Caught in a trap….I can’t walk out…

It’s not often I’m able to paraphrase Elvis in a blog post, but – well, I couldn’t resist on this occasion.

We’re finally into November, but 2020 has been… umm… 2020. And in nearly every conversation I’ve had with my friends, family and coaching clients in recent weeks and months, we’ve touched on disbelief around what we’ve lived through, and how we’ve coped. A consistent theme that keeps popping up in my conversations is how many of us can succumb to the lures of “thinking traps”.

Thinking Traps are those pesky, negative thoughts that plague our minds when we’re feeling anxious or frustrated about something. Think about when you last put off a difficult phone call for days, imagining a huge confrontation and hostility at the other end of the line. Or the last time you were so blinded by anger following a misunderstanding with a friend that it wasn’t until long after you’d made amends that you were able to see the mistakes that you perhaps made – as well as the ones on the other side.

OK – but how do we recognise them?

There are lots of types of Thinking Traps (or “cognitive distortions”), but here’s a few common ones:

1. Mind Reading: assuming the worst; expecting someone to read our minds
2. Me: telling ourselves we are the main cause of problems
3. Them: blaming others unfairly, or thinking other people or circumstances are at fault
4. Catastrophising: seeing only the worst possible scenario
5. Helplessness: thinking that there’s nothing we can do to change the situation

This strange year has undoubtedly caused some of us to be vulnerable to falling into Thinking Traps – whether it’s feeling stir crazy as a result of being locked down, concerned about being unable to see family, anxious about effects on work, or frustrated at some of the decisions made by those in charge. Personally, earlier this year, I found it took a while to work through my anger around why childcare was closed and the impact this would have at home, with both my husband, Josh, and I trying to run our businesses – at a time when I really needed to be ramping things up. 

But I’m here to tell you that unlike Elvis, we can “walk out” of Thinking Traps and can go on together… (without suspicious minds)!

Fighting back

To help me see my own situation a little differently, I tapped into a self-directed technique we can all apply to our Thinking Traps. Enter Real-time Resilience. *strong arm emoji*

Real-time resilience helps to shut down counterproductive thinking and build motivation. It’s taught in many places, including the University of Pennsylvania’s Resilience Program, the skill is made up of three steps, all set to challenge Thinking Traps:

1. Use Evidence: “That’s not true because…”
2. Reframe: “A better way of seeing this is…”
3. Plan: “If (x) happens, I will (y)…”

These three simple steps, when we call upon them, can be so helpful in flipping our Thinking Traps on their heads. In my case, I reframed the situation to remind myself that the lockdown allowed Josh and I more time at home to focus on our businesses, whilst sharing the childcare. Of course, I still get crabby from time to time (!), but taking a moment to think about how I can focus on the positives can quickly bring me some clarity. I also encouraged Josh to create his own resilience statement, so that when we saw each other struggling, we could remind each other how easy it was to change our mindset. These types of conversations can be helpful for strengthening our relationship, too: we’re both playing an active role in increasing positivity levels in our home.

We can look to use it when faced with hurdles in our careers, too.

Sally’s story

One friend of mine – we’ll call her Sally – was faced with a setback when she was made redundant back in 2019. She had been in the role, which she had loved, for a number of years and after the shock of losing her job, she was overwhelmed by the task of translating her experience into a new role or a different industry. 

Sally came to me and, although she didn’t realise it, her language screamed of the Thinking Traps she was falling into: “No-one will employ me – my experience is too narrow…” “I haven’t had a job interview for 10 years, I have no idea how they even work…”

I poured Sally a cuppa, showed her my Real-Time Resilience poster and asked her if she thought there were ways in which she could use evidence, reframe, or plan around the predicament she was facing. By using the three steps, we came up with a different mindset, and a number of techniques to get her back into employment, which looked a little like this:

  • [Use evidence]: “That’s not true because my experience is actually really valuable. One leader said they would employ me straight away if they had a role going. I have knowledge that I can offer, I’ve been employed in the past and I know that I am likely to be successful on the next part of my career path, because I have received positive feedback in my most recent performance management reviews.”
  • [Reframe]:A better way of seeing this is: I have worked in the same field for my entire career, but in that time, I have developed X number of transferable skills, making me a strong applicant for roles in new industries.” 
  • [Reframe]: “A better way of seeing this is: I actually do know how job interviews work, because I’ve been on the interview panel for three different vacancies in the last five years. I can take that knowledge into the role of candidate and help myself feel less nervous about the interview process.”
  • [Plan]:If I don’t receive an invitation to interview in the next 10 days of job searching, I will watch videos and read blogs to help me spruce up my CV and pick up some interview tips”.
  • [Plan]: “If I spot a role I like the sound of, I’ll take my time to research the company and express interest as early as possible, to show my serious interest and commitment to being offered the position.” 

Time to think differently – and put a plan in place

It just goes to show that sometimes, all it takes is a little encouragement to think differently about the things that are getting you down. What’s more, when used correctly and regularly, the Real-Time Resilience steps can build your skills helping positive change to stick. Why not take things a step further, and make a Real-Time Resilience commitment to yourself by writing it down? Pop your empowering words up somewhere you can see them regularly for a daily boost.

I’d love to hear from you on how you’ve been able to use Real-Time Resilience to fight off your own Thinking Traps, especially over the course of this year.

Finally…

To help me cope with my Thinking Traps during lockdown, I created some evidence-based posters for my home office to act as visual cues. I thought I’d share one with you because it’s been so helpful for me and my coaching clients. Download the Real-Time Resilience poster here – post it in your workspace or share with your team as a reminder that we have the power to drive out those unhelpful thought patterns, see things as they really are, and strengthen our relationships!

Real-Time Resilience is just one of the topics we cover in our range of Workplace Workshops & Masterclasses. Click here to find out more.

Interested in learning more about using Real-Time Resilience in your career? Contact me for a 1:1 coaching consultation via FlexCareers.

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