Mental traps lead to unproductive thinking. You can improve your thinking process by avoiding them, but first you need to know what types of mental traps there are. A common mental trap is that of persistance. You persist when you continue to work towards a goal that no longer has meaning for you. You amplify when you work harder or longer than necessary to achieve a goal that you value. Both persistence and amplification are unproductive thinking processes because they waste time that could be spent more productively.
Amplification is like using a sledge-hammer to swat a fly. There are easier ways to do it. People tend to amplify for two reasons. Firstly, they over-prepare for things because they want to avoid possible outcomes they see as unacceptable. Over-preparing for a speech, or continually re-packing for a trip fall into this category. While it is possible that one more run-through of the speech will lead to an improved presentation, or that one more re-pack will bring to light something that has been forgotten, the law of diminishing returns make these outcomes less and less likely.
Repetition, as seen in the above examples, is more likely when it’s difficult to tell when the goal has been attained. How do you know when you are rich enough, or famous enough, or truly loved by your partner? In the latter case, no evidence may be sufficient so looking for more is useless. This is the time to learn to trust that you are lovable..
In the case of wealth, fame or power, achievement of a goal may lead to setting a higher goal because you now compare yourself to different people. The question to ask yourself is if you want to spend your life chasing an ever-expanding goal of wealth, power or fame, or if there are other ways you prefer to spend your limited time on earth. Is “I am the richest (most famous…most powerful…most…?) person on earth” going to be the thought that sustains you on your death-bed, or are there other things you might achieve that would have more meaning?
In his book Mental Traps: Stupid Things That Sane People Do To Mess Up Their Minds, Andre Kukla goes into a lot more detail about amplification and the 11 other mental traps. He suggests that by being attentive to the present moment, people can break away from habitual thinking processes that lead to mental traps. Thinking is replaced by attention to the moment until the moment requires thinking. The compulsive need to always be working on things in order to stay on top of a future situation is thus allayed.