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How to Overcome All-or-Nothing Thinking

remedy for all-or-nothing thinkingStarting to recognize when we’re in old habits, like all-or-nothing thinking, is so vital if we want to change them. So we can start to live our lives in emotional adulthood and not in emotional childhood. And to do so, we need to raise our awareness so we can challenge our long-held belief that all things are all or nothing, black and white, good and bad, so we can begin to step out of that dichotomous worldview and into the grey, the nuance of life.

To begin to question our habitual thinking is incredibly and totally uncomfortable to do at first. 

And like all of this work, once you’re practiced, life just feels so much better. At least for me and from what I hear from my clients. We’re not jumping to conclusions. And when we are giving ourselves the space to decide how we want to feel about something versus staying in our old narratives.

So as we step out of this binary way of thinking, we’re challenging programming that we’ve had often for a lifetime that says that setting a boundary will make people hate us, or that we don’t deserve the job we’ve always wanted, why bother, that vulnerability on a date or maybe ever is to be avoided at all costs, or that being a good parent means never saying no.

And while none of those things are true, we believe them because we’ve been taught to. 

When we buy into that all-or-nothing thinking, we keep our world very small and keep our old cassette tapes in our brain running in the background, making our decisions for us ahead of time.

While this may feel very safe according to our reptile brains, it’s also very limited and limiting. I want to invite you, my darling love, to take a look at your own life for a moment. Where is your brain telling you an all-or-nothing story that is neither factual or truthful or helpful to you?

Mine does it all the time, and a big part of my own work in the last decade has been challenging myself to pause, to connect to my breath, to have that somatic and bodily awareness, and to challenge my brain to see the grey in life.

That a situation or circumstance may not be inherently good or bad, and that I have the power to use the thought work protocol, along with somatic body-based practices based in felt experience to make choices about my life and what I want to make things mean.

And so I’ll invite you to pause and to think about the circumstances, situations, things in your own life that you used to immediately label as good or bad. And I want to invite you to see the complexity, the nuance of them, the grey.

To ask yourself, how would someone else in the same situation, the same circumstance, what might they think? And when we do that, we can help ourselves to step out of our own unintentional thinking and to bring a new way of thinking, a new framework, a new rubric on board so we can see the thoughts beyond our habitual thoughts.

So let’s dive into those remedies. So how do we begin to separate out the truth from the polarized fear thoughts in our mind? 

First, you need to be able to identify when all-or-nothing thinking is causing problems for you.

I want to invite you to take note of when you’re using those extreme words like always, never. Those words are beautiful hints that your brain is in the all-or-nothing vortex. From there, I’ll invite you to pause, to breathe, bring in some compassion, always bring in the compassion, and ask yourself, is this statement true?

Is it that they never text you back in the timeframe you think is appropriate? Does he always respond curtly? Does she never help with the housework? What’s real and true and what is a thought habit here?

Pausing, tuning into your breath, and getting real about what’s real can be so helpful here, my darling. 

It’s important to raise your awareness so you can take back your power to decide how something makes you feel, and so you don’t impose your all-or-nothing assumptions on anyone else, which can be super negating, unkind, and just not loving.

So back to your body. When you feel these sensations come up within you, you can check in with yourself by asking a few simple questions. Where in this situation is my brain telling me I’m in danger, at risk, unsafe? That some situation is inherently good or bad means it’s safe or unsafe in the body.

Is it true that in this moment, I’m actually in danger or unsafe? And important note, if your body is like, yes, you are in danger, then my darling, please do run.

Two, in what ways can my perspective and my perception of this situation be blocking me from seeing the truth and from getting what I want, getting what I need? What ways can my perspective on this situation be keeping me from seeing other alternatives and options?

Three, how might I be able to see this situation that serves me and moves me forward? Not in a way that keeps me small, stuck, and believing the thoughts I was taught to think by my socialization, by my conditioning, by the patriarchy, by my family of origin.

How can I step out of that old line of thinking so I can decide how I want to think, and thus how I want to feel, the actions I want to take, and the results I want to create for my own life? Because that last point is the point.

When you step out of all-or-nothing thinking, you take back the wheel. 

You get to steer the ship of your own life and to decide for yourself what you want to make things mean. Like how a perennial theme of ours here is that failure is not a bad thing, that it’s not that you are codependent, but rather that you have codependent thoughts and can shift and change them, that your past doesn’t need to determine your future, and all of that is possible when we step into the glorious grey.

I’ll invite you to simply bring your awareness to times throughout your day, your week, your month in which your brain goes immediately to labeling that person, place, thing, situation, thought as good or bad, black or white, evil, amazing.

Just look. Just notice. Bring your awareness to it and start thinking about where this is holding you back and start giving yourself permission to have your own way of thinking about the circumstances of your life and start holding truly judgment-free space for your own mind.

Next up is linguistic pattern analysis, which is a tool that helped me get clear on my own patterns in relationships so I could leave a relationship that didn’t work for me once I understood what was real and what was my habitual thinking from my codependent survival skills.

So you start with listening in for those keywords we mentioned. Always and never, which are always harbingers of doom.

Be mindful of thoughts that paint someone or something in an extreme light, like my new date or partner is perfect, or when all you’re doing is poking, nitpicking, always looking for something that’s not quite right about this person you’re dating, this person you’re seeing, the people who you’re in relationship with.

Take a look at what your brain is doing. Sometimes it’s that avoidant behavior, that avoidant attachment rather that we’ve talked about here, where it’s like, I like you but I want to put some space between you and me, and that’s a great invitation to your brain to go into black-and-white thinking, to go into all-or-nothing thinking. Also notice when your knee-jerk cognitive response to something is to make it bigger than it is.

