You’ve seen it before—the person who once had a great career, now stagnating in mediocrity, the relationship that once seemed invincible, now ending in abrupt separation. We all wonder the same thing: How could it have happened to them? Could it happen to me?
You’ve got a really great life—at least on paper—but have you anticipated the hidden obstacles in your path ahead?
Many of us spend so much time thinking about how we can move ahead that we fail to spot the traps that will hold us back. Like the great chess masters, successful people learn to think many moves ahead and avoid the traps that would derail them from their goals.
Modern-day traps are seductive and alluring. You often don’t see them coming, and without even realizing it, you can step into traps that can keep you stuck for years.
Trap 1: The Relationship Trap (Operating as a Married Single)
The Relationship Trap ensnares romantic partners who live together, yet fail to fully integrate their lives. Because each party secretly believes their upbringing is superior, they never shift their mindsets from me to we. As a result, they operate as “married singles,” creating a disconnect in many areas of their relationships. This trap leads to fighting, simmering resentment, and often divorce.
When two people form a partnership, they usually bring to it two very different value systems. But most couples don’t realize these major differences exist, and they unconsciously launch a pattern of disagreements and contention. Everything from money to child rearing methods to household responsibilities can be affected when partners fail to acknowledge these important differences.
Traditionally, partners try to avoid the Relationship Trap by focusing on the issues they agree on and ignoring the issues that cause them problems (which leads to more trouble!). But the Epiphany Breakthrough that actually frees you from this trap involves creating a shared vision for your relationship and agreeing upon a pathway to get there together.
Trap 2: The Money Trap (The Quicksand of Debt)
Just like our protagonist Alex, most people fall into debt for three reasons. First, they live in the moment, without thought for the future and lack the discipline to forgo unnecessary expenses. Second, they spend money competitively to keep up with the people around them. Third, they’re in denial that worst-case scenarios could ever happen to them.
Conventional wisdom tells us that budgeting and showing restraint alleviates debt. Sadly, these approaches don’t work for most people because they take too much willpower. A far better way to escape the Money Trap is to make eliminating debt fun and motivating by turning it into a game.
The Money Trap Epiphany Breakthrough: Getting competitive and having fun fuels your motivation to erase debt. Take a roll of butcher block paper and cut out a snake shape with a long body. For each $1,000 you owe, draw a vertical “debt segment” on the snake. Each time you reduce your debt, trim another segment off the snake. This method gets the whole family involved and inspires everyone to contribute.
Trap 3: The Focus Trap (Being Mired in the Thick of Thin Things)
Today it’s all too common to become consumed by the superficial, trivial things in life. Further, we’re addicted to technology, which bombards us with irrelevant information and activity. Finally, we’re impatient; we’ve forgotten that the best things in life require time and effort. And so we fail to invest in the worthwhile parts of life like strong relationships, career success, or personal fulfillment.
Our protagonist Alex spent much of his energy responding to emails, checking sports scores, and go-go-going all the time. He lost sight of what was important and got distracted by the nonessentials. This trap nearly unraveled his life, and it affects countless others in the same way.
The conventional approach is to better manage your over scheduled, overloaded, and overcommitted life. But to truly free yourself from the Focus Trap, you must filter out the nonessentials. You’re familiar with a to-do list; now try starting a not-to-do list and see what you can add to it. Identify everything that’s keeping you from what’s really important, what is distracting, and what is interrupting to your day. When you filter out the unimportant, you can learn to say “yes” to the things that matter most.
Trap 4: The Change Trap (Procrastination, the Killer of Growth and Transformation).
Whether it’s changing your diet, adopting an exercise routine, or curbing your spending habits, you probably already know the life changes that you need to make. Still, most people fall into the Change Trap because, well, change is difficult and uncomfortable. Procrastination also stops us from making these changes.
But when we put off or avoid change, our growth stagnates, our progress stalls, and we get stuck. Finally, as perfectionists, we live by the mantra:
If I can’t be perfect, I might as well not try.
People typically refuse to change until their circumstances force them to. But if you listen to your conscience about the changes you need to make before things get out of hand, you can free yourself from the Change Trap faster than you would otherwise.
