Why Black And White Thinking Harms Your Perspective
3 ways to avoid impulsive behavior in response to extreme feelings
Black and white thinking (also known as “all-or-nothing thinking”) describes the tendency to think in extremes. Good or bad. Pretty or ugly. Success or failure. But this way of thinking often leads to mental and emotional problems.
Thinking in black and white is the tendency to look at things in extremes. Someone is fat or thin. We are failures or winners. A person is good or bad. Something either always happens or it never happens. So there is no gray, no middle, no average.
It’s important to understand that our life mainly takes place between these extremes. You are not a total failure, nor do you always do everything right. Your partner is not a selfish asshole, nor an angel who always gets everything right. And your life is not perfect, but at the same time, everything is not bad.
Of course, it’s easier for us to think in terms of categories: good or bad, intelligent or stupid, success or failure, fat or thin, always or never, everything or nothing. But these extremes do not describe reality. The reality is in the vast majority of cases somewhere in between.
For example, nobody is 100% good nor 100% bad. Even the greatest tyrant in this world has a good side and treats certain people with love and respect. In the same way, every “good” person has a dark side.
It is often not easy to accept that our life takes place between extremes. Instead, we want things to be simple. We want clarity. Good or bad. Right or wrong. Happy or unhappy. Success or failure.
Black and white thinking is ultimately our mind’s attempt to simplify our complex world.
This way of thinking leads to a lot of problems. For example, there is a lot of space between doing a sport every day or never doing a sport at all. When you’re caught up in black and white thinking, you either go to the gym every day or you give up completely. Instead of allowing yourself to exercise once or twice a week, it’s all or nothing for you.