Mental Traps, Andre Kukla’s book on unproductive thinking skills, describes 11 forms of thinking that produce nothing of value, but sap our energy and waste time. It’s not the content of the thoughts, but the way we think about the content that makes a mental trap.
Mental traps tend to stay around because people may be unaware of their thoughts, do not see their thinking as unproductive, or from force of habit. However, once a mental trap is recognized as such, it can be eliminated like any other bad habit. The outcome is generally less stress and more energy.
The first mental trap Kukla addresses is persistence, which he defines as continuing to work on projects or be in situations that no longer have value for us. Persistence differs from perseverance where we pursue our aims despite obstacles. To persist is to stubbornly continue without enjoyment in a task or situation simply because we started it. Situations where we may persist range from boring television shows to daily routines, jobs, and relationships.
Why do we persist? Sometimes because we feel that stopping will waste the time that we have already put into an activity. But that time is irretrievable while the time we will save by stopping could be put to something more rewarding. Often though we persist because we fail to re-evaluate our goals or because we think that the alternative is even worse. We think that leaving a relationship will lead to being alone for life, or leaving a job will result in penury. Once we buy into our rationalizations we are tied into perpetual persistence, but being aware of the dilemma can lead to breaking free from inertia and making a change.
Persisting in things we are not doing is more difficult to recognize and to change. How long will we persist in not eating olives, which we once tried and disliked, or in not going skiing because we fell down so often on our first lesson? Doing an activity tells us whether it still has value for us, but when we refrain from doing something we cannot tell if the value has changed. Kukla suggests that we never give up on anything forever. Our likes and dislikes, courage and abilities can change over time, and we may be surprised to find value in something that once held no value for us.
To learn about the other mental traps read Mental Traps: Stupid Things That Sane People Do To Mess Up Their Minds or keep checking back here as the other traps will be covered over time.