#Askingforafriend: Thinking traps
By Nate Bowman
GCU Office of Student Care
“I’m giving a presentation in a few days, and I just know I’m going to screw it up somehow. Is there anything I can do to not feel so overwhelmed about it?”
Our brains are extremely powerful — so powerful, in fact, that they can conjure up believable stories about how some future event or conversation is going to unfold. These stories can be so persuasive that we become convinced our brain must be right. This is a prime example of what we call a thinking trap.
We all fall into the occasional thinking trap, but we are especially at risk when we are distressed or when we are not taking good care of ourselves.
One thinking trap that I often see, and sometimes fall into myself, is the jumping-to-conclusions thinking trap. The fundamental characteristics of this thinking trap are prediction and lack of evidence. For example, the “I just know I’m going to screw it up somehow” statement presupposes the outcome of a future event using little to no evidence.
Jumping to conclusions also shows up when we predict the thoughts of others. For example, I might be giving a presentation, see someone in the audience yawn and think to myself, “They think I’m boring.”
So what can we do when we find ourselves jumping to conclusions?
We can start by separating facts from thoughts.
Let’s continue with the initial scenario: “I’m giving a presentation in a few days, and I just know I’m going to screw it up somehow.” Here are the facts: You have been assigned a presentation. You are expected to present in a few days. The thought is, “I just know I’m going to screw it up somehow.”
After separating facts from thoughts, we use that information to challenge our thinking. There are several strategies to choose from when challenging thinking traps. I can examine the evidence, check for a double standard, survey others to see if they agree with my thinking, or conduct an experiment.
All of these strategies can help us challenge our thinking traps. Let’s go with the first one — examine the evidence.
What evidence supports the thought, “I just know I’m going to screw it up somehow,” and what evidence disproves this thought?
Consider past experiences. Have you been in similar situations before? What ended up happening?
Now, come back to the present situation. Is the thought you’re having the only or best way to think about the presentation? Upon examining the evidence, you might soon realize that you’re capable of withstanding or even thriving in these types of situations.
The goal of challenging thinking traps is to obtain a realistic perspective of the situation.
Upon gaining a realistic perspective of the situation, it’s time to create a more balanced thought. For example, the initial thought, “I just know I’m going to screw it up somehow,” could be replaced with “I’ve given presentations before, and though they’re challenging and require hard work, I know I can do it if I prepare in advance.”
Coping with thinking traps can be difficult at first. But like the other skills you’ve acquired over the course of your life, it does become easier with practice. Remember to be patient and gracious with yourself, and over time this can become a very useful skill.