Black and white thinking is when you believe something either
has to be one thing or another; good or bad, right or wrong, all or nothing. There are three ways that black and white
thinking can hamper our lives, these three things are: thinking in black and white robs us of a great chance for balance
in our lives, people are gray- no one is either all good or all bad, and we lose in black and white thinking because we
are never going to be everything we want to be. Three ways to get away from black and white thinking are: accepting
that you’re not perfect, the next time you feel judgmental stop and ask yourself why, and try and find the gray in
one situation today.
You know the old
thing about the glass being half empty or half full. I think this is important not just because it indicates whether you’re
an optimist or pessimist (I’m an optimist, by this standard or any other), but because it indicates that
you think the glass is either one or the other.
people have what I call a bad case of black-and-white-itis. I’m prone to this myself sometimes. I look at something
and think it must be good or bad, right or wrong, or all or nothing.
been an all-or-nothing person all of my life. When I start a business, I absolutely throw myself into it and have to watch
my balance before I’m spending all my waking hours working. When I plan a vacation, I’m tempted to make it
the end-all, be-all trip. When I work on my personal development, I often have twenty books waiting to be read or none
I think, however, that there are three
ways in which this black and white thinking can really harm us, in the long run.
1. Thinking in black and white robs us of a great chance for balance
in our lives, because we tend to think that we have to do all of a particular project right now, for instance,
or none of it. Along these same lines, if we feel we can’t take the whole day off to take our kids on a day trip, we
have to skip the trip. We may not stop to think of something that would only take a couple of hours. We think we have to
do everything or nothing at all, and quite often that results in our doing nothing, because we’re so intent on everything
are gray. No one is all good or all bad. No one is completely likeable or (usually) completely unlikable. No one
is always going to be exactly what we expect or want. We can lose a lot of good opportunities for relationships by insisting
on thinking in black and white. We gain so much by realizing that each person is unique and has specific things to bring
to the table in a relationship, and then allowing that person to bring those things but also bring the rest of themselves,
3. We lose in black and white thinking
because we are never going to be everything we want to be. We’re always going to be lacking something if we’re
trying to measure ourselves on some black-and-white scale where x is good and y is not good. We’re never going to
be able to be completely x. It doesn’t happen, because we’re human – we’re unfinished – and
we’re not simple.
In fact, very few
things are simple, and the more we try to simplify our thinking into this/that, black/white, good/bad, the worse we’re
going to make our lives, because life just isn’t like that. We’re not like that, no one is like that, and no
one ever will be.
So is the glass half full or half empty?
It’s probably actually a little less than half in one direction and a little more than half in the other.
3 Ways to get away from black and white thinking today:
1. Accept that you’re not perfect.
You’re human – you make mistakes, you’re fallible, you’re imperfect, and you’re vulnerable.
Believing that we can achieve what’s not achievable – perfection - helps us to accept
that we’re unfinished. We may be accomplished, brilliant, and unique, but we’ll never arrive at the destination
we’re trying to reach when the standard we’ve set for ourselves is perfection.
2. The next time you feel judgmental, stop and ask why. Is it because you’re
expecting too much of others? Maybe your expectations of your own perfection are being placed on others. Aren’t
other people entitled to be just as human as you are?
Try to find the gray in one situation today. Things can be both good and bad, and people can be both capable and
incomplete, self-confident and self-effacing, talented and average, and extraordinary and no more special than anyone else.
Take the time to realize that we’re all in this together as humans.
"The Bohl Report: Start
Black and white thinking
You may have noticed that someone who is incredibly angry seems incapable
of seeing wider viewpoints or following a rational discussion about what is annoying them - this is an example of black and
white 'all or nothing' thinking and occurs when the emotional limbic system inhibits access to the rational neocortex. To
put it simply, the brain gets too 'emotionally aroused' to think rationally. Black and white thinking is a feature of all
highly emotional states, including depression and anxiety.
In order to
deal with feelings of anxiety and depression, it is important to recognise when black and white thinking is occurring and
learn how to get back to your rational observing self and lower your stress levels.
