1. In Mental Traps, Kukla has tackled the workings of the human mind without using philosophical jargon; his illustrative examples are taken from daily life, everything from walking to the mailbox to forcing ourselves to watch awful TV shows to the end. How has this style affected your reading, and/or the weight you give his theories? Do you often read works of philosophy? Why or why not?
2. While laying out the negative qualities of mental traps, Kukla is also careful to point out that every thought process discussed here — from persistence to formulation — can also have its time and place. Do you find this distinction difficult to imagine or to put into place? Can you think of times when anticipation or procrastination (or any of the modes of thought here) would be useful?
3. In the resistance chapter, Kukla suggests that even seemingly contradictory traps, like anticipation and resistance, can co-exist due to our “fear of the unexpected.” How hard is it to give up the feeling of being in control? Do you agree that surprises, whether positive or negative, are integral to leading a full life?
4. Do you think that we are all equally able to fall into mental traps? Are there people who manage to avoid them better than others? Why or why not? Would the theory laid out in this book apply equally to people with seemingly complex or simple lives? What about young people?
5. Though Kukla cautions us against being in a hurry to banish mental traps, it’s clear that they are unproductive uses of our time and energy. After reading this book, do you feel that being able to understand mental traps will help you to avoid them, or no? In what ways would doing so improve your day-to-day life?
6. In his concluding chapter, Kukla contrasts traditional consciousness — how people thought in simpler times, or do today when adhering absolutely to external authorities like religions or social theories — with modern consciousness, which describes how most of us live today: letting ourselves operate in prescriptive mode all the time (having no one to do it for us), so that we can “stay on top of things.” Do you agree that mental traps are primarily a modern problem? What aspects of your work or home life would support this?
7. Is this modern consciousness a positive or a negative development?
8. Is it possible to escape the sorts of mental traps Kukla describes in a world that seems bent on ingraining them in your approach to living? Think of the ways that outside forces (the media? workplace dynamics? spouses?) can derail your efforts in even the most everyday thinking.
9. Kukla has commented that the ideas in this book have a lot of basis in Buddhist literature. What parallels can you see between Buddhist teachings and the theories and suggestions here?
10. Of the mental traps outlined in the book, were any surprising to you? For instance, in the chapter on anticipation, Kukla writes of four cardinal errors we commit — “Whatever we undertake, we may do either too much or too little, and we may do it too late or too soon” — and suggests that our culture usually only identifies “too little” and “too late” as errors, with anticipation passing “for a virtue.” Do you agree?
11. Have you tried thought-watching, or adopted it as a regular activity (or rather, non-activity)? What have been the biggest difficulties? What benefits have you noticed?