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Live our daily life in the here and now.
Being consciously present in the activities we carry out isn’t easy. Indeed, our mind, like a pendulum, is always ready to brood on the past or project oneself onto future scenarios. Expectations, hopes, regrets, worries, painful memories…meanwhile, the present flows unnoticed.
This incessant work of our mind can generate stress, anxiety, frustration, and even symptoms of depression. Our brain, in fact, performs about one million operations per second. Our mind doesn’t process everything on a conscious level; we can picture our conscious mind as the tip of the iceberg, while the unconscious part is analogous to the hidden and much wider submerged portion.
Our mind receives a continuous and consistent amount of information and learns to select automatically from that received data. It sends most of this information directly into the unconscious, leaving them submerged. It’s an automatic process that happens through cognitive distortions, generalizations, or deletions. This generates the so-called mental traps, which are errors of thought that deceive our mind.
Mental traps may originate from dysfunctional experiences or relationships that occurred during childhood or adolescence. Whatever their origin, traps can subconsciously become part of us, influencing our life, way of thinking, decision making, and relationships.
Mindfulness is a great tool for learning to recognize these cognitive distortions. Learning to recognize mental traps helps us avoid them, reducing anxiety and stress. In this way, we’re able to regain our awareness and objectivity toward the present, increasing our confidence and motivation.
According to mindfulness, there are eight types of mental traps:
1. The Trap of Catastrophic Thinking
This is the tendency to expect worst-case scenarios for our future. The more we worry, the more we strengthen our related neuronal pathways, consolidating this attitude as our default mindset. This style of thinking inevitably generates stress, worry, and anxiety.
With mindfulness, we learn to focus and stay in the present, moment after moment. Our existence is based on the present moment. No one can predict what will be reserved for the future. We must learn to let go of all sense of control over the future and deal with it only in due time.
2. The Confirmation Trap
We look for information and data that fuel our decisions or thinking patterns, involuntarily ignoring and discarding contradictions. We’re not able to maintain our objectivity or capacity for lucid analysis. This mental trap generates blocks that prevent us from having a real vision of the present.
3. The Stereotype Trap
Our brain tends to take shortcuts without us noticing. It tends to judge, generalize, and come to conclusions based on our learned mental patterns, beliefs, and life experiences. Our stereotypes take over everyday logic. Mindfulness helps free us from our preconceptions, beliefs, and presumptions, developing the beginner’s mind.
4. The Sooter’s Trap
This happens when you think you’re reading people’s minds and know what they’re thinking or feeling without proof.
For example, if we think someone doesn’t like something, we’ll interpret what happens to support that thinking and strengthen our conviction.
5. The Trap of Biasimus
This is when we only consider other people to be the exclusive cause of our pain and problems. There’s always someone or something outside of us to blame. This is a counterproductive attitude. Accepting personal responsibility empowers us to reclaim our ability to effect change in the problematic areas of our life.
6. The Trap of the Tunnel Vision
This is the tendency to face life looking only at the destination without enjoying the journey. It’s like looking through a cardboard roll; the mind only sees the end and excludes everything else. This attitude can be useful in times of crisis/emergency but is an obstacle to happiness in everyday life. Examples of tunnel thinking include, I’ll be happy when I have a partner or feel fulfilled when I’m rich.
7. The Trap of Conformist Thought
This happens because we adapt our way of thinking to the way other people think. This attitude becomes heavier when it produces self-harming feelings and behaviors. Mindfulness teaches us to be curious and open, to the news, our surroundings, and new opportunities.
8. The Trap of Sunk Costs
Sunken costs refer to the time and effort we’ve invested in a given situation and can’t recover. After expending significant time and energy, we can fall into the habit of persisting in futility. The best solution is to move forward—accepting we can’t recover the time we’ve lost by wasting more. This does not mean giving up on a difficult situation. It means having an objective vision of reality and learning to discriminate fruitless activities which hurt our well-being from ones that simply take up our time and energy.