Black or white thinking is an example of cognitive distortion. By cognitive distortion we mean the extremes of thinking with no room for alternatives. It’s this way or that. And that’s it.
I do all that I can to prevent a lack of choice. I find a lack of choice immensely limiting. Choice is freeing. I have a choice whether to drive at the correct speed limit (but I accept the consequences if I don’t); to stop at red traffic lights (again, I accept the consequences if I don’t); to say no to an extra piece of cake (and accept the consequences if I don’t); to say yes to doing what someone asks me to do (because I want to and I accept the consequences if I don’t choose to do what they ask me to do). I can’t isn’t in my vocabulary unless it’s for an anatomical/genetic reason. Put simply, I can’t give birth; I can smile and thank the police officers for their politeness towards me when they decide to impound my car.
The thing about ‘Black or White’ thinking is that it denies the opportunity to have a third way. To have at my disposal an alternative, or two, as it were. Steven Covey, in his wonderful book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People argues that a third way is a vital ingredient in effective win-win strategies. Compromise is a form of low win-win where neither party achieves what they desired. A third way seeks to give an even better outcome to the originally desired wins for both parties. As a result, both parties achieve an even better win-win than was possible with only a compromised solution. Black or White thinking prevents a third way and therefore limits what would be a more satisfying outcome for all concerned.
Unhelpful thinking when it’s just the one person involved invariably results in frustration and considerable disappointment. “It’s not good enough! It’s rubbish!” might be said. Of course, the reply to that should be, “Who says it is? Who else agrees?” But it seldom is. We all have disappointments on occasions with activities that we complete. What we should be saying to ourselves is, “Under the circumstances is this the best that I could do?” The ‘circumstances’ that result in the quality of our work are many. We might not be feeling well. The tools might not ‘be up to the job’. We might be distracted. And many more besides. However, to claim it’s rubbish because it’s not the desired outcome that we want tells us a lot about the thinking behind our judgement. Remember, thoughts dictate actions (outcomes) and those thoughts are shaped by our paradigms (beliefs or map of the world).
Reflecting on where those words uttered came from will help you to understand the paradigms, thoughts and outcomes that you have. Remember, you can change those paradigms, thoughts and outcomes for more useful ones. None of these is fixed. They can all change. As long as you want them to, that is.
So, if you find yourself declaring that it’s rubbish, stop and explore your reasons for this statement. Look for the opportunity to challenge that statement with words like, “Who says? Who else agrees?” and “What would [a name you trust] say?” Crucially, remember that what you do is just that. What you do. It is not who you are. There are too many people in this world who say, “This [whatever it is] is rubbish. I am such a rubbish person.”What you’ve done might be rubbish (and that, after all, is a highly judgemental and subjective statement) but you never are. If you find this hard to do then learn to let go. For some, that will be extremely hard especially if they’ve had a particularly judgemental parent, as a child. However, we need to let go of harmful and hurtful things said to us and to leave them where they belong. In the past and not with us today.
Challenge – It’s rubbish!
Opportunity – Who says? Who else agrees? What would [a name you trust] say?
Reflection – What I do is what I do. Who I am is who I am. What other choices are there?
Saying – Let it go. I’m worth it anyway.