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Elisa Goldstein, Ph.D.Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D.
A blog about mindfulness, stress-reduction, psychotherapy and mental health.

The Mental Squiggle: A Good Way to Gain Freedom from Mind Traps

Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D. Updated: Mar 22nd 2013

freedomI was recently giving a seminar to a number of therapists and discussing how to help ourselves and the clients we work with understand the concept that “Thoughts aren’t Facts.” After giving some ways to bring humor to this idea, one woman raised her hand and said that “We can think of thoughts as a mental squiggle.” I loved that, and attributed it to mindfulness teacher Sylvia Boorstein. Bringing some humor to our mind traps is a great way to break free from them. 

Here are 5 mind traps that come directly out of The Now Effect: How this Moment Can Change the Rest of Your Life

  • Catastrophizing is a style of thinking that amplifies anxiety. In challenging situations, it expects disaster and automatically imagines the worst possible outcome. It's a what-if game of worst-case scenarios. An example would be telling someone that it's raining pretty hard, and they respond with "Yes, it seems like it will never stop. It's going to flood, and we're going to lose all our crops."
  • Exaggerating the negative and discounting the positive go hand in hand and contribute to anxious and depressed moods as positive experiences are downplayed or not acknowledged while negative details are magnified. An example is when you say something positive, then use the word "but" to lead in to a negative statement, such as "I'm doing better at work, but I'm still making mistakes." This discounts the positive and gives more power to the negative. Experiment with replacing "but" with "and" to give both aspects equal weight.
  • Mind reading involves convincing yourself that you know what other people are thinking and feeling and why they act the way they do, without actual evidence. For example, you may incorrectly assume that someone doesn't like you or is out to get you. Such interpretations tend to cultivate anxiety or depression.
  • Being the eternal expert is a recipe for heightened stress, as it necessitates being constantly on guard. When being wrong isn't an option, you're continually on trial to defend your opinions and actions.
  • The "shoulds" are an all-too-common thought pattern that can lead to guilt or anger in addition to stress. Shoulds involve having a list of unbreakable rules for yourself or others. If you break your rules for yourself, guilt often arises because you haven't lived up to your own expectations. If others break these rules, you're likely to become angry or resentful.
  • Blaming involves holding others responsible for your own pain or holding yourself responsible for the problems of others. With blaming, there's always someone or something outside of yourself that's the cause of your suffering and pain. However, you generally can't change others, and you may not be able to change circumstances--you can only hope to change yourself. If you perceive that the solution lies outside of you, you deprive yourself of the power to effect change.

Consider for a moment what might be different if every time one of these styles of thinking came up we could truly have the perspective to just see it as a mental squiggle. From this impersonal place we could then gently guide our attention back to what matters. 

Try this on for size over the next days and weeks ahead. See these mind traps as just mental squiggles as you continue to paint on the canvas of life (couldn’t help but use that metaphor). 

As always, please share your thoughts, stories and questions below. Your interaction creates a living wisdom for us all to benefit from.

Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D.

Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist in private practice in West Los Angeles and is author of the upcoming book The Now Effect, co-author of A Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Workbook, Foreword by Jon Kabat-Zinn, author of the Mindful Solutions audio series, and the Mindfulness at Work™ program currently being adopted in multiple multinational corporations.

Check out Dr. Goldstein's acclaimed CD's on Mindful Solutions for Stress, Anxiety, and Depression, Mindful Solutions for Addiction and RelapsePrevention, and Mindful Solutions for Success and Stress Reduction at Work. -- "They are so relevant, I have marked them as one of my favorites on a handout I give to all new clients" ~ Psychiatrist.

If you're wanting to integrate more mindfulness into your daily life, sign up for his Mindful Living Twitter Feed. Dr. Goldstein is also available for private psychotherapy.

    Reader Comments
    Discuss this issue below or in our forums.

    Should's - artemis133 - Mar 24th 2013

    Good article, and helpful. I have been guilty of these thought patterns in the past, but with the help of mindfulness, and the study of Buddhist beliefs, I've been able to train my mind to not jump to these patterns most of the time. And I tell myself not to 'should' on myself, LOL.

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