We live in a culture of either/or. We love labels, checkboxes and neat little categories– someone is either a hero or a zero, a liberal or a conservative, a good guy or a bad guy. It’s all so uncomplicated,so nice and tidy… unfortunately, it is also completely inaccurate and so untrue.
In psychology,we call this mindset black and white thinking. And, I’m here to tell you that this kind of thinking can make you seriously blue.
Here’s what happens when we give into black and white thinking:
- The person you’re dating is either perfect or horrible
- Pursuing your dreams is either going to result in soul crushing disappointment or instant,unending happiness
- Your mother is either Mother Theresa or Mommy Dearest
- You are either strong or weak
- You’re either overweight or you’re worthy of love
Black and white thinking gives us a false sense of control.
It allows us to protect ourselves by making sweeping judgements about others. It fools us into thinking we know how an experience is going to unfold before we even try. Most concerningly, it causes us to believe that we are defined by one aspect of ourselves or our story. (And we usually choose to believe the negative ones,don’t we?).
The truth is that the human experience isn’t so neat and tidy. Life doesn’t fit neatly into a checkbox or an either/or construct.
Shortly after Steve Jobs’ death, I remember watching two commentators on the news hotly debating whether Mr. Jobs was either one of the most brilliant innovators of our time or if he was an egotistical, back-stabbing jerk who would stop at nothing to succeed. After hearing them go round and round for what seemed like eternity, I shouted at the TV “Maybe he was both!! He could have been both!!”. (Let’s just ignore that I was shouting at my TV and focus on the greater lesson here, mmmkay?)
Life is chock full of ands.
- That guy you’re dating? Well, he might be funny and smart AND not the right man for you.
- Taking that leap towards a career you will love? It will likely be exciting AND scary.
- You’re struggling with your weight AND you deserve love.
Living in the beautiful, messy world of “and” allows us to extend love and grace to others and to ourselves.
It doesn’t mean we can’t continue to work on the parts of ourselves that we want to improve or that we don’t get to decide if certain people or experiences are the right fit for us. But, we face life with a more open heart and mind if we don’t jump to such a polarizing mindset.
So, next time you catch yourself applying black or white thinking to a person, a situation, or yourself, try inserting an “and” instead and see how it changes your perspective.
Girl, you are all that AND a bag of chips!
Amanda has a Masters degree in Counseling and specializes in helping women feel more empowered in their relationships, career and overall life satisfaction. To inquire about individual coaching sessions, check out her website.