For millennia, we have believed that humans are “rational creatures,” capable of being directed by logic and reason and that our behaviors are driven by logic and reason. But sometimes it is very challenging to change habits, because of the trap thoughts in our brains. But what are trap thoughts and how to prevent them from ruining your life?
It has long been used to create a clear line between humans and the rest of the animal kingdom: we may live by making rational choices, while “they” can only exist by repeating acts driven by their instincts and impulses, predictably and without any long-term vision.
None of this is true; humans are deeply entwined with emotions and passions; we cannot become completely logical entities. Furthermore, without recognizing it, we frequently use our intellect to cloak the illusion of logical judgments we have already made based on feelings and wishes. And trap thoughts are a great illustration of how we might generate concepts, mainly to avoid feeling awful about succumbing to a short-term temptation. Let us look at how these occurrences develop and what we can do to mitigate their negative impact on our lives.
What are trap thoughts, and what traits do they have?
As we can see from the preceding paragraphs, we are not designed for logic-based thinking to rule everything we do: this is how computers function, not humans. Our emotional side is always intertwined with the psychological processes that enable us to think and make decisions, for better or worse. Indeed, we are motivated to do so because of this.
However, one implication is that we frequently make decisions that do not fit us solely based on how we feel in the here and now. We only utilize our ability to reason to justify actions that are too impulsive or not in line with what is genuinely convenient for us.
The term “rationalization” refers to a phenomenon that has been around for more than a century, coined by psychoanalytic figures such as Ernest Jones and Sigmund Freud, and later explained by cognitive psychology as “biases and heuristics”: when we make snap decisions, we create seemingly solid justifications to conceal our true motivations, which are what lead us to take specific actions or think and feel the way we do.
Because these pseudo-arguments give an acceptable (although feeble) justification for our way of being and acting, we do not feel the need to examine what we do, and we may continue to make decisions that are harmful to us over and over.
These are trap thoughts: a series of ideas that appear to be an argument for why we should do something but are justifications we make for ourselves that allow us to fall into something that tempts us, something that we are predisposed to fall into out of habit, because it provides us with immediate pleasure, or because it allows us to avoid short-term discomfort (even though it may generate more discomfort in the long term).
Because changing habits (such as smoking or overeating) or ways of thinking requires an uncomfortable effort, trap thoughts are a constant companion for anyone trying to break bad habits (such as smoking or overeating). It is much easier to make excuses for returning to what we already know, which allows us to remain in our comfort zone.
What can you do to lessen the power of trap thoughts?
There are two crucial points to remember when avoiding trap ideas: increase your self-awareness and develop principles for structuring your healthiest behaviors.
- Create explicit guidelines
Clear behavioral routines that describe what to do and when to do it are beneficial in preventing trap ideas from luring you to depart from what you know is best for you.
For example, suppose you try to stick to a diet but do not define what kinds of food you will consume or when you will eat it. In that case, you will probably wind up nibbling on unhealthy snacks many times throughout the day (even without hunger, but to relieve the discomfort generated by your disorganized eating).
In other words, if you do not organize your behavioral patterns, the temptation will acquire power over you since you will have no apparent means of determining if an action is progress or regression.
As a result, it is advisable to stick to a timetable and know which habits to avoid ahead of time. If you become consumed with strictly following the rules at all times, remember that they exist to assist you know what you need to do to achieve your objective.
- Raise your self-awareness.
The most incredible method to keep trap ideas from overly conditioning our well-being is to improve our self-awareness, which will help us be more aware of the underlying motives behind our behaviors, feelings, and ways of thinking.
This challenging endeavor takes practice, among other reasons, because trap ideas can take various shapes, and a particular sensitivity is required to recognize them. Finally, the most challenging part of reducing their power over us recognizes them as such, distinguishing them from other ideas.
How can this be accomplished?
Although each person is unique and there is no single way to achieve this, adopting the habit of breaking down our reasoning and recurring thoughts into simpler units makes it easier to check to what extent these beliefs from which we start are sustained by themselves and can be used to build behavior patterns, parts of our ideology, and so on.
For example, if you are trying to quit smoking and want to know if you are systematically falling into trap thoughts when using an addiction-recovery technique, you can break down the arguments you use to create exceptions, cases in which you can smoke a little: “I will not smoke more unless I am offered to do so, so as not to generate rejection.”
In this scenario, you should concentrate on the concepts of “to be offered” and “to create rejection.” Is the offer of tobacco indeed an element that comes from outside the addiction, if others who welcome us to smoke do so primarily because we accepted the previous times? Is it acceptable or healthy for a group of friends to reject someone who does not smoke if this is not one of the primary reasons we continue to smoke?
A detailed evaluation of the ideas that underpin the notions for which we “argue” for ourselves allows us to determine whether or not these arguments are valid.