Say Goodbye to All-or-Nothing Thinking



Is this you?

One day you think your marriage was made in heaven. Then next you want to call a divorce lawyer! 

On Monday you are loving your job because you gave a successful presentation. By Friday, you’re debating whether to quit because you had an argument with your boss. 

This type of all-or-nothing mindset is called dichotomous thinking. Psychologists identify this pattern of behavior as taking specific events and turning them into global generalizations. When something doesn’t go as planned or hoped, it sends you spiraling downward into a world of overexaggerated negativity. If you’re feeling depressed or anxious, it may be a result of how you look at the world. All-or-nothing thinking can make you feel like a victim of circumstances and lacking control which results in wide and unhealthy emotional swings.

Learning to replace exaggerated thoughts with more realistic assessments will help you to better deal with setbacks and feel more hopeful about the future. There are some practical steps you can follow to overcome all-or-nothing (polarized) thinking and reset your mind to positive and more productive thinking. 


10 Simple Steps to Overcome Polarized Thinking 


When all or nothing thinking becomes the norm instead of the exception, it can have harmful  effects on your life, negatively impacting you, your relationships, your occupations and your overall wellbeing. However, there are simple actions you can take each day to gradually achieve more moderation. Try these techniques: 

1. Change your vocabulary

Using words such as “always”, “never” or “everyone” reinforces all-or-nothing thinking. These words imply an overexaggerated view of the truth. Try replacing such words with descriptions that are closer to the facts.  

2. Take an inventory. 

Don’t assess a situation based on one event in time. If a single setback is blinding you to your overall track record, remember the many things you have already accomplished. Take an inventory of your past successes and let that shape your perspective of the present.

3. Accentuate the positive. 

Take time to count your blessings and notice the things you like in yourself and others. Focus on the positives in others and in situations instead of ruminating on the negative.

4. Set realistic expectations. 

Create goals you can achieve instead of trying to be a superhero. Accurately consider your own abilities and resources and work within them. Keep your expectations centered and balanced.

5. Celebrate small victories. 

Take satisfaction in making progress, no matter the size. Cleaning out one closet is a step closer to putting your house in order. Give yourself grace when you don’t complete everything on your checklist.

6. Narrow your focus

Try changing your perspective about one area in your life instead of trying to tackle everything at once. You may want to start by concentrating on your relationships or your health. 

7. Ask for feedback. 

If you have trouble recognizing when you’re exaggerating and heading towards that downward spiral, ask friends and family for feedback. They may be able to see things more clearly than you. 


8. Seek support. 

All-or-nothing thinking can sometimes be traced back to childhood events and attachment style. You may need help to sort out the past to move on in a more healthy manner. Find a professional who understands cognitive distortions. 


9. See things through.

Make it a goal to follow tasks and commitments through to the finish. Don’t give up. Train yourself to be flexible and tolerate frustration. Reward yourself for reaching your goal to give you greater motivation.


10. Make specific plans. 

To build a brighter future, you need a plan to follow. Once you have a list of positive changes you want to make, identify the obstacles you’ll face and what you’ll do to overcome them. Start small and build on your plan. 


It’s easy to become stuck when you engage in black or white thinking and feel trapped in a cycle you want to break. All-or-nothing thinking zaps your motivation when you believe that your efforts are futile and your future is destined for failure. This way of thinking may be holding you back! When you recognize that most events and people, including yourself, are a mixture of positive and negative qualities, you’ll be able to make more rational decisions. Follow these 10 steps to free yourself from all-or-nothing thinking so you can enjoy more happiness and success!


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