Antoine de Saint-Exupéry a French pilot, once said, “It seems that perfection is reached not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.” It is this never-ending pursuit of perfection that is central to black-and-white thinking.

Black-and-white, or all-or-none, thinking is the idea that if I cannot do something completely, I will not do it at all.  Many of us find these thoughts in one or two areas of life. For example, I refused to keep playing basketball in middle school, despite my love of the game, when I realized that I was not good at it. However, for some, these thoughts permeate almost every area of life and can become debilitating.

It stifles relationships. If one partner “fails” to meet the expectations of the other, it can appear is if the whole relationship is ruined. It harms health. If one misses going to the gym one day, there is no need to go for the rest of the week. Eating one cookie means the entire day is blown and one might as well eat the entire box. These thoughts can go on and on, each adding to the shame of the last “failure” and blocking the next opportunity for success.

How can one avoid the pit of black-and-white thinking? 

  • Give yourself grace. Grace is undeserved favor. When you feel as if you failed, give yourself a pass knowing that you are still growing and learning! 
  • Use the phrase “It makes sense that…”  This allows for a slight adjustment of expectations based on circumstances. For example, “It makes sense that I did not make it to the gym today because I was up late finishing a project…” or, “It makes sense that my spouse did not ask me how I was feeling because she did not know I was sick…”
  • Find the kernel of good.  Look for the areas in which you did succeed!  Maybe you did not win the big sale, but you learned more about what your clients are looking for that can help you to be more successful next time. 

Reprogramming our minds takes time, but with repeated practice we can learn to find the grey in a black-and-white world.

For more information visit www.alpha-stim.com or www.kasihoward.com. Kasi Howard, Psy.D., is a licensed psychologist at the Alamo Wellness Group located at 6243 W Interstate 10 in San Antonio, TX 78201, and she can also be reached at 210.838.0090