Beware Those Stinkin' Thinkin' Traps

We all have patterns of thinking that have reached the automatic level. Unfortunately, many of these thinking patterns are traps. Traps that hold us prisoner to habits that do not serve us.
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So, you've set your sight on getting in better shape this year. Losing weight and working out are at the top of your New Year's resolutions list. And you are determined to follow through this year.

But as you pop the Jane Fonda "Prime Time -- Fit & Strong" disk into the DVD player, you catch sight of the candy dish boasting a dilapidated pyramid of gold Ferrero Rocher candies. You grab the remote, put Jane on pause, and sidle up to the coffee table to re-stack those gold-wrapped delights into a perfect pyramid. Then, in an instant, you feel yourself beginning to waver.

"Oh, what's one little Ferrero Rocher? It would be a shame to throw these out. After all, I only buy them during the holiday season."

The next thing you know, you've popped not just one, but two, three, then four of those tasty chocolate and hazelnut, melt-in-your-mouth balls into your mouth. You quickly roll the gold and brown wrappers into a tight little wad and thrust it into the pocket of your new activewear.

And then it happens... one of those Stinkin' Thinkin' Traps, known as "all or none" thinking takes over, triggering the "What the heck" response, and before you know it, you've devoured the remaining six candies.

We all have patterns of thinking that have reached the automatic level. Unfortunately, many of these thinking patterns are traps. Traps that hold us prisoner to habits that do not serve us.

The first step in changing Stinkin' Thinkin' patterns is to recognize the source. Now, I'll come clean and admit that the scenario above pretty accurately describes me. The only differences being I was loading a Richard Simmons "Sweating To The Oldies" disc into the DVD player and I only ate seven Ferrero Rocher. So what led to my New Year's resolution demise?

I was feeling frustrated with myself, a) frustrated with the fact that I had put on a few extra pounds over the holidays when I had promised myself I would not, and b) a few situations occurred during the holidays that upset my emotional applecart.

At first glance, it seems the source of my Stinkin' Thinkin' would be a) and/or b). Not so. To understand the root cause, I had to look deeper.

Since childhood, chocolate (Reese's Peanut Butter Cups to be specific) was a source of emotional fulfillment. My parents were separated, and every time my father would visit me he'd reach into his pants pocket and pull out a handful of Reese's Miniatures. In my child's way of thinking, chocolate meant time with my father; chocolate meant not feeling alone and sad; chocolate meant comfort.

Many Stinkin' Thinkin' patterns are fueled by emotion. As Dr. Ron Breazeale wrote in Duct Tape Isn't Enough, these thinking patterns are "often based on what is referred to as the logic of emotion or emotional reasoning ... To change faulty thinking patterns, we must first recognize that they are irrational ways of thinking that do not work well for us in the long run."

A Stinkin' Thinkin' pattern, like any old habit, does not die easily. Recognizing these thinking patterns for what they are is a steppingstone to refusing to make use of them. Once we recognize them for what they are, we must commit ourselves to not letting them take over. These well-practiced thinking habits require that we question the way we look at the triggering situation and that we become more flexible in our response to them.

Write down a plan for each resolution that you want to achieve. Try to predict what challenges you may face, and create a flexible plan for meeting those challenges if and when they arise.

The bottom line is that you can keep your New Year's resolutions. And if the resolutions on your list are the same ones listed in 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011, take a long look back in your life. Identify the habits, the event(s) that trigger your Stinkin' Thinkin' traps and keep you from realizing your goals.

As Lao Tzu said, "At the center of your being you have the answer; you know who you are and you know what you want."

For more by Rita Schiano, click here.

For more on making it a healthy new year, click here.

For more on mindfulness, click here.

Rita Schiano is an adjunct professor at Bay Path College, where she teaches philosophy and stress management courses. She is the founder of Live A Flourishing Life™, which melds her three professions: philosophy instructor, stress management instructor and resilience coach, and freelance writer. Her book, "Live a Flourishing Life," is used for the college program and in private training programs.

Rita also conducts stress management and resilience-building workshops funded by the Massachusetts Dept. of Industrial Accidents. She is actively involved with Maine Resilience, a program coordinated with the effort, materials and information offered by the American Psychological Association and the Maine Psychological Association through their Public Education Programs. Rita is an Associate Member of the International Positive Psychology Association (IPPA). Visit her online at her personal website and at Red Room.

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