Phrases like this is a total catastrophe, it’s a disaster, it’s the worst, it’s torture, it’s a nightmare. When you can’t see possible solutions because you’re so wrapped up in your thoughts that the situation is a crisis, that’s a big hint, my darling. You’re in that all-or-nothing vortex.

And often from there, we can’t get to solutions but rather we drop into beating ourselves up, feeling shame, or guilt about the situation, and those are all – they’re your signs. Your signs to pause.

It’s really important in all of this work to name it. To be seen and to not feel alone is incredibly important for those of us who felt alone as children in particular. And what’s vital is that we don’t stop there.

That’s what happens when we go into all-or-nothing thinking. We stay in the woe is me place and that pity party with our tiny violin and we can’t find a way out because we’re spinning in those good and bad extremes.

And that’s when we get to use the thought work tool, getting to neutral. So I want to invite you to try on some more neutral words like sometimes. Sometimes my partner forgets to pay their parking tickets. Sometimes my mom makes comments about my weight. Sometimes I’m unhappy in this relationship, and sometimes I’m not.

Try it on and see if a word like sometimes, often, occasionally, if one of these words might feel true and real in your body. If there may in fact be a slightly more nuanced approach to whatever moment you are in.

Another thing I love to do is to ask myself, is the thing we’re talking about a thing I actually want to care about? Or am I reflexively caring about it without pausing to ask myself?

So, your partner never does the dishes, but they do 87.4% of the cooking and like 92.73% of the vacuuming. Do you want to continue to care about the dishes? Do you want to continue to have it feel like a problem? Is that the hill you want to die on, my darling?

You might, and that’s totally fine. That’s totally cool. But you might not. And you won’t know unless you pause, step out of the extremes, and ask yourself what you want to think here.

Another tool I really like to use is to ask myself, where is this thought about this other person coming from? I often ask myself am I telling myself a story that is based in my beliefs and my attempts to source false safety? Come on, brain, you do that. Brains do that. It’s okay. No judgment. No shame. No guilt. We’re just mammaling along doing the best we can. But these beliefs about how it should be done and how people should act and think and be.

And if so, if I am doing that, if you are doing that, then that’s a moment when I get to pause and I ask myself am I choosing to be right here—right by my own paradigm, of course—over being happy in this moment?

Could I let someone be wrong? Could I let myself be wrong and have that be okay? What am I blocking myself from in insisting that this story is true?

For example, I was on a call with a woman who is a schoolteacher and who is not feeling stimulated at work. She said her brain was bored and she wants to do something different.

But while her brain is bored at work, it is also doing all-or-nothing thinking about her capacity to leave her job and whether it’s a good idea.

So, her brain was creating these two extremes. Either I keep my teaching job, or quit and start my own business, but then my family will be homeless, starving on the street within minutes. He brain went straight to Les Mis when there was no need to go to there.

She was blocking herself from acting on her dream because of this habitual unchecked all-or-nothing thinking that told her, keep the job you don’t like or your whole family will die, effectively.

And in coaching her around this, we started by honoring this habit. Because it’s a habit that keeps us thinking we are in control, thus we can feel in some version of control, thus we can feel safer in our bodies. And any time our body does that for us, no matter how misguided, it’s something in my mind that out to be celebrated. Because it’s our mind and our body attempting, using the best skills they have, to take care of us.

So, we pause. We honor the habit. And we’re grateful for that self-loving part of our brain that tries to protect us that way. But that was of thinking keeps us from taking risks that may be good for our growth, our healing, our expansion.

Because again, the growth is in the nuance. It’s in the nitty gritty and the grey. 

So, when you feel your beautiful brain going to these extremes, pause and ask, what am I projecting onto this moment? What am I making this thing mean that is making it all or nothing?

In the example above, my client was projecting her fear of scarcity, of losing control on this choice to stay in her job or not, and all that projection didn’t align with the facts. Sure, she was in a stable job where she had a salary. And she’s not happy there and she wanted something different.

When I asked her why she was staying, she could see that she didn’t like her reasons. She was staying because of her fear of change, her fear of not having control, having to sit with uncertainty, fear of discomfort. 

When you do the all-or-nothing thinking, you don’t actually have to deal with those challenging feelings of the middle ground, which means you don’t develop the skills to tolerate that discomfort.

Once you practice noticing this kind of thinking and asking if and how it serves you, you can begin to make different choices. And you can practice sitting in the middle ground where there is grey and uncertainty, but also possibility. 

Oh my beauty, there is so much possibility when you step out of all-or-nothing thinking. That’s when life gets expansive.

And that’s because all-or-nothing thinking is a buffer. It’s a tool we use to not feel our feelings. And buffers don’t serve our wellness, my darling. Not at all. Instead, we stay in the mind drama and chaos that’s often super cozy from our childhoods, and staying there in the swirling spin of it versus making a decision can feel safer because we’re telling the story that we risk nothing by staying in the status quo and all or nothing.

But without taking the risk to change the job, get the degree, leave the relationship, go on the date, are we not denying ourselves potential joy? Are we not denying ourselves the opportunity to do scary things from a place of self-love and internal anchored safety, so we can rewrite the story of who we are in our own minds and in our lives?

All-or-nothing thinking keeps us trapped in our own old self-concept, our own old ways of being, and keeps us from living our most expansive lives. 

And I want that more expansive life for you, my darling, perfect, sweet, amazing, tender ravioli, if you want it for yourself that is.

 

Thank you for taking the time to read Feminist Wellness. I’m excited to be here and to help you take back your health!

I know not everyone is into podcasts, so I wanted to provide digestible blogs to go along with the episodes! If you’re curious about the podcast and haven’t checked them out yet, click here.  

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Victoria Albina Breathwork Meditation Facilitator

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