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Exaggeration: why we make a mountain out of a molehill



Exaggeration: why we make a mountain out of a molehill
Overreacting, catastrophizing, maximizing, overplaying… We have many words for exaggeration. However, all exaggeration mostly falls under three categories.


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Three categories of exaggeration

Three categories of exaggeration
  • Cognitive distortions: Distorted thinking patterns can lead to overestimation (exaggerating the likelihood of an event) or catastrophizing (exaggerating the importance of an event). Exaggeration as a form of cognitive distortion is most common in emotionally-charged situations.
  • Manipulation: This is tied with attention-seeking. At a young age, children start amplifying achievements and obstacles in order to seek attention. Other forms of manipulation such as bragging and boasting are common at all ages to seek attention. Exaggeration in this case is not necessarily intended to hurt the other party.
  • Pathology. Exaggerated all-or-nothing thinking is extremely common in depression. Narcissists display a grandiose sense of self-importance. And catastrophizing is associated with paranoid behaviour.



How to spot and stop exaggerating

  • Be aware of the adverbs and qualifiers you're using such as “incredibly”, “the best” or similar qualifiers. Ask yourself: do these add value to the statement? Are they a true reflection of reality?
  • Use realistic synonyms. Are you “exhausted” or just "tired"? Is the challenge you are facing “impossible” or just “difficult”? Instead of “starving”, maybe you're just “hungry”.
  • Embrace vulnerability. Instead of trying to impress your interlocutor, focus on building an authentic connection. This will keep you away from game of exaggeration, where each person tries to top what the other said.
  • Correct yourself when you catch yourself embellishing a story or bragging about an accomplishment.
  • Ponder why you exaggerated. Even if you sometimes exaggerate, it’s good practice to reflect on the reason why you did it.



Narrative Habits

The way we talk to ourselves about the events in our lives is subject to the same laws of learning and habit formation that physical behaviors are.

That means we can learn to talk to o...

Events + Thoughts = Emotions

Our emotions are always mediated by some form of thinking. 

If our thoughts determine how we feel, that means how we habitually think will determine how we habitually feel.

Mind Reading

It happens when we assume we understand what other people are thinking without any real evidence.

It is a failure of imagination because we often only imagine and focus on the negative aspects.

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When we question our thinking

People became philosophers when they began to question what guides their thinking and analyze their thoughts.

All-or-nothing thinking

Today, one of the most common destructive thought patterns is all-or-nothing thinking. In other words, perfectionism.

Pragmatism and perfectionism

Pragmatism — as opposed to perfectionism — does not share the same paralyzing hang-ups; it takes what it can get.

Our pursuits should be aimed at progress, no matter how much it’s possible for us to make.

Replace The Bad With Some Good

Take a negative thought and change it to something encouraging that's also accurate. Repeat until you find yourself needing to do it less and less often. 

Notice And Stop That Thought

Simply stopping negative thoughts in their tracks can be helpful. This is known as "thought-stopping" and can take the form of snapping a rubber band on your wrist, visualizing a stop sign, or simply changing to another thought when a negative train of thought enters your mind.

Say It Out Loud

Telling a trusted friend what you're thinking about can often lead to support or a good laugh when the negative self-talk is ridiculous. Even saying some negative self-talk phrases under your breath can remind you how unreasonable and unrealistic they sound, and remind you to give yourself a break.