Let’s start by talking about all-or-nothing thinking, or maybe black and white thinking.
All-or-nothing thinking is where you believe there will be a catastrophe if something you do is not perfect or something doesn’t happen the way you want it to.
I don’t do all-or-nothing thinking…do I?
Every month I have the privilege of teaching at the Foundations of Healthy Living Retreat, a four day retreat for self-discovery and it’s one of my favorite things to do.
It’s very clear, every month, when I’m standing in a room full of ten new people that this idea of all-or-nothing thinking is extremely prevalent because these people come from all different backgrounds with all different levels of experience in personal development and almost all of them do all-or-nothing thinking.
All-or-nothing thinking is one of the most powerful and damaging cognitive distortions that I come up against.
So what is it?
All-or-nothing thinking is that if/then thinking, you know, IF this happens THEN that will happen or IF it doesn’t happen THEN that will happen.
Some examples might be :-
- IF I don’t stick to my healthy eating regime THEN I am a complete failure or THEN I am fat, ugly, useless, worthless.
- IF I don’t get report in on time THEN I’m going to get fired.
- IF my launch doesn’t attract seventy new enrollments THEN it’s a complete failure.
It’s actually quite a quick movement from, “if I don’t do this small thing” to “I am worthless” which is ultimately where we end up. It can be incredibly damaging.
So if you see yourself in that kind of pattern of thinking whatever your if/then statements are, then you might be suffering from all-or-nothing thinking.
What can you do?
It’s not helpful to be stuck in either of the all or nothing camps.
What I do for the participants of the retreat and for my clients that I notice are stuck in this pattern of all-or-nothing thinking is help them to find the space in between.
How do you find the space in between something that is so concrete in your mind?
Well, I get them to scale and what I mean by that is, if one end of their all-or-nothing thinking, if the black end of their thinking is a zero on the scale then the other end of their thinking, the white end, is a ten on the scale that means that there is a lot of space in between.
So I get them to describe what 1 looks like, what 2 looks like, what 3 looks like, and so on.
So if you find yourself suffering from all or nothing thinking, or black and white thinking, then try and find the space in between by scaling. Take one end, make it zero, take the other end, make it 10 and describe what the steps look like in the space in between.