Cognitive distortions are irrational, exaggerated patterns of thought not grounded in facts and can lead to a perception of things (often negative) that is different from their actual reality. It is common for people to experience cognitive distortions from time to time; it is a fundamental aspect of being human and tends to occur more frequently when we feel low. However, perceiving negative thoughts as absolute truths can lead to a distorted self-image and influence your behavior based on inaccurate assumptions. Excessive indulgence in negative thoughts can have a detrimental impact on your mental wellbeing. By familiarizing yourself with cognitive distortions, you can develop the ability to adjust and redirect your thoughts to influence your mood and behavior positively. Recognizing and changing patterns of negative thinking is crucial as they can contribute to emotional problems, such as anger, stress, etc., which can then manifest in the form of behavioral issues.
This article will discuss cognitive distortion known as ‘Minimizing and Maximizing’. The first question in this context is what ‘minimizing and maximizing’ means. Sometimes, we focus on closed doors, only underestimating our strengths and magnifying our weaknesses. We exaggerate the weaknesses and strengths of people around us. This cognitive distortion occurs because of two things we do: ‘Negative Magnification’ and ‘Positive Magnification’. Negative magnification occurs when we magnify negative aspects and threats in a given situation and minimize positive aspects like our abilities and achievements. Similarly, we sometimes resort to positive magnification by exaggeration and overestimating our abilities or situations. In this case, we exaggerate positive aspects out of proportion and unrealistically underestimate the obstacles and hurdles in our lives. In both magnifications, our unrealistic analysis of the situation makes us either super optimistic or dolefully pessimistic. Resultantly, we see things beyond the realm of rationality and end up with stress, remorse or depression.
Some techniques are given below to counter the cognitive distortion of maximizing and minimizing.
Minimizing and maximizing mainly occurs due to Automatic Negative Thoughts (ANT) that come up spontaneously in our minds, generally in the form of words like, ‘This is too difficult or too easy for me to accomplish,” or images in which we are either performing too well or below our expectations. The problem is that these automatic thoughts are so captivating, spontaneous, and fast that they remain on the sidelines of the catching net of our awareness. With the fisherman’s technique, which requires practice and patience, we can learn to become good fishermen and make our net effective enough to catch any such thought, no matter how small or subtle; remember, one gradual habit can become a powerful mental tool. The fisherman technique has many steps:
Identify Your ANT
If you are to do some job and a quick flash of thoughts like, ‘I am going to mess this up’ or ‘This is beyond my capability’ passes through your mind, trust me, that is the ANT you are looking for, and the easiest way to identify it is by asking yourself: ‘What am I telling myself?’ The answer to this ‘What’ is the thought you look forward to identifying. Remember, the first step in combatting an ANT is welcoming it; welcome all such automatic thoughts to your fishing net.
Evaluate Your ANT
After identifying and welcoming your ANT, it is time to put it on trial. Ask yourself, ‘Why am I thinking negatively even before starting the task? Is there any credible evidence for my automatic thought?’ If there is some evidence to support this thought, write it on paper. Then, ask yourself, ‘Is there any credible evidence against my automatic thought?’ Now, act as if you are judging a thought of your friend. Evaluate both the evidences and on evaluation, you will likely realize that there is no credible evidence to support your automatic thought. You will realize it is just an emotional, habitual thinking pattern based on minimizing and maximizing. After considering all the evidence for and against, this evaluation will lead you to more balanced thoughts and conclusions like: ‘Although I do make mistakes due to my hard work and commitment, I can achieve the desired results’.
Change Your ANT
Now, subtly replace this automatic thought, which lacks credible evidence, with positive affirmations: ‘I am not going to mess it up. Rather, ‘I will do just great’ or ‘I think I have all the skills and capability to do this’.
By practicing the fisherman technique, you can avoid whirling into an anxiety tailspin, based on flawed ANTs. Remember, these ANTs are dangerous shakes and jitters that take over your brain and body. If your ANTs make you believe that you have to be the best in every facet of your life, you will end up with stressful perfectionism and always fall short of achieving your passions. If these shakes and jitters make you question your capabilities, you will consistently achieve less than you deserve. These ANTs are a mist that limits your vision to see reality; they either minimize or maximize the reality.
Positive Data Logging
The second technique that can be helpful is ‘Positive data logging’. Minimization is when we start underestimating our strengths and capacities. Habitual minimization creates our core beliefs; therefore, we must develop alternative core beliefs to fix this. For example, if you think of a minimizing thought like, ‘I can’t handle stressful situations’, then the most effective technique is writing down the positive experiences in which you have efficiently handled stressful situations. Fill this log daily and religiously. Before going to bed, read it out slowly so that it sinks into your cognitive consciousness.
Hybrid Modeling and Collective Wisdom
The next technique is called ‘Hybrid Modeling’ or ‘Collective Wisdom’. It rests on the premise: ‘How would other people, whom I envy and idealize, see the same situation I am in?’ Find a peaceful corner of your house and think about three people you envy. Think about how they would have reacted and behaved in the same circumstances. Write down the reactions of those three individuals against their names and see how your thinking differs from theirs. This technique will enable you to see the situation in its proper proportion and perspective.
Another helpful technique is ‘Objective Retrospection’. Just ask yourself a simple question about how similar minimizing and maximizing thoughts have been proven right or wrong in the past. You will realize that in the past, there had been many occasions when you were in similar circumstances with similar thoughts and beliefs, but they were proven wrong. You will realize that previously, too, at many times, you thought that the situation was too difficult or you lacked the capability to handle the circumstances, but in the end, you managed the situation well. This concrete evidence from the past will help you to undo your present negative thoughts.
This approach hinges on the fact that every situation can be good or bad, depending on how we see it. It is all about asking a simple question: ‘Do I see the situation with a magnifying glass by selectively attending to negative aspects only and exaggerating the situation out of proportion? Am I overlooking the positive aspects?’ This will enable you to overcome bias by identifying the situation’s good and bad aspects. Here are a few questions; if you answer them honestly, it will allow you to see the reality in its right proportion:
• What concrete evidence do I have that this thought is true?
• Are there any aspects that I am ‘zooming in’ on? Is it really as bad as I think?
• Are there any positive aspects in the given situation that I might be minimizing and not considering?
• If anyone who knows well about my capacity, ability and capability looks at my situation, what conclusion will they draw? Will they agree that this thought of mine is correct? If not, then why?
• What is the more realistic and balanced way of seeing the given situation by correctly weighing the pros and cons?
• Finally, after a realistic analysis of the situation’s negative and positive aspects, what alternate thought, behavior and attitude can be helpful?