Our thoughts, feelings, and behaviours are intertwined. When one changes, the others change as well.
Magnification and minimisation are two of the most common forms of cognitive distortions. Most of us fall prey to them occasionally—even people with relatively healthy thinking patterns. Magnification occurs when you look at imperfections in your life, your own errors, or the mistakes of others and exaggerate them.
This involves looking at mistakes or the struggles you face as huge and insurmountable. Minimisation occurs when you look at your strengths or positive things in your life as small and inconsequential.
It’s like wearing glasses that strictly enhance negativity rather than accurately revealing what is really present before you. One of the biggest issues with these cognitive distortions is that they lead to more and more self-defeating thoughts. We tend to find what we look for.
When we begin to scan our environment, relationships, and ourselves for negatives, our reality will become increasingly filled with darkness because that is what we are searching for. our thoughts, feelings, and behaviours are intertwined.
When one changes, the others change as well.
We also find this concept in Islam:
Consider how Allah جل جلاله comforts the Prophet Muhammad صلى الله عليه وسلم in the Qur’an: We know how your heart is distressed at what they say. But celebrate the praises of your Lord and be of those who prostrate themselves in adoration. (15:97–98)
Allah جل جلاله prescribed action to alleviate the anxiety of the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم and the Muslims at that time. That is why it is reported that whenever the Prophet faced a difficult time, he would rush to salah and say: Give us comfort through prayer, O Bilal. This shows that a change in our behaviours can be an effective way to transform our thoughts and emotions as well.
Also, consider the saying of Ibn al-Qayyim (rahimahullah):
Ward off passing thoughts, for if you do not, they will become ideas. Ward off ideas, for if you do not, they will become desires. Fight them, for if you do not, they will become resolve and determination, and if you do not ward them off, they will become actions. If you do not resist them with their opposite, they will become habits and it will be difficult for you to get rid of them.
Here, again, there is an emphasis on the link between thoughts, emotions, and actions. The Prophet Muhammad صلى الله عليه وسلم said, Allah the Most High said,
“I am as my servant thinks (expects) I am. I am with him when he mentions Me. If he mentions Me to himself, I mention him to Myself; and if he mentions Me in an assembly, I mention him in an assembly greater than it. If he draws near to Me a hand’s length, I draw near to him an arm’s length. And if he comes to Me walking, I go to him at speed.”
Here, consider one of the wisdoms of this hadith: Allah جل جلاله is to each of us what we expect Him to be because those who think well of Allah جل جلاله will mention Him, will draw closer to Him, and will walk to Him. All of these are behaviours that can change our perception of Allah جل جلاله—the more we reach out to Him, the more we move toward Him, and the better our expectations of Allah جل جلاله will be.
It is only when we give up hope that we feel that Allah جل جلاله has abandoned us. Furthermore, we tend to find what we look for. If we seek out examples of what is missing from our lives, our positive thoughts of Allah جل جلاله diminish. However, if we seek out examples of the blessings within our lives, our perception of Allah جل جلاله is enhanced, which leads to further connection with Him.
Changing your mind, body, and heart now that we understand the self-defeating cycle that minimisation and magnification can perpetuate, let’s explore different antidotes to these cognitive distortions.
Minimising capabilities and magnifying shortcomings our brains tend to overestimate and amplify perceived flaws while underestimating our abilities and accomplishments.
Magnification of shortcomings and minimisation of our capabilities can result in the idea that whatever you do or qualities you have are not worth much. A helpful method to address this is called the “self-endorsement method.”
This technique involves writing down the self-defeating thoughts you are struggling with and responding to them by countering them with accomplishments you have achieved (by the will and grace of Allah جل جلاله) and the blessings you possess.
This transforms distorted thoughts and grounds them in reality. When we discount the things we accomplish and convince ourselves that they don’t matter, we begin to believe nothing we do matters. Consider this example:
Cognitive distortion: I’ve accomplished nothing in life.
Step 1: Break down the self-defeating thoughts in order to address them one-by-one.
Step 2: Identify where you are minimizing the good and where you are maximizing the bad.
Step 3: Replace self-defeating thoughts with ones that are self-endorsing by objectively identifying accomplishments and positive qualities to counteract each of the negative thoughts.
Step 4: Turn this into gratitude to Allah جل جلاله for giving you the ability to accomplish these things, no matter how trivial they may seem.