Are you downplaying your accomplishments and exaggerating your failures? Adjust your skewed thinking
Some things are unquestionably true. Rain pours down from the sky. Elevators rise and fall. Orange traffic cones are orange traffic cones. However, a lot isn't so clear because we interpret the world through our experiences.
"Good job," the supervisor may say, and we wonder why they didn't say "Great job." We notice someone looking at us and they appear angry, so we assume they're mad at us because no other explanation makes sense.
What's going on is that we're distorting our perceptions, leaping to conclusions, mind reading, and assuming the worst. We reduce our achievements and increase our "failures" when we do this, and because it can be a habitual process, it's difficult to notice when it's happening. Dr. Luana Marques, associate professor of psychology at Harvard Medical School, adds, "You don't realize you're wearing magnification glasses."
So, how can you see things more clearly and from a more balanced standpoint? It requires practice and a willingness to suffer discomfort, but it all starts with awareness, as it does with every problem.
What happens when we exaggerate failures and draw unfavorable conclusions?
We prefer to process information rapidly, and filters assist us in doing so. If we believe that "I'm no good," any comments and actions that reinforce that belief simply make things simpler.
"The brain is not interested in expending energy attempting to combat that," Marques explains. And depending on the distortion, the brain reacts differently. The limbic system is engaged when anything creates anxiety, such as a strange look or comment, and we go into fight-or-flight mode, hyper-focused on the threat and not thinking creatively or considering alternate, less threatening possibilities.
However, there are moments when there is no threat in the game. When we doubt our talents and downplay our achievements, we're merely thinking, perhaps too much.
So, what can you do?
Identify the distorted way of thinking.
It aids in the identification of our distortions, the most common of which are:
Catastrophizing is the process of extrapolating the worst-case scenario from a minor occurrence.
Thinking in black-and-white terms means only seeing all-or-nothing options.
Jumping to conclusions: Making assumptions about what will happen rather than waiting to see what happens.
Mind reading entails making educated guesses about what someone is thinking without a lot of proof.
Because "we tend to do one more than the other," Marques argues, labeling it will help you better understand and detect your go-to distortion.
After that, it's a good idea to evaluate your mental state by asking yourself, "Am I stressed?" Is it true that I'm sweating? Do I have a racing heart or shallow breathing? It puts you more into the situation and enables you to reflect on what you were doing at the time, such as "I was attempting to guess the outcome." It's another method of identifying the distortion you want, she explains.
Challenge the distortion
Regardless of the distortion, you should double-check your assumption by looking for additional evidence. If you're not sure how your boss feels about you, consider this: What does my boss actually say? What about other people does this person say? Is it true that I've gotten promotions and raises? Are good projects being assigned to me?
The fact that distortions are plausible is an easy trap to fall into with them. Someone who is angry with me would look at me. Someone who despises me would not respond to my texts. Perhaps, but Marques suggests considering five other possibilities. This exercise activates the prefrontal cortex, taking you out of fight-or-flight mode and allowing you to think more clearly. You're now solving a problem rather than focusing on a single solution.
You should also consider whether this way of thinking is beneficial. You may discover that all of your ponderings, wondering, and worrying are causing you anxiety. Having that presence may be enough to pull you away from your distorted thinking. When you ask and answer questions about your thinking it causes the brain to pause, and you may see the world in a different light," she says.
Keeping ourselves in check and being kind to ourselves
Be aware of how you treat yourself as you investigate and seek to control your distortions. Self-criticism is a common pitfall, so try talking to yourself as if you were talking to a friend. Even better, pretend you're talking to a child. You would speak in a kind and encouraging manner, and you would avoid using adjectives like "stupid" or "dumb." Additionally, this strategy places you in the detached, third person.
Finally, understand that you aren't trying to change your mindset from "I'm unworthy" to "I'm super-great." That's simply a case of exchanging one extreme for another. All you want to do is balance out your distortion before letting it go. Countering thinking distortions are similar to meditation in that it requires you to practice observing your ideas without being attached to them. You don't need to make things bigger or smaller.