Self Imposed Traps

Self Imposed Traps. Psychology Fanatic article header image
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We still get stuck. Armed with the greatest cognitive machinery known to the history of the world, we continue to do stupid things, seemingly turning theories of choice utility on its head. We act harmfully, destroy futures and then pretend we had no choice. Life is complex and each moment fraught with unknown opportunities and dangers.

Naturally, we err in judgment, go left when we should have gone right, stop when we should have continued, and curiously explore when we should have run like hell. Mistakes are inevitable; and forgivable. But what is baffling is our repeated failures, grasping onto behaviors that are harmful, and continuing to do the same darn things that we have enough cognitive power to accurately predict will punish with unwanted consequences. We get trapped and can’t seem to free ourselves even when the path to liberty is obvious.

The South Indian Monkey Trap

​In Zen And the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Robert Pirsig describes “the old South Indian Monkey Trap.” The monkey hunter constructs a trap with a hollow coconut chained to a post. He drills a small hole in the coconut allowing an open hand to reach into the coconut for the tempting contents (rice). The hole, however, isn’t large enough to free a closed hand gripping the goodies. The monkey reaches in but cannot free himself from the simple devise without relinquishing hold of the treat (2005).

Sitting in the comfort of our padded chair, we chide, “let go of the rice dumb monkey.” However, with all our magnificent brain power, we act with the same foolishness, chasing present pleasures, knowing the hurtful consequence but continuing to destroy our lives. We can’t let go of the rice.

Adle Lynn warns that “this pattern of inertia caused by repeated hijackings can become rooted in a person’s behavior” (2004, p. 20). We get so used to failing to achieve goals, we self impose limitations. Basically, we trap ourselves in habits that effectively ruin opportunities for success.


We can’t tease our mind and coddle our ego, pretending we want better if we are unable to begin small changes now. We must unclench our hand, let go of the rice, and pull ourselves free. Most big changes are a compilation of small changes. The life changing transformation slowly takes shape from small mundane acts that we persistently do.

See the Law of Consistency for more on this topic. 

Books on Self-Imposed Snares

Behaviors that Interfere with Dreams

Whether it is a loaded needle, perpetual procrastination, or continuous angry exchanges with a spouse, we know these actions interfere with our rich desires for a better future.

“First say to yourself what you would be; and then do what you have to do.” 


If we want to be free, we must let go. There is no other way. We can’t dictate all the circumstances; we can’t force blessing without the necessary sacrifices. First, we must know ourselves well enough to catch these self imposed traps. We also must know the laws upon which the consequences are predicated and then act upon those laws.


Lynn, Adele (2004). The EQ Difference: A Powerful Plan for Putting Emotional Intelligence to Work. AMACOM; 1st edition

Pirsig, R. M. (2005). Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values. William Morrow Paperbacks; 1R edition

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