The bottom line is this: Don’t put off making necessary changes until unfortunate circumstances force them on you. Instead, change courageously whenever your conscience dictates it. The moment you realize that a behavior, habit, or action is negatively impacting your life, take action to correct your course and avoid getting stuck in the Change Trap.
Trap 5: The Learning Trap (Mistakes, and Why We Got It All Wrong)
The Learning Trap revolves around how people feel about and handle mistakes. Most people go to great lengths to hide their mistakes or put a spin on them to justify or rationalize them away. That’s because we commonly view our mistakes as character flaws, and, eventually, we let them define us. Finally, we fear that our mistakes will damage the persona we project to others; we instinctively try to protect this image instead of letting others see our flaws.
When we perform poorly or make mistakes, conventional wisdom suggests we try something else or do something that we can succeed at. Trouble is, skipping to whatever comes easiest for us circumvents our learning process and keeps us stuck in the Learning Trap.
Society is obsessed with the end result, but discounts the effort it takes to produce impressive results. The Epiphany Breakthrough for the Learning Trap asks us to change our narrative about mistakes and start viewing them as progress and instructive learning opportunities. Rejoice and celebrate in the effort, the journey, and the process as much as the end results. This will redefine how you look at your life.
Trap 6: The Career Trap (Settling, or Losing Your Passion and Inspiration)
People get stuck in the Career Trap for three reasons. The most obvious reason is that they are financially dependent on their jobs. But employees also get stuck doing uninspired work because growing companies structure themselves to the point where they unintentionally stifle their workers’ creativity and innovation. Finally, many people get too comfortable in ho-hum careers and settle in for the long haul, unfulfilled.
Conventional wisdom insists that if you do what you love everything will fall into place. In reality, a fulfilling career must do more than ignite your passion. You must be financially compensated too—but that’s not all. You must also find a work environment where your ideas are valued and you feel you are making a purposeful contribution. When each of these dimensions coincide, you will find true work satisfaction.
The Career Trap Epiphany Breakthrough involves doing professional work that encompasses all four dimensions of a successful career: finances, ideas, passion, and purpose.
Trap 7: The Purpose Trap (Accumulation, or the Ultimate Lie)
The final trap centers around the ultimate lie, which too many people discover after it’s too late to escape. We are seduced into believing material abundance is more important than our character, service, contributions, family, and relationships. In pursuit of happiness, we acquire the next new thing, but we still aren’t satisfied. Finally, we view possessions as success markers and compete to have the best “stuff”—material things like status symbols, higher degrees, and stockpiled money.
Many people try to consume their way to a purposeful life. They spend so much of their time managing their stuff that they never get to nurture the relationships that actually lead to their ultimate happiness and fulfillment.
The good news is, getting “unstuck” isn’t as hard as it seems—once you realize you’re caught in a trap, that is. But don’t count on traditional approaches to free you from problems involving debt, relationships, career, and other common traps. The advice you’ve always heard for life’s big problems rarely works.
In truth, extricating yourself from a trap requires an open mind and a willingness to try something completely different, often something that goes against the cultural grain.
The Purpose Trap Epiphany Breakthrough is powerful and simple: True happiness comes from providing service, making meaningful contributions, and building lasting relationships. Your possessions play a supporting role; they don’t precede relationships in importance.
Trap Tales teaches readers the art of Trapology, as described through the tale of Alex, a husband and father who has unwittingly fallen into the traps that so many people struggle with.
Through Alex’s story you’ll learn the seven most common modern traps in life and work, and how to gear up to avoid them (or how to escape their clutches if you’re already caught in one!).
The core message of Trap Tales is hope—the belief that anybody can change the trajectory of their life, at any stage of their life. Stop letting traps steal your time, money, energy, and happiness—Trap Tales provides survival training of a different sort, allowing you to write your own tale of success.
About the Authors:
David M.R. Covey and Stephan M. Mardyks are widely seen as world-renowned experts in the field of global learning and development. They are the cofounders and CEOs of SMCOV, Wisdom Destinations, and TrapTales; and cofounders and managing partners at ThomasLeland, Leading in English, and Streamline Certified. Past experiences include serving as joint COOs at FranklinCovey.
*images via Pexels.com CC0 License & Stock Unlimited