If you pay attention to the words that you use and the thoughts that you’re thinking, you might notice the frequency with which you find yourself in patterns of all-or-nothing thinking. “What’s all-or-nothing thinking?”, you might ask. Well most of us we were taught as children that it’s usually one thing or the other...you’re either behaving yourself or acting out, that movie character is either good or bad, there’s happy and then there’s sad. We’re taught about opposites as a way to understand concepts. How could we understand light and the sun, without darkness and the night’s sky? During a child’s development this way of thinking is helpful, as it’s usually easier to understand, and aligns with their natural patterns of brain development. Once children begin to reach their pre-teen and teenage years they are then able to process rational thought. They’re able to begin to see the world beyond their family unit and to begin contemplating more complex situations.
So as we continue to grow into adults this all-or-nothing thinking can become very limiting. And unless we’re aware of this concept then we’re probably stuck in all-or-nothing thinking patterns without even knowing it!
This kind of thinking is something that I often notice with my clients during our psychotherapy discussions. I hear it in the words that they use to describe their experience of life and of their self. And often, I witness the challenges that come from this pattern of thought...limiting beliefs about self, feelings of powerlessness, and an overall tendency towards more pessimistic thought loops. As I notice this, I reflect what I hear to the client and I then introduce a different way of thinking. [Insert the drum roll here!]
I begin talking about the possibility and opportunity of welcoming in both. What this means it that a person can be both experiencing grief and sadness, while also feeling a sense of their okay-ness in the midst of this. They can be in a place of acknowledging their fears while also making courageous decisions to move forwards through their fear. This means that they can live in a more expansive and imaginative world. They are able to step more and more into their natural personal power. They are able to become a creative force in their life, rather than “life happening to them”.
I was recently reading one of Dr. Wayne W. Dyer’s books called “The Power of Intention” and he spoke about this blending of opposites in a very interesting way:
“Which are you? Master or essence? Physical or metaphysical? Form or spirit? The answer is both, even though they appear to be opposites. Do you have a free will, and are you a part of the destiny of intention? Yes. Fuse the dichotomy. Blend the opposites, and live with both of these beliefs.”
Here we see Dyer inviting us to hold both possibilities at the same time, by opening our perspective to contain both.
It really is a simple idea...to change the way that you think and yet it can be a very difficult process for some folks. So here are a few helpful tips if you decide to open up your world to greater possibility:
Create a daily affirmation to remind yourself of this new thought pattern that you are establishing and then have this affirmation written down somewhere that you’ll see often throughout the day (i.e. your phone background, or above your bathroom mirror). Then re-read and say aloud this positive statement. Try something like this, “Today I choose to welcome in possibility and opportunity. I hold space for opposites to occur at the same time. I have an open perspective that allows me to see clearly all of life’s opportunities.” – Have fun with this and make a statement that feels true and real to you!
Ask your loved ones to help you. This can be such a powerful way for you to share your personal growth journey with others and it’s so exciting to have other folks on your team helping you along. So ask your loved ones to gently remind you when they happen to notice that any of those old thought patterns have stepped back in.
Use some of the principles from cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) to help change your thought pattern. There are tons of free resources that you can find online to help you out. Try something like this: https://www.therapistaid.com/therapy-worksheet/thought-record/cbt/none
Seek a professional to really help you through this process of change! Ensure that the person you are reaching out to has experience with helping clients change their ways of thinking and all-or-nothing thought patterns.
And most of all, be gentle with yourself! This is a process, not a simple one-step thing. Anytime you decide to change a thought pattern that you’ve outgrown, I encourage you to bring in lots of self-compassion and humour during the process of change!
So whether this is a new idea for you or something that you’ve already committed to changing, use whatever tools and ideas stand out to you and embrace you’re OWN personal journey! Remember, just like all-or-nothing thinking is limiting, so is the belief that there’s only one way to do this!
I’d love to hear about your progress along this journey. Feel free to reach out (email@example.com) or book a session if you have any further questions.
And happy changing,