thoughts

Freeing Yourself from Thinking Traps

Recently, I read an article stating that the average person has approximately 60,000 thoughts per day. “Is this true?” I asked myself.  Is it 100% true? As a research oriented individual, I immediately questioned this and sought valid and reliable support for this very specific claim. While I was unable to find any reputable scientific evidence to validate this idea, I can still confidently conclude that the number of thoughts one has in a single day is A LOT.

Not ironically, this whole situation got me thinking. I do know that our thoughts greatly affect how we not only see the world, but how we view ourselves.  I also know that there are thoughts that seem to just pop up on their own whether we want them to or not, and sometimes these thoughts can be pretty negative. You may look at a situation one way without considering the many other potential viewpoints, or you may think that you know how things will turn out, despite having any proof to support that idea. According to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, these are referred to as Automatic Negative Thoughts, but I like to call them A.N.T.s. Why, you may ask? Because they are annoying, they can sting, and they are MUCH stronger than they look.  If you have been in session with me before, you may have also heard me refer to them as “Thinking Traps.”

Take a look below to see what A.N.T.s you may find yourself using without even knowing it:

ThinkTrap.png

While these may sound pretty awful, it’s important to know that everyone experiences these kinds of thoughts and likely engage in more than one type. Fortunately, researchers have been able to name the different types of A.N.T.s / Thinking Traps, and there is a huge amount of valid and reliable research showing how to effectively combat them.  One of the first and most important ways to defeat these thoughts is to recognize and acknowledge that the thoughts are even happening to you. So, if you found yourself relating to any of the thoughts above, congratulations! You’ve just completed Step 1 in defeating the A.N.T.s! Next, it is vital that you ask yourself, “Is this true?” Then, ask yourself again, “Is this 100% true?” More often than not, you might realize that there is very little evidence to support the claim you are making, and you may just happen to believe the false information you are telling yourself.

All in all, remember to be kind to yourself if you find that the A.N.T.s have taken over. You have the power and the ability to seek the truth of your words, and to speak more truthfully and compassionately to yourself.  You deserve it.

LifeTip: Mind Over Matter

Photo by  Ben Sweet  on  Unsplash

Photo by Ben Sweet on Unsplash

Ever heard of the phrase “mind over matter”? This phrase refers to our mind’s ability to conquer infinite limitations brought on by external factors - our environment, the situations we are in, the challenges we face, our interactions with difficult people, and even mental/emotional barriers we experience. The idea of our mind being able to conquer the challenges we often experience throughout our lives, sounds quite appealing; however, as powerfully resilient as our minds can be, they can also be equally as self-destructive.

Our brains are an extremely unique organ in our body. In therapy, we often talk about the connection between our mind and our body. We draw attention to the way our body reacts to our emotions, thoughts, situations we are in, etc. to provide us more information on our experience and how to respond to such reactions. In considering the idea of “mind over matter” we may target our thoughts as a point of reference to the mind-body connection.

For example, perhaps I notice I’m having the thought, “I’m never going to get all of this work done.” If I sit on this thought I may have a second thought, “I should be able to do this” ...and so on. These thoughts may bring on emotions such as anxiety and distress. I notice that I experience anxiety and stress as tension in my shoulders or feeling a “pit” in my stomach. In this scenario, my distressing thoughts affected the way my body reacts (i.e. muscle tension and pit in my stomach). This is one example of simply how much power our thoughts have over our bodies and our emotional experiences. Maybe you have had a similar experience with unhelpful thoughts. Sounds unpleasant, right? The good news: while our minds can be extremely powerful (in this example in a self-destructive way), they can also be quite powerful in moving us forward when we learn how to manage our thoughts.

Life Tip: It’s helpful to first practice observing your thoughts. What thoughts come up for you? Are they encouraging, discouraging, neutral? Are they facts? Are they based in reality or in your emotional experience? Once we practice observing our thoughts with a nonjudgmental stance, we can begin practicing strategies to manage the thoughts that are unhelpful or do not seem to serve us. We might first notice the thought and ask ourselves, “is this a helpful thought?” We are not necessarily challenging the accuracy of that thought, because in the moment it might feel real. It is likely more realistic to evaluate the helpfulness of a thought rather than its accuracy. Another strategy might be to simply notice the thought you’re having and create distance between yourself and that thought. For example, I notice that I’m having the thought, “I’m not going to get my work done.” This allows me to take a step back, simply notice the thought, and let it pass; rather than becoming that thought or allowing it to impact my emotional experience.

Always remember: Thought challenging strategies take practice! They might not work the first time, the second time, or even the third time - so try not to feel discouraged if you struggle to challenge distressing thoughts. When in doubt, refer back to some simple thought challenging tips:

    • Practice observing your thoughts, without judgement!

    • Ask yourself, “is this a helpful thought for me to have?” If the answer is no, move onto another more helpful and productive thought

    • Create distance between yourself and the distressing thought you observe - call a thought just that, a thought, and do not let it define you or your experience

    • Practice grounding techniques (i.e. deep breathing, 5 senses) when your thoughts get ahead of you and attempt to bring yourself back to a more emotionally neutral headspace


Mind over matter works for those who work on it. Believe in your ability to change your inner dialogue to be more helpful and productive!