3 Strategies to Escape “Thinking Traps” & Build Resilience

by | Feb 22, 2023 | Inner Man

3 Strategies to Escape “Thinking Traps” & Build Resilience

by | Feb 22, 2023 | Inner Man

Like I said, counterproductive thoughts are a part of life. But, how do we escape these traps?

The better you become at escaping the traps, the more resilient you become. Resilience is the ability to bounce back from adversity. The quicker that you can recover from a setback, the more resilient you will become. Resilience is a skill. It can be learned. It can be honed. And like any skill, it needs to be practiced.

Resilience is not about ignoring problems and negative events. It is not about just being cheery all the time. Resilience is the ability to face challenges head on with effective and productive thinking that leads to effective and productive action. This is what will move you towards what you want to achieve and how you want to feel.

Here are 3 strategies I’ve learned from the University of Pennsylvania’s Positive Psychology programs to challenge counterproductive thoughts that will help you build resilience and to take effective action toward what you want. Each strategy has a “sentence starter” where you can complete the sentence in order to get out of the thinking trap.

1. The Evidence Strategy

This strategy is when you use data from your life to combat counterproductive thoughts. Setbacks and negative events are a part of life, but don’t forget that encouraging moments and positive events are a part of your life too. When a negative thought lingers, it is much easier to dwell on what’s not working, but consciously searching for positive evidence to refute your negative thoughts is much more productive.

A sentence starter for this strategy is: “That’s not true because…”

For example, before a big job interview, you may slip into a thinking trap that you’re under qualified for the job, there’s no way you’re going to get it, they’re just calling you in as a courtesy, etc.

Well, you can try telling yourself: “That’s not true because I have my Masters in this field, I have had 4 years of experience in this industry, and I passed the phone interview round. They see me as a qualified candidate and wouldn’t be wasting their time just as a courtesy.”

2. The Reframe Strategy

This strategy is using optimism to strategically reframe how you see the situation so that you’ll be encouraged to take some form of effective action rather than do nothing.

A sentence starter for this strategy is: “A more helpful way to see this is…” OR “A better way to see this is…”

For example, let’s say you get passed up for a promotion that you really wanted. It’s disappointing for sure, and it can be very easy to fall into a thinking trap like the Me Trap (it’s all my fault, etc.), the Them Trap (it’s all their fault, etc.) or the Catastrophizing Trap (Now they’ll see me as incompetent, I will get fired, I won’t be able to get a job, I’ll lose my house, I’ll have to move back home with parents, etc.).

Instead, reframing the thought may be: “A more helpful way to see this is I can have an honest conversation with my supervisor to get feedback on why I didn’t get the position, what I can do to grow, and if there are more opportunities in the future. I can also let them know that I am passionate about this company and would love to move up in the organization and am open to learning what I can do differently to make that goal a reality. I may even ask her to be my mentor!”

3. The Plan Strategy

This strategy involves making a contingency plan. This works particularly well for the Castastrophizing Trap (ruminating over worse case scenarios).

If you find yourself feeling anxious thinking about worse scenarios, then making a plan will help you go into the situation more prepared.

A sentence starter for this strategy is: “If X happens, then I will Y…”

For example, you have a big presentation tomorrow. You find yourself catastrophizing that participants may ask you a question that you don’t know, which will then lead to everybody thinking you’re an idiot, you’ll never get a speaking gig again, and then you’ll be homeless!

You can either choose to continue thinking in this counterproductive way, or make a plan by telling yourself, “If somebody asks me something that I don’t know, then I will say that I do not know, but I will find out. I will also get their email address and commit to contacting them when I find out.”

So, there you have it: three solid strategies to escape thinking traps.

Which strategy do you think will work best for you?

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