Do you ever relive a conversation over and over, regretful about things you said and worried that the relationship or project is ruined? Do you catch yourself dismissing suggestions from other people because you’re doubtful that anything can really improve the situation?
Your brain is the control center of your body, keeping tabs on everything from your heartbeat to essential bodily functions. But, as much as your mind is capable of important and amazing things, it also allows you to make mental mistakes that push you into negative emotional “traps” of anger, guilt, fear, shame, depression, and anxiety.
Let's explore 6 mental mistakes that may be wreaking havoc on your emotional well-being, damaging relationships, and limiting your career. Remember, you can’t stop doing something if you aren’t aware that you are doing it, so use the following list to increase your self-knowledge.
1. All or Nothing Do you ever find yourself thinking in absolutes? Like, "I either ace this project or I'm a complete failure,” “he loves me/he’s leaving me,” or “My boss just put a 1:1 meeting on my calendar. I’m either getting fired or promoted.” The truth is, there's more to every situation than black-and-white thinking will allow you to consider, which is why this thinking trap is often a limiter at work and home.
2. Catastrophizing This distorted thinking is an underestimation of your potential to deal with a situation. Because you believe you can’t handle it, lack the skill, or may repeat mistakes of the past, you choose to perceive the situation to be worse than it is. This sounds like blowing things out of proportion and predicting the worst-case scenarios instead of objectively outlining the reality and the most rational ways forward.
3. Personalization & Blame This mental mistake occurs when you inaccurately assume the cause of something. When someone doesn’t call back, respond to an email, or show up for a meeting, do you assume you have done something wrong? Do you focus on finding fault or the cause of situations, instead of using your energy to make the situation right? You could be causing yourself to feel upset with your thinking and assumptions about the situation. This is a waste of time and can create unnecessary conflict.
4. Irrational Hopelessness When you assume that no solution exists beyond what you have tried or considered, and then start to convince yourself and others that no solution will ever exist, you have entered this thinking trap. What makes it irrational and self-sabotaging is that you most likely have not exhaustively searched for the solution. Because you are busy and prone to giving up too easily, you stay attached to assumptions and old beliefs which leads you to give up and fail to take full advantage of the potential that requires fresh, objective viewpoints and perspectives. Habitual use of irrational self-talk like "Nothing ever goes right for me" or "I can't do anything right” can result in depression. It's important to recognize that these statements are not based on reality. Instead, you can stop the negative downward spiral and choose an optimistic outlook that acknowledges possible successful paths forward.
5. Confusing Possibility with Probability When thinking about the future you can only make predictions about outcomes. At any moment, in any situation, there are many possible outcomes. Probability is simply how likely each outcome is to happen. There is no way to give you absolute certainty. You may jump past the consideration of all possibilities when you are in a hurry, want to maintain control, aren’t interested in gathering input, or feel insecure. I’m guessing if you like many of my clients you may also rush to predict a assumed probable outcome when you need to prove you are credible, experienced, or right. Sounds like: “We tried that before, but it won’t work,” or “Trust me, I’ve been in this industry for 20 years, I know how this story ends.”
6. Magical Worry The late Dr. Maxie Maultsby, founder of Rational Behavior Therapy, coined this phrase for times when someone is afraid to not worry. In his research, he found that most people learned that worrying (aka obsessively thinking about a feared outcome) usually ended with the thing they worried about NOT happening. After years of worrying with positive to neutral results, you unintentionally make the connection that worrying = bad thing does not happen. You believe that worrying keeps unwanted things from occurring. Dr. Maultby also referred to this thinking mistake as “civilized voodoo” because people use it as protection. Worrying about anything doesn’t predict or prevent the outcome.
Your mind is capable of incredible feats, but it's important to recognize that it can also lead you astray if you're not careful. By understanding flawed thinking and mental mistakes that can lead to negative emotions, you can begin to take control of your thoughts and emotions and cultivate a more positive, realistic outlook on life.
So, the next time you find yourself feeling angry, guilty, depressed, or anxious, take a step back and try to identify any irrational thoughts or beliefs that may be contributing to these emotions. With practice, you'll begin to see that you have the power to control your thoughts and emotions and lead a happier, more fulfilling life.