October 27, 2008

Thought Trap #3: Mental filter

Continuing on in the series on thought traps.

Thought Trap #3: Mental Filter

You pick a single negative detail and obsess on it so that your vision of reality becomes blocked, like blinders on a horse. In situations with both positive and negative aspects, you dwell on the latter.

This is a common public speaking thought trap, one that I've fallen into many times.

You finish a presentation. You know it went well, the audience is responsive and has great things to say afterward, and you achieved what you were trying to achieve.

But you get one negative evaluation, and that's all you think about. One person gives you a "2" instead of a "5" and you decide that you blew it.

Or your presentation is going well, with great audience response, but there's one person in the audience who sits with arms crossed, frowning. You decide that you're screwing up because this one person refuses to engage with you.

We tend to overexaggerate the negative and downplay the positive in these kinds of situations, so instead of brushing it off or taking it with a grain of salt, we obsess and obsess and try to figure out how we could have made that one person happy.

For this thought trap, I'd like to direct you to two places for some perspective: a compilation of responses on SpeakerNet News for how to deal with a negative evaluation and a Speaker Sue post on picking yourself up after you fall.

Here, again, are suggestions on how to approach these thoughts once you become aware of them (from a Mother Jones article about cognitive therapy and thought traps):

1. Write it down. Writing automatically provides perspective and helps reveal distorted thinking.

2. Identify the distressing event. What's really bothering you?

3. Identify your negative emotions.

4. Identify the negative thoughts tied to your emotions.

5. Identify distortions and substitute the truth.

And my addition:

6. Take action. What will you do differently next time?

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