ARE you living your life in black and white terms? Are you seeing life as all or nothing?
“Good” or “bad”, “young” or “old”, “intelligent” or “stupid”, “success” or “failure”, “hot” or “not”, you’re “great” at this or you “suck” at that.
No in-between. No grey area.
Black and white thinking is a cognitive distortion that can influence the way you feel about yourself, and in doing so can affect the mojo you have for life. Statements like “I’m a hopeless team member” or “she’s perfect” or “I’m an idiot” oversimplify life and cause you to have emotional swings that are not necessary. Thinking like this also raises the stress and anxiety levels considerably.
If a situation falls short of perfect, we might see ourselves as a total failure. Shouting at your staff too much lately? There is no need to label yourself as a failure. Looking like less than your best today? It doesn’t mean you are ugly and every body else is better looking than you. On a diet and you enjoyed a piece of pizza with your family? Well it doesn’t mean you have completely wrecked your diet.
These examples are black and white thinking, and if you're already miserable because of what’s happened, categorising it with extreme words will make you feel worse.
Black and white thinking is common and at some moments necessary.
Yes, life can be difficult sometimes, but difficult doesn’t need to be the descriptive word you use for every experience you encounter.
Life is, for the most part, a bit more balanced and has a little more equilibrium in reality. So interpreting your life and putting your thoughts into one of two “all or nothing” categories is going to wreak havoc with your emotions, and your enjoyment of life.
That inner voice in our adult heads is influenced by our earlier experiences in life: the way our parents spoke to us, our childhood experiences or maybe how the kids at school interacted with us. All of it has an impact on our mind.
It’s also wired into us humans to be a bit extreme. These “all or nothing” responses evolved thousands of years ago in a time when our environment was more physically threatening. When faced with life-threatening situations we needed to make fast decisions, and act on them immediately.
We had to be “black or white”, or “all or nothing”. We didn’t have the luxury back then of pondering over our thought processes. Every decision we make about incoming stressors now creates an emotional reaction still to this day, and this in turn changes our behaviour.
Here’s the thing — “black and white” thinking prohibits us from seeing the world as it is.
So if you're an “all or nothing” type of thinker, try starting not to be.
For most of us, uncertainty, maybes, halves and a grey area are OK to have in our day-to-day goings-on. In most situations, we are not going to be killed by not being extreme. You can interpret your life with more truthful adjectives.
Step out of your brain for a second and start thinking about your thinking (metacognition). Catch your black and white terminology and try and choose words that are more realistic (and less stress-inducing). There is a middle ground, you just need to find it.
We don’t need to be so extreme. We don’t like extreme sadness because it makes us depressed. We also don’t want extreme happiness either, because it isn’t sustainable.
So take a balanced approach, which means a bit of this and a bit of that, most of the time.
Nothing is black or white. Except black and white. But there are many shades of grey.
See if you can start seeing them.