How you can challenge your Thinking Traps!

March 15, 2019

When we are feeling stressed, anxious or down, we may be susceptible to ‘thinking traps’.

This style of thinking is unhelpful and may increase our distress. The very first step in changing our thinking, is to recognise when we’ve fallen into a trap. See if you recognise any of the following beliefs, and challenge yourself to notice when you are about to fall into a thinking trap:

All-or-Nothing Thinking

You tend to see events in black and white with no shades of grey. For example, you did not perform as well as you would have liked in a job interview, therefore it was a complete failure.

Mental Filter

Focussing on negative information to the exclusion of any positives. For example, during an argument with your partner you focus exclusively on all their wrong-doings, whilst forgetting the thoughtful and caring things they do for you.

Shoulds and Should Nots

When you notice yourself speaking in absolute terms, it is likely that unrealistic expectations of yourself or others are at play. This can result in feelings of pressure, judgement or guilt, ie, “I should go to the gym today… I’ll feel so guilty if I don’t”.

Disqualifying the Positive

Positive experiences are rejected or ignored. For example, you score highly on an essay, but insist it does not count because the tutor was probably just being nice.

Mind Reading

You believe that you know what someone else is thinking, without confirming it first. For example, you meet someone new at a party and decide they don’t like you, although this may not be the case at all.

Jumping to Conclusions

You believe something is true, based only on limited information. For example, your friend has not responded to your text message, so you consider you must have upset her.


When dealing with an issue you focus on the “what if’s” – this is an endless list of what could go wrong or an exaggeration of the importance of an event. For example, “what if I don’t get the promotion…”, “what if she doesn’t like me”, “what if….. “.

Emotional Reasoning

Because you feel a certain way, you believe your emotions are reflecting the way things really are. For example, “I ate half a block of chocolate and now feel guilty and overweight, so I must now look overweight”.

Once you have identified your thinking traps, you will probably notice a pattern of responding across different situations. It is helpful to write down your thinking traps or keep a journal. See if you can counter your pattern of thinking traps by asking yourself the following questions. These questions are designed to help you evaluate the validity of each trap:

  • What is the evidence for this?
  • List all the evidence for and against your thought
  • Am I practicing self-compassion?
  • How would I respond to a friend going through a similar situation?
  • Is it helpful for me to think in terms of ‘shoulds’ and ‘should-nots’?
  • Can I replace this thought with “I choose”, “I’d like to”, or “I’d prefer”.
  • Do I know this to be true or am I thinking this way because I feel down/anxious/upset?
  • How have I coped in the past?
  • Am I looking at the whole picture?
  • How likely is it that what I fear is going to happen?
  • What is the very worst thing that can realistically happen? How would I go about coping with that?
  • Am I confusing a possibility with a probability?
  • Is this a helpful thought that contributes to my peace of mind and wellbeing, or is it taking me further away from this?
  • When this thought is present, how does it change the way I behave and feel?