There is a poem by Portia Nelson called "5 Short Chapters" that speaks to the natural unfolding of learning that happens when we work with becoming more aware of the mind traps in our minds. What are mind traps?
Mind traps are those habitual thinking styles we get caught in that inevitably trap us into a cascading snowball of reactivity that leads us to greater distress. Look this over, see if you identify with any of them and then we'll get back to 5 Short Chapters.
These include, but are not limited to:
- 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."
In Portia Nelson's poem she begins the first chapter saying how she walks down a street and falls into a hole. She has no idea how she fell in and says it isn't her fault. It takes her "forever to find a way out."
In the second chapter, she only pretends to not see it, still falls in, and still says it's not her fault. In chapter 3, she still falls, in but now recognizes it's a habit, takes responsibility, and gets right out. In chapter 4, she is able to see the hole and walk around it and eventually in chapter 5 she simply walks down another street.
Mind traps work the same way. At first we might not even be aware of them happening and how we get stuck in them. Then we are able to notice them, but still get stuck in them. Eventually we can notice them and begin to shift our attention so we don't get caught in the snowball reaction. Finally, with awareness and practice, we're able to see them from afar and walk down a different street.
As always, please share your thoughts, stories and questions below. Your interaction provides a living wisdom for us all to benefit from.
Adapted from a publication on Mindfulness and Psychotherapy at Psychcentral.com. Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D. is Co-author of A Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Workbook. You may also find him at www.elishagoldstein.com.
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