All-or-nothing thinking is something we all fall prey to from time to time. It is more common in people with anxiety and depression (among other things).
This cognitive distortion is only one the many negative thought processes we fall prey to from time to time. All-or-nothing thinking leads people to thinking in extremes.
There is no middle ground or grey area – everything is black and white, good and bad. This includes your view of yourself (you are either a success or a failure in all you do) as well as other people.
All-or-nothing thinking often means that you think in absolute terms. Either something will happen, or it won’t, and there is no room for anything else. If you think in all-or-nothing terms, then you are less likely to see alternatives to your chosen course. If you suffer from depression, then you will likely see everything as a nothing on the all-or-nothing scale.
So what can you do about it? Read on for some examples of all-or-nothing thinking, and what you can do to change it.
1. You jump ship a lot
We all know that feeling – we start a new workout, or a new diet, or a new job, and then suddenly another one comes along. Most people are able to continue on with no changes, but all-or-nothing thinking doesn’t allow that. If you are an all-or-nothing thinker, then you will need that new shiny toy right now.
All-or-nothing thinking doesn’t let you find any middle ground. Either you are doing one workout or diet, or you are doing another. Think of it as your brain being like a cat which is distracted by a laser pointer. You can’t find a middle ground – it has to be one or the other.
To add to this, all-or-nothing thinking rarely lets you pick and choose. When a new diet or workout or job comes along that you want, you will have to try for it.
To try and counter this, you need to relax. Remember that that new diet or workout is not going to go away. It will still be there even after it leaves your mind – outside events are not affected by your thoughts. Once you have managed to calm the initial impulse of running out to get the shiny, then you can think things through.
For example, maybe the new workout has a different angle to it. You can easily incorporate some of it into the one you are already doing. Perhaps that job will inspire you to work on new projects, or gain new skills. This can lead to you being more prepared in the long term. It will also have benefits in the short term, with you performing better at your job.
2. You always love or hate people
You will likely have experienced times when you feel like love at first sight is real. It may also be that you have experienced times when you feel like first hate is real. Most people do not feel such strong emotions, so it can be difficult to explain.
To change this, several things need to happen.
You need to rein yourself in, and keep a tight hold on your emotions. Most people don’t react well to strong emotions being aimed at them right off the bat – you should keep this in mind.
Try and remember that it can take a while for things to warm up to the point that you can be friends, or more. The world isn’t always in black and white, it can be in shades of grey too. You need to be able to acknowledge that with the depth of your feelings (or lack thereof) for the people around you.
3. When you want to do things, you really want to do them….until you don’t
If you find yourself regularly annoying your friends without realising why, read on. If you experience all-or-nothing thinking, then you will likely have an attitude towards life that has you jumping at the chance to do something immediately, or completely apathetic. This can be strange to experience from the outside.
If you find yourself falling prey to this type of all-or-nothing thinking, then you should pay attention to your self-control. Self-control will let you keep yourself restrained until the appropriate moment.
Once you have learned self-control, then pay attention to what other people want. Gauge their reaction to what is happening, and you will be able to react in an appropriate manner.
You only make plans in the moment
Do people find it hard to make plans with you? You might be someone with all-or-nothing thinking if this is the case. All-or-nothing thinking means that you can’t plan for the future. In this case, it means that you can’t make plans with your friends unless you are excited for something right at that very moment!
To combat this part of all-or-nothing thinking, you need to stay calm. Make sure that you know what people are thinking before you try and make plans. Try and listen to what they are thinking about, and looking forward to, and use that to base your future plans on.
All-or-nothing thinking can be difficult to cope with. But you need to be able to control it if you want to interact with people properly. There are ways to combat these types of thinking, as you can. It just takes time and practice to get into new ways of thinking.