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Escape these 7 thinking traps

Friday, May 29, 2015  
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By Neena Newberry

We all have setbacks. What matters in the long run is how we bounce back.

I recently came across a list of "thinking traps" identified by Hay Group, a global management consulting firm. If we recognize when we fall into these traps, we can start to see new ways to move past a setback or challenge.

Related: Advocates and derailers: Who's in your corner?

Take a look at this list. Which of these seven thinking traps have you experienced?

Personalizing. When you personalize, you assume that a negative event — say, a meeting that went off the rails — is entirely your responsibility. While you should always assess what went well and what you would do differently next time, routinely taking on all the blame may undermine your confidence and make you overlook the true root of the problem. Instead, try asking someone you trust to help you see the full picture of what happened and what action to take now.

Externalizing. The other extreme, externalizing, means you take no responsibility for a problem. If you externalize, you would blame the off-the-rails meeting on everyone else while overlooking how you contributed. Passing the buck in this way can keep you from learning and growing and could block your success in the long run. Make it a practice to simply notice how others react, verbally and nonverbally, to what you say and do.

Magnifying and minimizing. Do you ever exaggerate the negative aspects of an event and ignore or downplay the positives? In our meeting example, perhaps you’re overlooking that it was smooth and productive until the last few minutes. As high performers, we have rigorous personal standards, but overemphasizing failure over success will limit your ability to put your strengths more powerfully into play. Take time to learn from your successes so you can repeat them. And you can’t do that unless you first acknowledge them.

Overgeneralizing. This means forming broad judgments about yourself or others without evidence. If, after one rough meeting, you declare that you’re terrible at presenting, you’re overgeneralizing. By simply asking yourself what went well and what you should have done differently, you will begin to form a more accurate picture of your performance. This is another situation where it could help to get an outside viewpoint on how you’re really doing.

Mind reading. When you fall into this trap, you assume that you know what someone else is thinking. You can psych yourself out when you believe the worst. If you’re prone to mind reading, make it a practice to ask more questions to confirm and clarify. You might be surprised at what you learn.

Emotional reasoning. Do you assume your emotions are accurate indicators about the nature of the event, without looking for other evidence? Perhaps you’re so upset about what went wrong at the meeting that you don’t see what went well. Get more information and evidence to make a more rational assessment. It also always helps to breathe and step back from your emotions.

Catastrophizing. We've probably all been guilty of exaggerating the negative impact of an event: "The meeting was terrible — now I definitely don’t have a shot at getting promoted.” In this situation, bring yourself back to the here and now and out of your worries about the future. Simply ask yourself, "What is the first step I need to take after this setback?”

This week, notice whether you’re falling into any of these thinking traps. What is one small step you will take to shift your thinking and make yourself more resilient?

Neena Newberry is an executive coach, speaker and author who helps women "think and play big." A recognized expert with appearances on CBS, ABC and Fox News, she received four Stevie Awards for Women in Business in 2014. A former Deloitte executive, Neena is president of Newberry Executive Solutions.

Views expressed in blogs, posts and user comments are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Network of Executive Women or its Officers, Board members and corporate partners.

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