Black and white thinking is when you believe something either has to be one thing or another; good or bad, right or wrong, all or nothing. There are three ways that black and white thinking can hamper our lives, these three things are: thinking in black and white robs us of a great chance for balance in our lives, people are gray- no one is either all good or all bad, and we lose in black and white thinking because we are never going to be everything we want to be. Three ways to get away from black and white thinking are: accepting that you’re not perfect, the next time you feel judgmental stop and ask yourself why, and try and find the gray in one situation today.
You know the old thing about the glass being half empty or half full. I think this is important not just because it indicates whether you’re an optimist or pessimist (I’m an optimist, by this standard or any other), but because it indicates that you think the glass is either one or the other.
Many people have what I call a bad case of black-and-white-itis. I’m prone to this myself sometimes. I look at something and think it must be good or bad, right or wrong, or all or nothing.
I’ve been an all-or-nothing person all of my life. When I start a business, I absolutely throw myself into it and have to watch my balance before I’m spending all my waking hours working. When I plan a vacation, I’m tempted to make it the end-all, be-all trip. When I work on my personal development, I often have twenty books waiting to be read or none at all.
I think, however, that there are three ways in which this black and white thinking can really harm us, in the long run.
1. Thinking in black and white robs us of a great chance for balance in our lives, because we tend to think that we have to do all of a particular project right now, for instance, or none of it. Along these same lines, if we feel we can’t take the whole day off to take our kids on a day trip, we have to skip the trip. We may not stop to think of something that would only take a couple of hours. We think we have to do everything or nothing at all, and quite often that results in our doing nothing, because we’re so intent on everything being perfect.
2. People are gray. No one is all good or all bad. No one is completely likeable or (usually) completely unlikable. No one is always going to be exactly what we expect or want. We can lose a lot of good opportunities for relationships by insisting on thinking in black and white. We gain so much by realizing that each person is unique and has specific things to bring to the table in a relationship, and then allowing that person to bring those things but also bring the rest of themselves, as well.
3. We lose in black and white thinking because we are never going to be everything we want to be. We’re always going to be lacking something if we’re trying to measure ourselves on some black-and-white scale where x is good and y is not good. We’re never going to be able to be completely x. It doesn’t happen, because we’re human – we’re unfinished – and we’re not simple.
In fact, very few things are simple, and the more we try to simplify our thinking into this/that, black/white, good/bad, the worse we’re going to make our lives, because life just isn’t like that. We’re not like that, no one is like that, and no one ever will be.
So is the glass half full or half empty? It’s probably actually a little less than half in one direction and a little more than half in the other.
3 Ways to get away from black and white thinking today:
1. Accept that you’re not perfect. You’re human – you make mistakes, you’re fallible, you’re imperfect, and you’re vulnerable. Believing that we can achieve what’s not achievable – perfection - helps us to accept that we’re unfinished. We may be accomplished, brilliant, and unique, but we’ll never arrive at the destination we’re trying to reach when the standard we’ve set for ourselves is perfection.
2. The next time you feel judgmental, stop and ask why. Is it because you’re expecting too much of others? Maybe your expectations of your own perfection are being placed on others. Aren’t other people entitled to be just as human as you are?
3. Try to find the gray in one situation today. Things can be both good and bad, and people can be both capable and incomplete, self-confident and self-effacing, talented and average, and extraordinary and no more special than anyone else. Take the time to realize that we’re all in this together as humans.