Based on the previous conversation, students will likely recognize that thinking traps get them stuck in unhelpful self-criticism, blame, shame, and worry. Inform students that thinking traps are, in fact, related to many different mental illnesses and are considered maintenance or risk factors for many emotional disorders.
Before students “ring the alarm-bell” and start panicking about their seemingly inevitable mental illness diagnosis, let students know that there is also good news: Anyone can learn how to get out of a thinking trap. Point out that the amount of time it takes to climb out of a thinking trap depends on how stuck they are. People who have been using a thinking trap for a long time are generally more stuck and need more time to climb out of the trap.
Also note that, in some cases, when students are stuck too deep or when the climb seems too scary, they might need help and that is okay. Inform students that cognitive behavioural therapists are specifically trained to help people climb out of thinking traps and that students can reach out to a counsellor or a supportive adult if they think they might need help getting unstuck.
Start this lesson by watching the “5Cs Song”, which is a catchy musical explanation for how to avoid or get out of thinking traps. This song was written and published by GoZen!, an online social-emotional learning program for children ages 5-15, which uses animation videos to teach fundamental thinking skills.
After watching the video, share the song’s chorus and sing the chorus together one or two times. Then, slowly walk through and explain each of the 5Cs in greater detail. Before moving on, ask students if they have any questions about the 5C’s or thinking traps in general.
As a class, work through the three different example scenarios in the slide deck. Start by asking a student to read the example out loud. Then, identify the thought trap and use the 5 C’s to help the character climb out of the trap(s). The slide deck includes descriptions of the scenarios, prompts for each of the 5 C’s, as well as suggested answers. Before jumping in, let students know that it’s possible, and even common, for people to get stuck in multiple thinking traps at once. Also note that for the fourth C – Challenge – it’s most engaging if you ask two students to hold a one-minute debate.
One of the students will defend evidence for the original thought and the other student will defend evidence against the original thought. After working through the three examples, ask if any student is brave enough to share an example from their own life that the class can use to work through the 5 C’s together.
Finally, give students the “Trap Your Thinking Trap” worksheet and ask them to fill-out this worksheet the next time they catch themselves using a thinking trap. If needed, encourage students to make photocopies of this worksheet at home or to ask you for more copies, so that they can continue using it beyond the first thinking trap they identify. Let students know that, once they become more familiar with the common thinking traps and the 5 C’s, they will be able to more naturally avoid or climb out of thinking traps, and they will no longer need to use this worksheet.
Trapping Your Thinking Traps worksheet available in download section of this page.
In the last 5 minutes of class, engage in a brief class discussion using the following prompts:
- How might recognizing these thinking traps and climbing out of them affect your mental wellbeing? Do you think that even just recognizing the trap could be beneficial?
- Do you see yourself using these steps to help yourself or a friend climb out of a thinking trap? Why or why not? What might get in the way?
- Which of the 5 C’s do you anticipate being the hardest? Why? What can you do to make it easier?
- It’s always easier to identify thinking traps and how to climb out of them when you are not in the situation (i.e. in hindsight). What can you do to remind yourself to use the 5 C’s when you are in the heat of the moment?
Am I going to get a mental illness because I’ve used thinking traps before?
No. Everyone gets stuck in thinking traps, and most of us even get stuck in a trap more than once a week. What matters is whether you are able to recognize that you are stuck and whether or not you are able to climb out of the trap. The relationship between thinking traps and mental illness simply suggests that people who get stuck more frequently or for longer periods of time, may be at an increased risk of mental health challenges like depression and anxiety. This makes sense. For example, if you are always telling yourself that you are a failure, that you are a terrible person, and that you should be trying harder, doing more, or being better, then you will quickly find yourself caught in self-loathing and feeling exhausted. Fortunately, you now know about these thinking traps and you have the skills needed to climb out of a trap. Try catching yourself using these thinking traps and practice working through the 5 C’s like we did in class today. Over time, you will find yourself getting better at climbing out of traps and you might even get stuck in less traps.
How do my thoughts affect my feelings and behaviour?
When you think about something for a long time, your thoughts become a belief. A belief is a statement or idea that you accept as being true. Over time, beliefs become a mental schema - a way of organizing your beliefs that influences how you see the world. Think of a schema as being a lens through which you see the world. When you are deeply stuck in a thinking trap, you see the world differently because you are likely generalizing, deleting, or editing internal and external experiences to fit your schema. Therefore, the way you think, influences the way you see the world, changes your reality, and, as a result, also affects your feelings and behaviour.
Is it possible to stop using thinking traps all together (instead of always climbing out of traps)?
Thinking traps are a habit of thought. Just like any other habit, it is possible to completely stop using it, but this takes a lot of time, practice, effort and energy. Biting your fingernails is one of the most common “bad” habits, so let’s use this as an example. If you are trying to break the habit of biting your fingernails, it will be very hard at first. You will primarily be focused on becoming aware of your actions and trying to interrupt them. Similarly, in the beginning you will find yourself spending a lot of time identifying thinking traps, collecting evidence for and against your thoughts, and trying to challenge them. To start, someone who is trying to stop biting their nails may use tools, like putting lemon juice on their nails, to help break the habit. Tools also exist when it comes to thinking traps. For example, you can use your worksheet to remind you of each of the 5 C’s and help you climb out of a trap. Over time, a person may find themselves biting their nails less and less, and when they do bite their nails, it will become easier and easier to stop. The same “rules” apply for thinking traps. If you work hard and keep practicing, then you might be able to stop yourself from getting stuck in a thinking trap by recognizing and changing thoughts before they fully manifest. However, you have to practice diligently and continue your work on a daily basis. There is no such thing as being trap free: The traps will always be there, but you can learn to not fall in. By staying mindful of your thoughts, and aware of your goals, you will be able to sidestep around traps and engage with thoughts that help you be your best self.