January 21, 2009

Thought Trap #7: Magnifying and minimizing

Thought Trap #7: Magnifying and minimizing

Continuing on in the series on Thought Traps.

Magnification (catastrophizing) or minimization -- You exaggerate the importance of negative things (your mistakes or others' mistakes) or you mistakenly shrink positive things until they appear tiny (your own accomplishments or strengths).

Two sides of the same coin here. If you do something good, it's not worth acknowledging. If you do something bad, it's catastrophic and the world is ending.

Minimizing our accomplishments is a common practice, not just among speakers. How many times has someone praised you for a job well done, and you refused to take credit or acted like it was no big deal? The classic example: Someone compliments you on your outfit and you say, "Oh, this old thing?" ;-)

Taking a compliment is hard for a lot of people, but at some point, you have to learn how to say "Thank you" with gratitude and sincerity. When someone compliments or acknowledges you, it's a gift. Don't insult them by not accepting it graciously.

Understanding and accepting your strengths and accomplishments doesn't make you conceited or big-headed. It strengthens you and builds your confidence. It allows you to take on challenges and face your fears. Whether false modesty or true denial, minimizing your accomplishments and strengths hinders your growth both professionally and personally.

On the flip side, magnifying mistakes to catastrophic proportions may not be as common as minimizing, but we've all probably done it at one time or another.

When you find yourself having these catastrophic thoughts, ask yourself how realistic your concern is. If your voice really was quivering at the beginning of the presentation, did everyone really notice? And if people noticed, so what?

If you really did forget one of your main points, will the world come to an end? Is there a way to solve the problem? Perhaps you can e-mail an additional handout to the organizer of your talk to make sure the audience receives the additional material.

Ask yourself, "What's the worst that could happen?" Ask yourself "Does this need to be fixed?" Try to be realistic, even though your mind wants to go to the worst case scenario.

Here again, suggestions on how to approach these negative thoughts once you become aware of them (from a Mother Jones article about cognitive therapy and thought traps):

1. Write it down. Writing automatically provides perspective and helps reveal distorted thinking.

2. Identify the distressing event. What's really bothering you?

3. Identify your negative emotions.

4. Identify the negative thoughts tied to your emotions.

5. Identify distortions and substitute the truth.

And my addition:

6. Take action. What will you do differently next time?

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