Emotional arousal makes you stupid
When you get
anxious in any situation your brain instinctively starts to prepare for the fight or flight response (an innate
reflex action that enables you to get away alive from potentially fatal situations like an approaching hungry lion) and begins
to set off high emotional arousal levels in the lower, primitive brain (the amygdala and the limbic system) to lock all
available attention on the threat and enable you to make quick decisions to run or fight as fast possible. High emotional
arousal in the lower regions of the brain obstruct the higher cortex, inhibiting and simplifying logical thought in order
to react in the fastest way to possible danger. This is the mechanism behind black and white thinking, and is sometimes not
appropriate to the less life threatening anxieties of modern life.
you were walking through a jungle and suddenly heard a roar and a loud crashing noise coming towards you, you would immediately
react by running for your life, rather than standing still, weighing up the consequences and waiting to see if what you
heard was a rampaging angry elephant or not! Waiting for logical thought to kick in is too slow in urgent survival situations
so your amygdala would rather make the embarrassing mistake of running when there is no danger than making one fatal error
in judgement that might cost you your life. In these moments of very high emotional arousal thoughts become oversimplified
and 'black and white thinking' happens.
Your amygdala sometimes does its
job too well as it knows that one mistake could be fatal. However, in some areas of modern life, over simplified thinking
is not as useful as it once was when we lived in constant fear of our physical survival, and black and white thinking can
become destructive as our anxiety limits our perspective and stops us from being able to clearly see our situation.
Black and white thinking
Black and white thinking is occurring whenever you find yourself saying or thinking things like this:
- "My whole life is a disaster from start to finish"
- "I can't do anything right"
These statements are very likely to be untrue, so
take a moment to do something to calm your amygdala and limbic system (see 7/11 breathing technique) and don't let emotional
black and white thinking trick you into thinking thoughts that would make anyone feel bad!
We are all familiar with worrying, the
apparently endless turning around of thoughts in our heads, our minds buzzing with negative commentary about our lives,
our imaginations creating worse case scenarios that make us feel awful and keep us awake at night.
The fact is, worrying is a gross misuse of the imagination, and fuels the cycle of depression. Today's worries are
tomorrow's depression, and reducing worrying to manageable levels will enable you to sleep better and start to lift depression
What strategies can you use to beat worrying?
Here are some useful tips for controlling worrying:
1. Carry a notebook around for a few days and write down every time you notice yourself thinking negatively.
Doing this will make you more conscious of your thinking style and will prepare you for the next step,
which is to challenge your own pessimistic thinking.
your negative thoughts
Every time you catch yourself thinking negatively, take the statement
and ask yourself if it is really true, or if it is just emotional black and white (all or nothing) thinking. Challenging
these thoughts will disempower them, and help remove them from your mind altogether. This technique is called 'reframing',
and is one of the most powerful techniques you can use to break down problems and dissolve worrying.
"I can't do
-"I'm actually doing my best under difficult circumstances."
"It's all too much."
-"I have coped before and
I can cope again. I will do 7-11 breathing for a few minutes and then see how I feel."
"I will die if I don't pass this exam"
-"If I don't pass the exam it's not the end of the
world, I can retake it and at least I will know how to do better next time"
3. What can you do about your worries NOW?
is the route in to depression and of itself never solves any problem. Once you have identified your negative thought patterns
and challenged them, you can ask yourself what you can actually DO about the problem you are worried about, however bad
the difficulties you face are. If you are worrying about what has happened in the past or what may or may not happen in
the future that you have no control over, then you must resolve to stop worrying about it and wait for circumstances
to change. Getting depressed is just an added burden you can do without.
there is something practical you could do right now to resolve a worry or meet an unmet emotional need (eg, take out holiday
insurance, sign up for an aerobics course, complete a job application, booking a driving test) make a note of it and DO
4. Set aside a 'worry half hour'
Set aside half an hour a day at a time convenient for you (but not just before bed) in which
to do all your worrying. If a worry pops into your head before the allotted time, dismiss it from your
mind and tell yourself you will think about that later on, when you're allowed to worry. People often find it easier not
to worry when they know they've got the time to worry later.
In your 'worry half hour', you can do all the pointless worrying you want. If you find, while you worry, that there are some
steps you can take to deal with the worrying then you might want to use the time to do those, and if you find you want to
stop worrying before 30 minutes is up, then cut short the worrying time. But remember, you have used up your worrying time
for the day and you're not allowed to make up this time tomorrow
Joe Griffin, Ivan Tyrrell and Human Givens Publishing Ltd 2008
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