All-or-none Thinking

by | Mindfulness

How we think, feel, and behave are learned patterns. Over time, they seem automatic if we don’t question or attempt to change them. Thought and feeling perceptions can be a truth but seldom are the complete truth.

All-or-none thinking is a limited way of perceiving our world dichotomously: things are either good or bad, right or wrong, successful or unsuccessful, loving or unloving, etc. All-or-none thinking, also known as black-and-white thinking, impacts our ability to see the world in shades of gray. In my experience, the most successful people are able to perceive and operate between the extremes of black-and-white thinking.

I consider myself fairly intuitive. However, when I allow my thoughts and emotions to become clouded (i.e., feeling a sense of urgency, expecting certain outcomes, or putting pressure on myself), I can slip into all-or-none thinking and all-or-none feeling patterns (e.g., when I have multiple feelings during a difficult experience, sometimes I allow the most distressing feeling to predominate).

One key to counter all-or-none thinking is by zooming out. When you zoom out, you essentially recognize the various parts of your story instead of looking at it as a one-themed story. When you zoom out, you give yourself the opportunity to refuse getting lost in the details. You remind yourself of your larger values and overall direction. Zooming out allows you to breathe and think from your rational, intellectual brain (i.e., your frontal lobe), instead of from your emotional brain (i.e., limbic system).

When we zoom out, we invite an objective perspective on our life experiences – we’re better able to add a degree of separation so there’s not a sense of immediate need or panic.

One key to better holding multiple feelings is to “sit with your feelings.” This is a conscious practice in which you begin noticing different feelings you are experiencing and where in your body you are experiencing them. For example, you might notice your jaw clenching or a tensed upper back.

Feelings are our own subjective perception; they are neither right nor wrong. Feelings can be strong tools to help us get in touch with how we are experiencing the world. When we notice what we feel, it’s important to refrain from judging. Our task is to notice without evaluation. It’s what we do with our feelings that matter the most in any situation.

The more we’re able to live with our own shades of gray, the easier it will be to start living with other peoples’ shades of gray. Life becomes more colorful this way.

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