Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Overcoming All Or Nothing Thinking

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We in the West get stuck in binary ways of thinking. Rather than embracing the wholeness of things we unconsciously seek to dissect them and then group them in ‘this or that’ categories. Our way of seeing the world has its strengths, science is all the proof we need of that, but it can also hinder our possibilities for a full, happy life.

The problem is that we often get stuck in the trap of all or nothing thinking. We set up artificial constraints upon ourselves by taking it for granted that we have two possibilities and that those two possibilities are necessarily polar opposites of one another.

Overcoming all or nothing thinking can start by taking a step back to catch ourselves thinking in terms of ‘this or that’. We can replace ‘this or that’ with ‘this and that’ or maybe with a third option that lies somewhere between ‘this or that’.

Take a common example in distressed romantic relationships. The unhappy partner will tend to think in a binary way of ‘stay or go’. It’s either continue on in the relationship or break things off completely. Those are the two available options. We can call them extreme options in that there’s a third middle ground option, which is to commit to stay and to commit to address and improve various areas of discontent.

Whatever your current area of conflict in life may be right now, it’s likely that a part of the reason you’re feeling stuck is that you’re mired in all or nothing thinking where you’ve set up two artificial, polar opposite choices for yourself. You only see two possibilities for moving forward and these two possibilities are in opposition to one another. Look for a third choice, a choice that represents a middle ground or maybe a mixture of the best of the binary choices and new possibilities will appear.

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