Why do some of the most intelligent people sabotage their own success? It all goes back to unconscious thought traps, also called cognitive distortions, that anyone can fall victim to. It’s typical to fall into these traps every now and then. It’s simply part of being human.
However, you can develop the necessary self-awareness to spot and correct toxic thoughts. With a little discipline, you can retrain your thinking.
Here are common, unhelpful thinking styles that keep smart people stuck. Recognizing toxic thoughts as illogical and impermanent is an important first step for letting go of the stress they bring:
Mental filter. You pick out a single negative detail and dwell on it. You may receive lots of positive comments about your presentation at work, but if one colleague says something mildly critical, you obsess about it for days.
All-or-nothing labeling. You see things in black and white. If your boss says you did not meet expectations in a single category on your performance review, you label yourself as a “complete failure” at your job. With this way of thinking, there’s no room for nuance — there can’t be parts of your job you’re great at, while also aspects of your position you need to work on.
Overgeneralization. This is believing something will always happen simply because it happened once. If a plum assignment goes to someone else once, you can’t help but think, “Just my luck! I lose out on everything.”
Discounting the positive. It’s common practice for you to downplay positive experiences by telling yourself they don’t count. If you do a good job, you reason that anyone else on your team could have done just as well, so what does it even matter?
Jumping to conclusions. Interpreting things negatively without facts to support your conclusion is the hallmark of this mindset. No matter what, you predict things will turn out badly. Before a crucial meeting, for example, you may tell yourself, “I’m really going to blow it.”
Emotional reasoning. You assume your negative emotions are proof of the way things really are: “I feel terrified about going to networking events,” you might tell yourself. Therefore, “It must be a bad idea to attend them.”
“Should” statements. Instead of focusing on how best to handle situations for what they are, you demand they turn out as hoped. These “should statements” directed against yourself lead to guilt and frustration, such as “I’m an adult. I should have figured out my passion by now.” When directed against other people, they lead to anger and resentment. “My team should be able to handle this without bothering me,” is a good example.
Personalization and blame. This cognitive distortion causes stress when you hold yourself personally responsible for an event that isn’t entirely under your control. For instance, when you’ve hit a bump in the road with a co-worker you think, “This is all my fault,” instead of trying to pinpoint the cause of the problem so you and your coworker can get back on the same page. Meanwhile, it’s also common to blame your circumstances on others and discount the ways you might be contributing to the problem.
Did any of those thought patterns ring true for you? Mindset missteps are common among even the brightest, most well-meaning people. We can all relate to that feeling of sometimes getting in our own way.
The good news is that you can guide your mindset and beat these toxic thoughts. Next time you find yourself falling into one of these traps, try these toxic thinking interventions on yourself to turn things around.
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Originally published on melodywilding.com.