Mind trap #1 "I have to do it perfectly"
SAY THIS INSTEAD: I don’t always have to achieve 100 per cent; 80 per cent will suffice
Perfectionism means spending at least 50% of your energy on the last (usually dispensable) 10 per cent of a task. This is pure stress. We get out of this stress by reviewing the demands we place on ourselves and our own performance. Anyone who frequently thinks ‘I must’ or ‘I musn’t’ will become stressed more easily than people who accept their limitations.
Mind Trap #2 "I won’t be able to do it by the deadline"
SAY THIS INSTEAD: I can do it
I don’t have enough time. I’m not supported, included, appreciated enough. Psychologists have noted how the thought of not having enough of something leads to negative stress, which in turn intensifies our feelings of lack. We keep repeating the problem to ourselves, and it becomes larger in our memory than it was in reality.
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Mind Trap #3 "Nothing can be done anyway"
SAY THIS INSTEAD: We’ll find a solution sooner or later
A thought is like a behavioural pattern, says stress researcher Bruce McEwen. “So our brain doesn’t distinguish whether a thought is good or bad for us; whether we fear or yearn for something. It uncritically bases its decisions on what’s going on in our head.” If, say, we believe we have no control over events, then we are indeed powerless, a feeling that triggers emotional stress.
Mind Trap #4 "Why do things always turn against me?"
SAY THIS INSTEAD: Today wasn’t that great but tomorrow is a new day
If we generalize states of stress, we get stuck in a negative thought pattern. “We suddenly see everything as being bleak and start to believe the stress, which in reality only affects one area of our life, will sooner or later end up consuming our entire life,” says psychologist Kelly McGonigal. Our emotions are skewed so “we believe each of our thoughts to be true, no matter how absurd.”
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Mind Trap #5 "My life is too stressful"
SAY THIS INSTEAD: There’s a lot to do, but I’ve got it all under control.
Our perception focuses only on that which fits with our assumptions. “What we see is a mini excerpt, and we call it reality. We should actually be calling it our own reality,” says psychologist Ilona Bürgel. Once we’ve zeroed in on the fact our work is stressful and annoying, it will be stressful and annoying because we only notice these aspects. We only notice the stress, be it mental or physical, because our thoughts do not permit any other truth.
Mind Trap #6 "It’s exactly as I say"
SAY THIS INSTEAD: There is a lot I can’t control
This mindset is a hallmark of tunnel vision, where we only take on board information which fits with our beliefs. This leads us to repeat old patterns and make poor decisions which put us under stress. “The very fact we were so sure of ourselves results in our brain setting off a loud alarm in the event of an error, even when a quiet warning tone would have sufficed,” says neurobiologist Gerald Huether.
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Mind Trap #7 "I’ve always done it this way"
SAY THIS INSTEAD: I’m open to everything
Our brain likes to be comfortable. If we don’t urge it on, it often sticks with solutions it has found before. While routine can sometimes be effective, if often fails to help us progress. And if out habitual thoughts get out of kilter, we come under pressure. It is precisely in stressful situations that we need to mentally run through alternatives to calmly find solutions to the problem.
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Mind Trap #8 "I’m a Winner or a Loser"
SAY THIS INSTEAD: I don’t tie myself down
The world is beautiful – the world is horrible. If we think in black and white, we think in stereotypes. We don’t see any greys; no relationships, no alternatives. There is only an ‘either-or’, not a ‘both-and’. That’s why every shade of grey creates stress- because we don’t believe in flipping our views, and are unable to focus on what works in stressful situations.
Mind Trap #9 "I’m afraid of failing"
SAY THIS INSTEAD: It won’t be easy, but I welcome the challenge
If we’ve learned to associate feelings of stress with a feeling of fear, we’ll experience every stressful situation as fear – even panic. It’s a mix up which can cause us to avoid stressful situations in the hope of escaping the fear. Researchers call it ‘avoidance behavior resistance’. “Anyone who resists will gradually lose strength. Because resistance means fighting what is, and that’s the greatest way to lose energy”, says stress manager Mirriam Priess.
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Mind Trap #10 “I have to prove to others I can do it”
SAY THIS INSTEAD: I alone need to know I can do it
Social recognition is a basic human need. “When recognition is lacking, people inevitably feel invisible. They become negligent, dissatisfied, demotivated or even unwell,” says medical sociologist Johannes Siegrist. “Emotional stress primarily arises when there’s a rift between great effort and minimal recognition.” To avoid this pressure, we should trust in our own skills. They’ve long been recognised, we don’t need to prove them to anyone.
Mind Trap #11 "Why does nothing I do ever work?”
SAY THIS INSTEAD: I do my best; that’s all I can do
We of course want to live up to certain expectations. However, if we try to live up to every single one all the time, we will eventually end up in a stress spiral. This is because firstly, it will never be possible, and secondly, we don’t live up to our own standards. At that moment, we’re no longer detached from the stressful event, which puts us under even more pressure.
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Mind Trap #12 “Nothing will go wrong today”
SAY THIS INSTEAD: I am excited to see what today brings
We should separate ourselves from the idea that things always go as we expect them to. They often end up differently to what we thought, which can make us very stressed. Psychologists speak of “incorrect conceptions”, which set off alarms in our brain.
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