more flexible in how we see a situation and learning to challenge our thinking helps us to be more adaptable. That can save us precious time and energy.
If you’d like to learn more about mental flexibility, do watch our other videos if you haven’t already. The videos are ‘Overcoming the negativity bias’ and ‘Unlocking potential with the growth mindset’.
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Return to the “Mental flexibility” e-learning series for more on how you can introduce flexible thinking in your business and in your life.