It’s not always necessary to challenge your thinking traps. Sometimes just noticing and getting distance from them can make a big difference. With distance, we become aware of other possibilities. We notice the difference between perceptions and facts. Here are some strategies for getting distance.
Get to know your mind. Look at the list of thinking traps and identify the ones your mind falls into. See if you can find other traps of your own that aren’t on the list.
Practice mindfulness of thoughts. Develop a practice of watching your mind as it works. Imagine there is a small distance between you and your thoughts, and watch them like you might watch words or images on a computer screen.
Acknowledge your thoughts. When a thinking trap like catastrophizing shows up, simply notice it and label it. “I notice my mind is catastrophizing again.”
Don’t fight your thoughts. Let them be. When you try to suppress a thought, it can become stronger.
Examine their utility. Ask yourself if this way of thinking is useful in the current situation. Or, is this thought a hammer when you need a screwdriver? Is it really helping?
Notice their history. Ask yourself if this way of thinking has been showing up in your mind for a while. How far back in your life does this thinking pattern go? For example, you may notice that a thought like “I’m not doing enough” has been hanging around since you were a child.
Is your thought a habit? Ask yourself if you tend to think similar thoughts in similar situations. For example, when times are stressful, do you tend to assume the worst?
Thank your mind. When your mind offers you thinking traps, it’s just doing what minds do: trying to protect you from threats. Thank your mind for that thought: “Thanks, mind. You’re just doing what you’re built to do!” The idea isn’t to mock your mind, but to truly acknowledge the purpose of your thinking.
Sing your thoughts. Use a familiar tune like “Happy Birthday” or “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.” See if it gives you a sense of freedom from the thought.
Externalize the thought. Write the thought down and
look at it from a distance. Write it on a 3 x 5 card or sticky note and carry it around with you throughout the day. It can be a passenger on your journey, but it doesn’t have to be in charge.
Be skeptical. Treat your thoughts like hypotheses, not truths.