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Healthy Habits or Black-and-White Thinking? Getting Rid of All or Nothing Mentality

Woman looking at her computer surprised and happy

What is all-or-nothing thinking? If anything less than perfection is unacceptable, you might be dealing with black-and-white thinking.

We all know someone who is trying to be perfect in everything. Most of these people deal with a lot of frustration. Their productivity often suffers, and people around them may sometimes feel disappointed or be made to feel that they are cause for disappointment to the perfectionist.

In contrast to what you may feel as a black-and-white thinker, you’ll actually get more done and even learn faster if you break free from this black-and-white thinking for a more diverse set of options. When you broaden your horizons and include things like “okay,” “good,” and “outstanding,” you’ll get more done and feel better about yourself.

Keep reading to find out how easy it is to swap out an all-or-nothing attitude so you can find more success and happiness in life.

What is Black-and-White Thinking?

Black-and-white thinking is often described as the difference between “true and false” or “right and wrong.” While it is good to want to make the right choices, most of the important decisions in life are complicated. They consist of trade-offs that are neither all right nor all wrong. The more important the decision, the harder it is to find an answer that is 100% correct.

On most tasks, you can complete 80% of your project 20% of the time. This is called the Pareto principle. Once you reach that 80% mark, the more time you put in, the less work you will get out. This is also called the law of diminishing returns.

If you insist on reaching 100% on every project, it will be harder to meet your deadlines. Producing acceptable and consistent results is more important than being perfect on every job. This is a big part of why you should avoid black-and-white thinking.

You’ll make more people happy when you keep your productivity up and produce consistently good results. You will develop a reputation for being reliable and dependable. It will be easier to change if you speak to yourself kindly, and it may even help you calm racing thoughts. An inner sense of peace and calm is key to overcoming black-and-white thinking.

You’ll make more people happy when you keep your productivity up and produce consistently good results (Source: Pexels)

Get advice from others, and they can help you learn how to set realistic expectations and an acceptable range of outcomes. When you move away from the ideal of perfection, you will find it much easier to be productive. People will be happier with you, and you will find more fulfillment and meaning in life.

Set Realistic Goals to Achieve Greater Success

If you aren’t thinking about probabilities, you’re going to miss out on a lot of opportunities. Very few things in life are guaranteed. They say nothing is certain but death and taxes because you just don’t come across a sure thing very often.

Think about people you know who have been really certain about predictions. How often are they correct? The most accurate predictions I have heard have always come from people who speak in terms of probabilities. When you’re making plans, it also helps to ask about the costs and benefits. If there’s a low cost or low risk, there’s nothing to worry about, even if the probability is high. As the potential cost or benefit goes up, the more you need to pay attention, even when the probability is low. Your greatest efforts should be put where probabilities and results are both high.

Why the secret to success is setting the right goals | John Doerr | TED

When you’re stuck in black-and-white thinking, you either accomplish something perfectly, or it does not count. People who are trying to exercise more or eat healthier foods often get caught in this trap. When someone cheats on their diet or misses an exercise session, the temptation to quit completely can be strong. Messing up feels like failure. But it doesn’t have to be. You can make mistakes and still make progress. This is why all-or-nothing thinking is harmful.

Splitting: Extreme Black-and-White Thinking

Borderline personality disorder often goes hand in hand with black-and-white thinking. The all-or-nothing mentality is so extreme that people and things are all-good or all bad. This is called splitting, and it destroys relationships, careers, and futures. If you feel like you or someone close to you has this mindset, consider sitting down with a mental health professional. Compassionate, professional therapists who care are waiting to help.

I suggest you download a cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) app because CBT is specifically designed to combat black-and-white thinking. This will help you better understand that most things aren’t absolute, and it will make you better able to help those you love.

One of the best ways to overcome getting stuck in black-and-white thinking is to involve others in your decision-making progress. It is especially useful if the people you include do not have a personal interest in the outcome. You want to cultivate helpers who genuinely want you to get the right answer. When they have no personal stake in the question, they’re more likely to spot when you’re being too positive, too negative, or too simplistic in your thinking.

If you think too negatively, you might also think too positively. When you try something new, you may expect yourself to accomplish constant, rapid progress. When that doesn’t happen, you may be tempted to think that you’re just not capable of changing.

How to Stop Black and White Thinking

Mark Twain said that if he knew he had to swallow a frog tomorrow, he planned to do it first thing in the morning. If you have to do something unpleasant and you put it off, you’ll feel a lot of negative energy while you’re procrastinating. This negativity promotes black-and-white thinking. The sooner you get an unpleasant task done, the sooner you’ll feel better. If you do it first thing in the morning, you may experience a burst of motivation and positive energy. This kind of proactive mindset will help you feel better and get more things done.

When you learn how to stop black-and-white thinking, you will find it easier to overcome feelings of negativity. This will make it easier to overcome the bad things that happen in your life.

The sooner you get an unpleasant task done, the sooner you’ll feel better (Image source: Shutterstock)

I recommend you review decisions you have made in the past and consider if you’ve fallen for black-and-white thinking. Come up with two or three easy things you can do to help you make better decisions. Make a commitment to practice them for 30 days, and see how much your thought processes improve.