What are trap thoughts and how to prevent them?
Let's see what trap thoughts are and how they lead us to self-deception and temptation.
The belief that the human being is a "rational animal", with the ability to be guided by logic and reason, has been in our way of seeing ourselves and interpreting our actions for many centuries.
For a long time, it has been an idea used to establish a clear dividing line between us and the rest of the animal kingdom: we can live by making rational decisions, while "they" can only repeat over and over again actions dictated by their instincts and impulses, predictably and without any long-term vision.
However, none of this is true; human beings are very much tied to emotions and passions, we are not and cannot become purely rational organisms. Moreover, we often fall, without realizing it, into taking advantage of our intellect to disguise with the appearance of rationality the decisions we have already made based on feelings and desires. Y trap thoughts are a perfect example of this, of how we can create ideas specifically to avoid feeling bad about giving in to a short-term impulse.. Let's see how these kinds of phenomena occur and what we can do to reduce their negative influence in our lives.
What are trap thoughts and what are their characteristics.
As we have begun to see in the previous paragraphs, we are not made for logic-based reasoning to govern everything we do: this is how computers work, not human beings. For better and for worse, our emotional side is always mixed with the psychological processes that lead us to think and make decisions.. In fact, thanks to this we have the motivation to do so.
But one of the implications of this is that we often make decisions that do not suit us only according to what we feel like in the here and now, and we only use our ability to reason as a way to legitimize those behaviors that are too impulsive or not in line with what is really convenient for us.
This is a phenomenon we have known about for a long time: more than a century ago, psychoanalytic figures such as Ernest Jones and Sigmund Freud called it rationalization, and years later, cognitive psychology explained it through biases and heuristics: we create apparently solid ideas to hide hasty decisions, a way of not focusing our attention on the true motivations that lead us to do certain actions, or to think and feel the way we do.
As these pseudo-arguments provide an acceptable (albeit very weak) explanation for our way of being and behaving, we do not feel the need to question ourselves.We do not feel the need to question what we do, and we can keep repeating over and over again decisions that are detrimental to us.
This is precisely what trap thoughts are: strings of ideas that resemble an argument about why we should do something, but are in fact excuses. that we put on ourselves and help us to fall into something that tempts us, something we are predisposed to fall into out of habit, because it brings us instant pleasure or because it allows us to avoid short-term discomfort (even though it may generate more discomfort in the long run).
Thus, trap thoughts are a constant in anyone who is trying to leave behind habits (such as taking a drug or stop eating so much) or ways of thinking that do not suit them, because changing routines requires an uncomfortable effort, and it is much easier to make excuses to return to what we already know, which allows us not to leave the comfort zone.
- You may be interested in "Are we rational or emotional beings?"
What to do to limit the influence of trap thoughts?
When it comes to curbing trap thoughts, there are two key tips to keep in mind: boost your self-awareness and create guidelines that structure your healthiest habits.
1. Establish clear guidelines
Clear behavioral routines that specify what to do and at what times of the day to do it are a great way to help you avoid trap thoughts. to prevent trap thoughts from tempting you to stray from what you know is right for you.
For example, if you are trying to follow a diet but do not specify what types of food you will eat and when you will eat it, it is very likely that you will end up snacking on unhealthy snacks at multiple times during the day (even if you are not hungry, just to relieve the discomfort generated by your disorganized eating).
In other words, not organizing your behavior patterns will make that which tempts you gain power over you, since you will not have a clear way of knowing whether performing an action means progress or regression.
For this reason, it is best to set schedules and to know in advance which behaviors you should avoid.. If you become obsessed with rigidly complying with the rules at all times, keep in mind that they exist and help you know what you must do to reach your goal.
2. Improve your self-awareness
The best way to prevent trap thoughts from conditioning our well-being too much is to enhance our self-knowledge skills so that they allow us to be more aware of the true motivations behind our actions, feelings and ways of thinking.
This is a complex task and one that requires practice.Among other things because trap thoughts can take many different forms and it is necessary to develop a certain sensitivity in order to detect them. In the end, what is most difficult when it comes to limiting the power they have over us is to recognize them as such, to distinguish them from other thoughts.
How to achieve this? Although each person is unique and there is no single way to achieve this, in general what helps the most is to adopt the habit of breaking down our reasoning and recurring thoughts into simpler units, so that it is easier to check ourThis makes it easier to check to what extent those beliefs from which we start are self-sustaining and can be used to build on them behavior patterns, parts of our ideology, etc.
For example, if you are trying to quit Smoking and you want to know if you are systematically falling into trap thoughts when using a technique to overcome addiction, you can break down into simpler ideas the arguments you use to create exceptions, cases in which you can smoke a little: "I won't smoke anymore unless offered, so as not to generate rejection".
In this case, you can focus on the ideas of "to be offered" and "to generate rejection". Is the offer of tobacco really an element that comes from outside the addiction, if the people who invite us for cigarettes do so in large part because we have accepted the other times? Is the fact of rejecting someone who does not smoke a normal or healthy dynamic in a group of friends, if this is not one of the main causes of our continuing to smoke?
A close examination of the ideas that support the concepts from which we "argue" for ourselves helps us to check whether those arguments are legitimate or not.
(Updated at Mar 28 / 2023)