For the majority of my clients, the career clarification process is about much more than finding a job. It’s about connecting with their essential-self and finding a way to bring that connection into their professional and personal life. The process is emotional since it involves dreaming and goal setting which can awaken that part of our brain that fears the unknown or reaching beyond the “status quo.” One of my master coaches at the MBI during my life coach training shared the idea that “most of us prefer to remain in a known hell rather than venture into the possibilities of an unknown heaven.” It is for that reason that this work becomes emotional and why having the support of a coach for the journey is beneficial. This multi-part blog series has focused on the relationship between our thoughts, emotions and beliefs. We need to remember that the emotions we experience during any and all events in our life are NOT created in response to a situation, but in response to our thoughts about the situation.
In part 2 of this series, we introduced the “voice” in our head that we ALL have. We also stressed the importance of remembering that this “voice” is NOT who you are; you are aware of the voice and you are the presence that witnesses the voice, but you are NOT the voice. Knowing that is what allows you to observe what your inner “voice” is thinking; i.e. self-observation or self-awareness.
There are some common Thinking Traps (or in psychological terms, cognitive distortions) that the “voice” uses. We introduced Personalization, Catastrophic Thinking and Mental Filtering in the last blog. In this blog, we will look at three more.
“Should…” or “Must…” Thinking Trap:
You may have experienced situations when the “voice” is telling you that “you should do this…”, “should not do that…”, or “must do this…”, etc. The truth about “should” and “must” statements is that they are usually based on what we think others believe we should do, rather than what we truly want. They can cause us to make unrealistic and unreasonable demands on ourselves that are hard to attain and can result in our beating ourselves up and feeling guilty. Typically, we don’t even want to achieve them; the only reason we try is to please others. Some examples might be, “I really should stick with this accounting job since everyone in my family has always been in accounting” or “I must work-out 5 times a week or my partner will think I am lazy” or “I shouldn’t pursue that art degree because that’s what irresponsible people do.”
To successfully work through this thinking trap, question whether the thing you are telling yourself you “should” or “must” do is really in alignment with what you want or need to do to connect with your essential-self and create a feeling state of happiness. Ask yourself, “Am I doing this for my own betterment or to please someone else?”
“All-or-Nothing” Thinking Trap:
This distortion, also known as “black-and-white thinking,” sets an unreasonable rule in which any outcome less than perfect equates to awful. It occurs when a person cannot see the “gray” areas in situations. It can cause a person to become stuck between two extremes which makes it hard for them to compromise with others or make a decision since other emotions and feelings that exist in between the extremes are not considered.
For example, a person that fails at something new and therefore thinks that they are a total failure without recognizing that they may just need additional practice or that they could learn from that event for future improvement. Let’s look at an example of this during a job interview as described in the April 2015 blog post by CBT Los Angeles:
During the interview, you are caught off-guard by a question, and do not answer it as well as you would have liked. If you view this experience through the lens of all-or-nothing thinking, you are likely to discount your performance during the other 95% of the interview and think that it was “horrible” and a “thorough waste of time,” triggering feelings of disappointment and shame.
To work through this thinking trap, take steps to begin acknowledging the “shades of gray” in situations and experiences. Use positive self-talk such as, “That one interview question caught me off guard, but the rest of my answers were solid.”
“Jumping to Conclusions” Thinking Trap“
Jumping to Conclusions” is a thinking trap; that causes us to make irrational assumptions about people and circumstances. This can result in creating a negative conclusion about something even though there are no definite facts that convincingly support that conclusion. Rather than looking for evidence that will bring us to a logical conclusion, we set our sights only on our own devised negative conclusion and then look for evidence to back it up. For example, a person might avoid attending a social function because they have convinced themselves that they will not have fun or that the experience will go badly for them. That person than focuses on every story or possibility of what could or has gone wrong for others at a social event.
This thinking trap can also take on the form of “mind reading” where we assume that we know what someone else is thinking or what their intentions are. Examples of “mind reading” thoughts: “That person doesn’t respect me because I don’t have a college education like they do,” or “They obviously don’t like me otherwise they would have invited me to coffee the other day.”
To successfully work through this thinking trap, you must begin questioning whether other explanations or possibilities exist. Challenge your thinking and acknowledge that the conclusions you have developed are not based on facts or concrete evidence, but rather based on personal feelings, opinions and biases.
“Thinking traps” can trap all of us at one time or another.
If you want support to identify and overcome “thinking traps” during your career and life clarification journey, let’s connect. firstname.lastname@example.org -or- 970-481-3528
Nikki Stansfield is trained as a professional coach and loves to support anyone who wants to intentionally create something meaningful within their professional lives.