The Twelve Traits That Trap Us

Mar 26, 2024 | News

Sometimes, we come across a piece of research or thinking that absolutely hits the nail on the head! That’s how we felt reading “The Coach’s Casebook: Mastering the Twelve Traits that Trap Us” by Geoff Watts and Kim Morgan.

The book is aimed at Coaches to help further development first in ourselves and in our clients. These 12 traits identified are relatable for all of us. In fact, identifying which of these traps you fall into could be a big step towards improving your self-awareness – and that’s important!

Why is improving my self-awareness important?

Research has shown that 95% of people think they’re self-aware, but in practice, only 10-15% actually are!*

There are two parts to self-awareness: internal (how clearly we see ourselves) and external (how we think others see us versus how they really see and experience us). Being good at one doesn’t necessarily mean you’re good at the other!

But there is good reason to work on improving your self-awareness:

  • The more self-aware we are generally the happier we are and the better relationships we have both at home and at work. Who wouldn’t want to be a happier parent, partner, friend, work colleague, family member and member of your community!
  • We have greater choice in how we show up in both good times and when under stress.
  • And we can show more empathy and find it easier to take on other people’s perspectives.

This, in short, is why working on improving your self-awareness is a journey worth being on. And whilst The Thrive Lab has lots of tools to help, thinking about the following 12 traits may be an interesting exercise for you!

The Twelve Traits That Trap Us

1) Imposter syndrome

What is it: the feeling that you are not as good as others think and that you will be found out.

Symptoms:

  • An inability to recognise your own accomplishments
  • Feeling other people have an overinflated view of you
  • Attributing your success to luck
  • Feeling like a fraud
  • Focusing on what you can’t do, rather than valuing what you can.

Activities for people with imposter syndrome:

  • Write a list of your strengths and qualities. Struggling to think of any? There are plenty of lists across the web that can be a good prompt (for example https://high5test.com/personal-strengths-list/)
  • Write down three instances where you have received positive feedback
  • Remember peak moments in your career when you enjoyed great success.

2) People pleasing

What is it: saying “yes” when you want to say “no”.

Symptoms:

  • Putting other people’s feelings and needs before your own
  • Being taken advantage of
  • Being indecisive
  • Apologising excessively
  • Feeling guilty for other people’s feelings.

Activities for people pleasers:

  • Practice saying “no” if your basic needs are not being met – you do not have to make an excuse or give a reason!
  • Practice assertive communication by clearly saying what you want in a reasonable, adult and calm way
  • Set some boundaries by applying some constraints, for example “I can help you, but I can only spend 30 minutes on that”, or “I can take a look at this next week”.

3) Going to excess

What is it: doing something to excess (eating, drinking, spending, working) – often as a way to compensate for emotional emptiness.

Symptoms:

  • Repeating an action to excess
  • Fear of missing out (FOMO) – experiencing anxiety as a result of comparing your lifestyle to what you believe or perceive others are doing.

Activities for people who go to excess:

  • Practice mindfulness to develop a greater sense of awareness and become better able to manage yourself effectively
  • Think of specific situations where you don’t go to excess and note what your mind goes through before you do this, what you feel, what keeps you motivated to do this. Repeat this strategy
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4) Fierce independence

What is it: do not like to rely on others at all.

Symptoms:

  • Rarely work for long in conventional corporate environments
  • In extreme cases, mistrust of others and avoidance of intimacy
  •  

Activities for people with fierce independence:

Instead of adopting your usual behaviours, attitudes and dress, try being someone completely different for a day to experience another viewpoint. It will allow you to test out being more vulnerable and relying on others for support and ideas.

Complete the Human Givens Audit to see what needs might not be being met for which your fierce independence is compensating.

5) Cynicism

What is it: you don’t expect anything good to happen. Can be defined as an attitude of negativity and general mistrust in others and their motives.

Symptoms:

  • Have a habit of preparing for the worst so you won’t be disappointed

Activities for people with cynicism:

  • Every night for one week (or more) write down three things that went well that day and reflect on your role in that event
  • Write a letter to someone you have a reason to be grateful towards describing how what they did affected your life. You don’t have to send it!
  • Carry out a small random act of kindness like paying for an extra cup of coffee for someone who can’t afford it.

6) Driven by fear

What it is: you employ “away from” motivation – acting to move away from what you do not want, rather than “towards motivation” (moving towards what you want). Being able to use both is key to maintaining motivation over the long term

Symptoms:

  • Find it hard to motivate yourself in good times.

Activities for people driven by fear:

Think of a specific goal. First of all, imagine a time in the future when you haven’t changed your behaviour, actions, beliefs or thought patterns. What does the outcome look like? Come back to the start and now imagine what the future could look like if you made some changes to your behaviours, actions and beliefs and achieved what you wanted. Consider which experience had the biggest impact on you to motivate you to change.

7) Ostrich syndrome

What it is: your behaviour is characterised by denying, ignoring or refusing to acknowledge awkward facts. You react to a challenging situation by sticking your head in the sand and hoping the problem will go away!

