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Michelle Burtnyk

Health Promotion Specialist
SFU Health and Counselling Services

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At school and on the job, there will always be times when things don’t go exactly how you’d like them to – you slip-up in a big presentation, don’t do as well as you thought you would on an exam, or miss an important deadline. So how do you react? If you have a tendency to focus on the negatives, how you interpret situations can get distorted, and lead you to feel worse, and more stressed out. You are also more likely to respond to the situation in ways that are unhelpful in the long term.

We’re not suggesting you always view situations positively – bad things happen and a negative reaction is normal – but we are suggesting that having a more balanced way of looking at life can help you deal with difficult situations and avoid stress, anger, and other negative feelings and reactions.

Thinking Traps … And how to avoid them

Thinking traps are unbalanced, distorted patterns of thinking we can all fall into. The first step in avoiding these traps is recognizing them. Have a look and see what common thinking traps you fall into:

Black and white thinking

Seeing things as either right or wrong, good or bad, perfect or terrible. People who think in black and white terms see small mistakes as total failures (ex. If you are trying to eat more healthfully and have a piece of chocolate, you see your healthy eating plan as a total failure)

Overgeneralizing

Thinking one negative situation is part of a never-ending cycle of negative situations (ex. If you make a small mistake at work, thinking, “I never do anything right – I’m a terrible employee”)

Mind Reading

Jumping to conclusions about what others are thinking, without any evidence (ex. If you pass your boss in the hallway and they don’t say Hi, you think they do not like you. In reality, they just might not have seen you)

Fortune Telling

Predicting that something bad will happen, without any evidence (ex. Before a big presentation, predicting that you are going to make a major blunder).

‘Should’ Statements

Telling yourself how you ‘should’ or ‘must’ act (ex. if you have an unrealistic amount of work to do, telling yourself you ‘must’ get it done by a certain time).

Do any of these sound familiar? Once you’ve recognized the thinking trap, the next step is to challenge that trap. One way to do that is to try to find evidence against that thought – for example, if you over-generalize one mistake at work and equate that with thinking you never do anything right, look for evidence against that thought – try to think of things you have done right. If you are fortune telling something bad will happen, challenge that prediction – what evidence is there for thinking that way?

Here’s your challenge

Over the next week or two, listen to your own thoughts, and try to identify and challenge any thinking traps you find yourself falling into. Many people find their mood and confidence to face difficult situations improves after they become more conscious of what they’re telling themselves.

Beyond the Blog

  • Counselling Services at SFU: Health and Counselling Services offers free and confidential counselling to all registered SFU students, at all three campuses. If you are dealing with troubling or negative thoughts and would like to speak to a counsellor about it, don’t hesitate tomake an appointment now.

About the Author

Michelle Burtnyk

Health Promotion Specialist
SFU Health and Counselling Services
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