[fmco soundbites] A common thinking trap

a finger caught in a mouse trap
[16 June 2021] Day 16 of the fmco* in Malaysia

Have you ever felt certain about something – like someone doesn’t like you – but you don’t ever try to find out for real? Or you are anxious about the future? Perhaps you worry about how other people are thinking or you seem to think disaster is inevitable. These are thinking traps that sometimes take over our rational mind. Also known as cognitive distortions, thinking traps are deeply ingrained in our psyche. 

Thinking traps are patterns of thought – usually with a negative swing – which prevent us from seeing things as they really are. Sometimes, it freezes us from taking action or progress because it can overwhelm us. We can end up jumping to conclusion, making bad decisions, prevents us from seeing the big picture, or we end up inside a vicious cycle of alternating moods.

This affects our lives as well as how effective we are at our professions.

Here’s a common one.

Black & White Thinking

Black and white chess pieces

Also known as All-or-nothing. This trap occurs when we only look at situations in rigid terms of one extreme or the other. A situation is either good or bad, success or failure – there is no middle ground. Most of life happen somewhere in the grey area. This reminds me of the drama series my mother used to watch on TV. Villains are almost always totally bad. There’s not a thread of good in them ever!.
People having this thinking trap will also be very hard of themselves. If they fall short of any expectations, they view themselves as a total failure.

How could I lose my kid at the supermarket? I am a horrible mother!

I made a terrible mistake in the financial report. I am a bad accountant.

(After failing only one test) “I failed the test. I am stupid.

I will either ace this course or I will totally flop!

He doesn’t believe that wearing masks will help stemming the infection rate. He is an idiot!

What’s the use of joining the competition. I’ll never get first place.

Black and white thinking affects your personal and work relationships too as you will tend to approach normal relationship conflicts with extreme positions. You may suddenly move people from the “with me” category to the “against me” category. In the workplace, you may make a decision to quit the job or fire people (depending on the situation) because you miss the chance to look for a win-win solution to problems.

What you can do:
  1. Reframe:

    Life is not perfect. I am not perfect. Even though I did not get what I want, it doesn’t mean I am a failure. I’ll do better in the future.

    Even though he doesn’t want to follow the Covid-19 SOPs, it doesn’t mean he is an idiot. It’ll be good to understand why.

    I lost my kid at the supermarket. It doesn’t mean I am a bad mother. I will be more careful next time.

  2. Watch out for words like “never” and “always”. If you hear yourself saying this, try to replace them with “sometimes” and “maybe”.


About the Author: Gina Phan is a consultant and trainer with Zinfinity Consulting. She currently conducts courses in workplace performance skills. Click here to contact her, follow her on Facebook or connect with her on Linkedin.

Read her other posts.


#thinkingtraps #cognitivedistortions #problemsolving #relationship
#trainergina #ginaphan #gp

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4 thoughts on “[fmco soundbites] A common thinking trap

  1. Not being extreme and not being hard on oneself sounds good. But I m not so sure if bosses or customers will like hearing “maybe”, “sometimes” from me. At least, I won’t like hearing that from a salesman, I will lose confidence in them.

    • Thank for your input. This self-talk is not for times when you are speaking to bosses or customers. It applies when we are too hard on ourselves. Like when we say “I am such a loser!”. Then we need to change to say “Sometimes, I will fail but I will do better later.”

      It can also apply when we put people into extreme poles. For example: “He is always thinking about himself.” We can reframe to say to ourselves “Maybe he puts his priority higher than others in certain issues.” If he does it on one issue, it does not mean he will do it on all issues.

      Hope I have clarified this.
      Thanks for your feedback.

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