Symptoms:

  • When experiencing stress, you are in “survival mode” – your fight or flight response is triggered
  • Can find it hard to take feedback, often going through four stages:
    • Surprise (you don’t expect anyone to find anything wrong with what you’re doing)
    • Anger (anger/worry about the consequences as well as over-dramatising)
    • Rationalisation (attempt to explain why things happened the way they did)
    • Acceptance (some or all feedback eventually hits home)

Activities for people with ostrich syndrome:

  • Try something completely new and experience the feeling of learning again
  • Obtain 360-degree feedback from a wide range of people to help bring blind spots and patterns to your conscious

8) Perfectionism

What it is: constantly striving for perfection

Symptoms: Tend to procrastinate due to fear of failure. Shrug off compliments, don’t celebrate success. Tend to get frustrated or feel guilty that you’ve let yourself or others down if things don’t work out 100% how you wanted them to.

Activities for people with perfectionism:

Practice mindfulness.
Identify if some people or situations trigger your perfectionist tendencies. Once you’ve seen whether there are any patterns to this, and explored what happens to you physically and mentally, you can work out what might be useful to help you manage.

It can also be useful to define what you mean by perfect and what you mean by imperfect and then explore all of the assumptions you have about a situation and analyse which assumptions might be false or unhelpful. Once you’ve identified them then consciously adopt a new assumption that is more true and/or more helpful.

9) Procrastination

What it is: the delaying or postponing of an action so that there is a significant time lapse between when someone intends to do something and when they actually do it.

Symptoms:

  • Filling your time with unimportant jobs rather than getting on with more pressing tasks
  • Finding “displacement behaviours” which prevent you from doing the work you need to do – such as checking social media
  • Waiting for the moment to be “right” before getting on with the task.

Activities for people who procrastinate:

  • Identify if there is a skills gap that can be addressed through training to help tackle your task
  • Write down all the reasons you are delaying the task then create a convincing argument against each one – if you can!
  • Tell someone else what you are going to do to introduce an element of accountability
  • Schedule a realistic timeslot each day to get a little bit done.

10) Performance anxiety

What it is: anxiety associated with, for example, giving a presentation or speech in public, job interviews, exams, customer meetings.

Symptoms:

  • Shallow and uncontrollable breathing
  • Unclear thinking
  • Dry mouth
  • Nausea
  • Muscle tension

Activities for people with performance anxiety:

  • Adopt a “power pose” of someone who is confident and powerful to generate feelings of confidence or power (think Wonder Woman!)
  • Prepare, practice and plan for any contingencies – the knowledge that you have another plan up your sleeve will give you a boost
  • Work on creating an anchor – a small movement or action – associated with a particular feeling or state of mind, that you can repeat when you need to refocus.

11) Searching for fulfilment

What it is: A desire to find purpose and meaning, focus on something greater than our individual journey in life, being able to look forward to work and enjoy what you do.

Symptoms:

  • Sense of frustration and dissatisfaction
  • Feeling of boredom or bottled-up energy
  • Sense of something out of place.

Activities for people searching for fulfilment:

Imagine yourself 10-30 years from now, when all your dreams have come true. Write a letter to your best friend explaining in detail what you have done in the time between now and then. Answer questions like: what kind of life have I led? What have I achieved in my career? What steps did I take to accomplish these achievements? What is the state of my family life? What hobbies or interests have I developed?

12) Coping with loss

What it is: this could be the loss of a person, but also lost opportunities, lost possibilities, lost job, feelings we can never get back again.

Symptoms:

You might experience different behaviours, thoughts and feelings. There may be feelings of shock, anger, frustration, low energy, lack of concentration, difficulty sleeping, socialising, increased reliance on food, alcohol or drugs.

Activities for people coping with loss:

  • Find someone you trust who you can talk with, who will listen and empathise.
  • Take yourself outside for a walk observing what you see around you. Be aware of all your senses and take time to notice sights, sounds, and how you experience what is in your environment.
  • Make a list of 20 things you like to do. Think about how long is it since you last did that activity? How did you feel when you did this activity? If this something you would do alone or with someone? Is it mind or body-related? If you had to book one activity into your calendar, which one would it be?

What to do now?

Hopefully we’ve piqued your interest and helped you identify some traits that might be trapping you. Whilst we’ve included some activities to get you started on unpicking these behaviours, and always encourage people to take the time to work on themselves, sometimes you need a bit of a helping hand.

As coaches, we provide that thinking environment for you to come up with your own solutions that will work best for you. We also have other tools and techniques in our armoury which we can tap into that could help. We could work with you, your team, or your whole organisation to help remove some of the traits trapping you, enabling you to reach new levels of self awareness, happiness and productivity. Get in touch if you’d like to find out more!

*Tasha Eurich: https://hbr.org/2018/01/what-self-awareness-really-is-and-how-to-cultivate-it