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  • Writer's picturecoswaycbt

Unhelpful Thinking Patterns 3/11 - Black & White (All or Nothing) Thinking

Updated: Aug 4

This is the third part of a series looking at common unhelpful thinking habits. These are patterns of thinking that our minds can slip into as a way of coping with challenging situations. You can read more about this in my earlier post here.

The ‘Black & White’ thinking style is also sometimes called ‘All or Nothing’ thinking and is when our mind has a tendency to think in absolute terms, not appreciating that there may be grey areas in a situation. It is a very rigid thinking style and prevents us from finding the middle ground.

There are many different ways in which this thinking habit can cause us problems: for example, in relationships it can cause difficulties due to missed opportunities for negotiation and compromise; in our work life it can cause misery if we approach everything as if it is a pass/fail scenario, never being able to recognise or celebrate our partial successes.

The language we use can make a huge difference to this thinking habit – listen out to see if you find yourself using absolute type wording, such as ‘never’, ‘always’, ‘should’, and ‘must’. If you notice that you are using this kind of language a lot, then try replacing the words with something more flexible, such as ‘sometimes’, ‘often’ and ‘maybe’.

Another way of managing this thinking habit is to take a little time to reflect on the situation and try to write down as many different alternative explanations or perspectives as you possibly can for what is going on. This will probably be quite difficult at first, so it can be helpful to bounce ideas off other people as getting their point of view can be really helpful in identifying multiple viewpoints of the same situation.

With practice you can start to loosen up the inflexible patterns and start to appreciate subtleties in the challenging situations. And don’t forget to show kindness to yourself – slip ups are inevitable, so be open to forgiving yourself on the occasions that you fall back into the old habit; after all, you don’t want to wake up your inner critic after working so hard on that in my earlier post!

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