Three Common Mind Traps that Sink Happiness

Wednesday, May 4, 2016 · 8 Comments

There’s a funny print cartoon that has a man and woman sitting on the couch staring at a TV screen and the caption below reads, “It’s 12 O’clock, do you know where your mind is?” As time goes on and we grow up from children to adolescents to adults, for many of us, somewhere along the way life begins to become routine. Day in and day out whether we’re walking, driving, talking, eating, going to the grocery store, or being with our families our minds get kicked onto auto-pilot and continue to develop their habitual ways of thinking, interpreting, expecting, and relating to other people.

However, these habits also include habits of mind that can keep us stuck in stress, anxiety, depression, or even addictive behaviors.  Here are a few habits of the mind and a mindfulness practice to help you break out of auto-pilot and gain more control over your life.

Three Common Habits that Sink Happiness:

  1. Catastrophizing – If you’re prone to stress and anxiety, you may recognize this habitual mind trap. This is where the mind interprets an event as the worst case scenario. If your heart is beating fast, you may think you’re having a heart attack. If your boss didn’t look at you while walking down the hall, you thinking you’re going to get fired. You get the picture. This style of thinking will support increased stress, anxiety, and even panic.
  2. Discounting the positive and exaggerating the negative – The news is wonderful at supporting us with this one. This is where we habitually reject orminimize any positive feedback and magnify the negative feedback. The glass is always half empty. If you catch yourself saying something positive and then saying “but” followed by a negative, you are practicing this. “I got a 95% on this test, but I didnt’ get a 100%”. Without awareness, this style of thinking will likely land you in a depressed mood.
  3. Blaming – Be careful of this one. We all do it, pointing the finger at someone else for our woes or point the finger at ourselves for others woes. “If my boss wasn’t so hard on me at work, I wouldn’t be so anxious” or “It’s my fault my parents got divorced”. Just check in with yourself after noticing this style of thinking. It doesn’t cultivate any solutions and just makes you feel stuck, anxious, or depressed.

Cultivating the ability to be more present to these mind traps will help you break free from them and shift your attention on more effective ways of interacting with life.

For example, if you notice catastrophizing, actually say to yourself “catastrophizing is happening right now”, then bring your attention to your breath for a moment to steady your mind and then ask yourself, “what are some other possible reasons why my heart is racing fast (e.g. , I just ran upstairs, I’m nervous)? If discounting the positive, come back to the breath, and then switch the “but” to an “and” so at least the positive statement get its equal weight, being more realistic and balanced. If blaming, call it out, say to yourself “blaming is happening.” Remind yourself that blaming simply isn’t effective for anyone and then come back to your breath to steady your mind and bring yourself back to the task you were just doing.

This is not an easy process, yet an important one for regaining control from the ineffective habits we develop in our minds. If we’re not mindful in our daily lives, our minds could just fall into their habitual states to the point we’re on our deathbeds asking “where did it all go?”

Just check in with yourself during the day, look at the clock and say, “It’s X O’clock, do I know where my mind is?” You may catch yourself in some mind traps and if not, just notice whatever you are doing in the moment and then continue if you still want to be doing that or change if you’d rather be doing something else.

Try to be patient through this process and not judge yourself if you find the mind traps arising. Judging yourself as bad or wrong is another mind trap that holds keep you stuck. Breathe in, breathe out, and just redirect your focus.


Elisha Goldstein, PhD

Author of Uncovering Happiness: Overcoming Depression with Mindfulness and Self-Compassion

Adapted from Mindfulness and Psychotherapy


  1. Lostmyself
    May 17, 2016 at 1:42 pm

    # 1 is a daily routine, #2 is too and #3 I blame myself. I once used to be very successful in doing things that helped a lot of people then almost 7 years ago, I stepped into a deep well of despair and anxiety., was not able to go back to work.

    Now I live in a mental prisons, have tried everything, medication, therapy, books etc. Today my doctor recommended Dr. Goldstein book ” The now effect”.
    As the video suggested, I tried to focus my mind into a theater screen and was not able to do so, tried to see if I could see the faces of my grandkids and was not able to do it, that scared me. I have a wonderful family so I have no one to blame, this thing came upon me out of no where. My diagnoses is ” general anxiety disorder”.

    I probably had anxiety for a long time- but not to the point of disability. So here I am trying to see if I can find myself and hopefully start living again.

    Thanks to Dr. Goldstein and the people who made comments, I am hopeful. : )

  2. camille shaw
    May 14, 2016 at 2:47 pm

    Hi Thankyou so much for your Amazing Shared knowledge. I hadn’t heard of you before The Mrs Mindfulness Summit.

    I often have check in and Reflect on what I am thinking and felling. For the last 4 years I have been on a very hard but incredible Healing Journey.

    Words from Rosie Batty here in Australia Mental illness and Drug Addiction is NO EXCUSE FOR VIOLENCE.

    I was in a very VOLITILE/TOXIC MARRIAGE And gave up everything for LOVE. It was abused in every corner you can think of. I have 6 months of the year where certain dates I get flashbacks. My Nursing Career is Tainted for the rest of my working days of what another Soul did too me.
    I can be out watching a movie with friends, at a restaurant and something will trigger my memory of what happened. So I constantly have to check in.

    I now use what happened to me in a Positive manner to help others that have Suffered in Silence and Promote a Counselling Service for Nurses and Well Being. I talk about ownership etc. How Wounds can become Scars and you can learn to live with them and Learn to Love . Above all most Important is Yourself. I Firmly Believe you don’t have to be in a intimate Relationship to feel Loved. So many people think that’s their only way of feeling complete it’s so sad as it is not. It’s only an added bonus if you cross paths with your Soul Love.

    Thanks again for what you do .

    Kind Regards

    Camille Shaw

  3. Linda P.
    May 11, 2016 at 5:49 pm

    I do 1 and 2 – at least several times a week ( worse since job loss 🙁 )! Dumb,stupid mind chatter…such a pain! Thank you so very much for this article and your suggestions…i will try them immediately!

  4. Jan Butterfield
    May 11, 2016 at 11:35 am

    So important as I find myself falling into these traps. Such illumination to help us today. Thanks for this great insight!

  5. Anonymous
    May 11, 2016 at 11:04 am

    I “worst case scenario” it a lot. Ironic this article talks about the heart beating fast. I had a cocaine habit that I have since stopped 4 years ago. To this day, when my heart beats fast..examples- drinking Mountain Dew, going fast up stairs, exercising and getting out of breath…anything that makes my heart pound instantly reminds me of how my heart felt like it was going to burst out of my chest when i did cocaine. Once I drank a knockoff Mountain Dew at a friends house and I had to leave/ call my mom and have her calm me down because I thought I was dying. So, 4 years later I still go into panic mode, where I think I am dying anytime I can feel my heart pounding. I try my best to talk myself out of it. It is definitely hard. Definitely stuck in a mind trap. I repeatedly tell myself that this is just a moment and it shall pass. Things have got better for me but I definitely can relate to how Habit #1 has hindered my happiness. I don’t do a lot of things I normally would because I end up catastrophizing.

    • Elisha Goldstein
      May 11, 2016 at 2:40 pm

      The first step to liberation is in the recognition :).

  6. mike Harrington
    May 11, 2016 at 7:24 am

    The felling of angry scare me

  7. May 4, 2016 at 4:21 pm

    Very good and so true mind traps are everywhere in us on TV and even friends can all add to bad or negative think. Buying the book by the way ; – )

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