Right or wrong.
Good or bad.
Success or failure.
All or nothing.
Many people think in these extremes. When a teenager steps up to the plate and strikes out, he is not a terrible baseball player. Professional players strike out regularly. It’s part of baseball. When an elemenatry school student fails a math test, everything is not lost. There’s more to the math class than one test. There is more to life than math. These observations seem obvious to us. But when it comes to ourselves, we have a tendency to think in extremes.
All-or-nothing thinking gives us a false sense of security. It makes things appear to be controllable. If this is wrong, than we know what is right and we can do that. If this is failure, than we know what success is and we can accomplish that. The problem is anything short of 100% might as well be 0%. If we stick to our food plan 90% of the time, all-or-nothing thinking tells us we totally failed. The expectations here are impossible.
This all-or-nothing mentality actually narrows our vision and creates insecurity. Life is full of gray areas. Circumstances are neutral. Nothing has to be set in stone. We can be intelligent and still do dumb things. We can love each other and still get angry at one another. One part of our life can be hard, while another part is enjoyable. Some parts of our job can be awful, while other parts are good. Life is full of variety and very few absolutes.
When we catch ourselves making all-or-nothing statements, let’s challenge ourselves to be reflective, not reactive.
- How can it be both/and?
- How am I judging myself today?
- Am I looking for too much certainty in a world full of uncertainty?
After we identify all-or-nothing thinking, let’s take a few moments to respond with a new idea.
- I will look for the gray areas in this situation.
- I will give up the need to be right and accept circumstances are neutral.
- I will be more reflective than reactive.
- I will accept that I cannot have absolutes about most things.
All or nothing thinking will continuously sabotage us. Changing our old patterns takes lots of persistence. It won’t happen over night but today is as good a day as any to get started.