Thinking Better and Avoiding Mind Traps

An important first step in changing how we think and developing the ability to recognize our distorted thinking is by developing an awareness of common “Mind Traps”. Mind traps are often a byproduct of our inner self-talk, but it is important to note that without some sort of “fact-checking” our inner self-talk is not always accurate. An overgeneralized example of this would be to think of a particular biased news source (doesn’t matter which one); if you’re getting all your information and basing all your opinions, responses, and behaviors only on one source of information your worldview will likely be skewed, possibly inaccurate, and potentially create friction in your life.

Mind Traps

Below is a quick list of common “mind traps” we can find ourselves caught in and where it is essential to recognize these “biased” sources of information and how they may be contributing to our anxiety or depression.

  • Catastrophizing: An example of catastrophic thinking is “If I fail this test, I will never pass school, and I will be a total failure in life.” Well, this may be true and could happen, but what is more likely?
  • Mind Reader’s Error: A mind reader’s error could look like someone eating alone in a cafeteria, thinking everyone thinks they’re a loser for eating alone.
  • Fortune Teller’s Error: This is a cognitive distortion in which one predicts a negative outcome without realistically considering the actual odds of that outcome. This mind trap is often linked to contributing to anxiety and depression.
  • Inaccurate Distorted Comparisons to Others: The most obvious example is social media and the inaccuracy of comparing one’s insides to others’ outsides. “Everyone else seems to be having such a better life, families, jobs, vacations, trips, and food than me.”
  • Negative Confirmation Bias Error: An example of this mind trap would be searching online to check whether a belief one has is correct but ignoring or dismissing all the sources that state that it's wrong.
  • “Musterbating”: “Musterbation” is a term coined by famed psychologist Albert Ellis to describe the phenomenon that exists when individuals choose to live by a set of absolute and often unrealistic demands that they place on themselves, others, and the world. Examples of “musterbating” include inner core beliefs/ dialogue that states things such as “I must be perfect in everything I do to be accepted and loved” or “everyone must love/accept/love me as I am”.

We can address and begin to challenge these mind traps through the practice of Socratic questioning. There are roughly six forms of Socratic questioning and examples of each are below.

The first is clarification questions and include the following:

  • Why do you say that?
  • How is this related?
  • Could you explain this in more detail?

Secondly, are questions that produce assumptions:

  • What can we assume from this?
  • What does that mean?
  • Can you verify your assumption?

Third, are questions that require reason or evidence:

  • Do you have an example of this in real life?
  • What has caused you to believe this?
  • Why do you think this happened?

Questions regarding one’s perspectives:

  • Is there another way to look at this?
  • Have you thought of the other person’s point of view?
  • Who benefits and who loses from this consequence?

Questions that calculate/analyze consequences:

  • What is the implication of this?
  • Does this relate to previous knowledge?
  • How does X affect Y?

Questions on the question:

  • What does this mean?
  • How can you apply this in your everyday life?
  • What was the point of this inquiry?

Briefly, and not ignoring the biological factors that can contribute to anxiety and depression; our anxiety and depression can sometimes also be brought about and driven by our own beliefs. In order to change how we feel must then learn how to change how we think.


About Bradd Buckingham, M.A., LPC-R; Resident in Counseling: 

Bradd is currently a resident in counseling providing counseling services at our Fredericksburg location. He is actively pursuing his license in Professional Counseling (LPC). Bradd is a recent graduate of The University of the Cumberlands with a master’s degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling. He completed a demanding internship working with individuals and couples at Fredericksburg Counseling Services.  

Bradd specializes in working with individuals with complex trauma, personality disorders, anxiety, and depression. He can offer a safe environment for individuals and families in the LGBTQ community. Bradd also works with individuals with a variety of ethnic and cultural backgrounds.

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