Get Rid of Black and White Thinking Once and for All

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.

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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.

9 Comments on “Get Rid of Black and White Thinking Once and for All”

  • [...] ~David B. Bohl, intro to “Get Rid of Black and White Thinking Once and for All“ [...]

  • What if your married to an alcoholic husband. He fuses to seek help. We separated since Jan. because he got mad and left. I set healthy boundaries. If he refuses to seek help, then we will continue to live separate lives. We have 3 kids. I cannot help but think this way because I am tired and I cannot deal with the drinking, etc. any longer. If it ends in divorce, it will be because of him wanting it. I will not force anything.

    thanks for reading

  • I applaud you for laying down boundaries. You didn’t cause it, cannot control it, nor can you cure it.

  • sounds really good for an article but i would think it is that little bit harder saying that trying not to be judegemental is quite easy i never try to critisize anyone since i would not like to be critisied myself

  • My black and white thinking has drove me crazy, i dont know what to do with myself or how to begin healing. Al i do is try and figure it out everyday , i stay up at night thinking why am i so different, cant seem to beleive its ever going to change even though i sit there all day and tell myself i am going to change it.

  • this is all bullshit, black and white thinking works. the simple fact that if someone doesn’t measure up to how you think, then you should then just ignore them or simply tell them to fuck off. everyone has expectations, and if you arent happy that things arent going your way, then why should things be thought of as gray? gray areas cause more problems than all or nothing and to think of things as gray is pretty dull and is stupid. it means your part of the crowd and to be quite honest the crowd sucks! why not be yourself? if you have black and white thinking then thats good, it means you want something better and you wont stop till you get it. ignore all the crap on this site and listen to this. gray ruins lives and will only mess your thinking up more. black and white enhances them.

  • You did a great thing for your kids and yourself and in no way is this classified as black and white thinking.
    You are seting boundaries for yourself . I did the same thing for myself years ago and I will never refret it .
    It took a lot of courage to do what you did .

  • I don’t agree with your theory.The law is “Black and White” Politics are “Black and White”.The Bible is “Black and White” You want to add this in between that really would only exist in a perfect world. The earth is black and white in it’s seasons.People are either good or bad.The Bible clearly outlines this.Sociopaths are real.Racism is real.Love is real.Hate is real.Whats black and white about that? It’s called reality. These gray areas you refer to are known as denial.

  • The worlds pace is ever increasing. Our demand for not just information but gratification is increasing with it. We want fast food and fast fixes. We want answers and solutions and we want them now. Our patience and tolerance for difference is declining at pace with ever increasing options for deleting, judging and dismissing others.

    Ideologies are following suit with pre-set judgments, ready made rebuttals and absolute values of right and wrong. We engage not to grow understanding but to win to garner more likes than our opponent. With online media we enter conversations with sound bite bombs and no relational connection. The historical grey areas of morality are becoming crystal clear dogmas of right and wrong. People are on our side or they are idiots.

    We don’t like anxiety. We don’t develop skills to sit with it to learn from it – instead when confronted with confusion, with the unknown we grab for answers like lifelines from a sea of confusion. We listen with the same fast paced agenda not hearing so much as judging and highlighting the points of fallacy. Why they are wrong, confused, stupid and when nothing presents we find a spelling error and tell them they are too illiterate for this discussion.

    This topic is about growing our understanding of the world and people in it. To allow us a larger perspective; to afford ourselves the compassion to make mistakes, to not always be right. People are complex; thinking grey helps us live with that. Thinking in black and white creates short cuts and those short cuts short change our understanding.

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