Challenging Thinking Traps


Most thinking traps are built on faulty reasoning. Therefore, it can be useful to challenge them.

Remember that our perceptions have an enormous impact on our emotions. Perception can mean the difference between viewing a situation as a challenge or as a threat.

Here’s a 7-step process for challenging thinking traps when you notice you are having a strong emotional reaction.

  1. Identify the situation. What happened just before you had the strong emotional reaction? What were your emotions – anxiety, anger, guilt, irritability, sadness, shame, fear, disgust? Or some combination of these?
  2. Rate the strength of your emotions. On a scale of 0 (minimal) to 100 (strong), how intense was the emotional reaction?
  3. Identify the thought. Articulate the thought(s) that accompanied your reaction.
  4. Identify the thinking trap(s). Look at the list of thinking traps and identify the one(s) you’ve fallen into. Is it catastrophizing? All-or-nothing thinking? Probability overestimation?
  5. Question the thought. Challenge the thought without arguing with yourself. Gently and with curiosity, ask yourself one or more of the following questions:
    • Do I have enough information to support my conclusion?
    • What’s the evidence for and against this thought?
    • Is this thought a habit of mind? In other words, do I tend to think things like this in similar situations?
    • If the worst were to happen, how would I deal with it? Have I dealt with situations like this before?
    • What would I tell a friend in the same situation?
  6. Generate alternative responses. Once you’ve challenged the thought, generate alternative thoughts. Consider other possibilities. Generate as many as you can to show yourself how many interpretations of a situation are really possible.
  7. Rate the strength of your emotion again. On a scale of 0 (minimal) to 100 (strong), how intense is the emotion now? Notice if anything has changed. Acknowledge any change – large or small.

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