Don't Believe Everything You Think

Don’t Believe Everything You Think, Part 1

All-or-Nothing Thinking

“I never do anything right”

“Every time I try, I fail”

“I’ll never be good enough.”

If these thoughts sound familiar, don’t worry, you are not alone. This type of thinking is referred to as “All-or-Nothing” thinking. Simply put, all-or-nothing thinking is when we think of things in absolute terms like “always,” “never,” or “every time.” Absolutes like these can cause you to feel anxious, depressed, or confused, and if you are unaware of them can get you caught in a cycle of negative emotions. Here are a few tips on what to do if all-or-nothing thinking has taken hold of your thoughts.

Keep an eye out for absolutes

If you are feeling anxious about an upcoming event like a job-interview, a test, or a first date, scan your thoughts for those absolutes like “never” or “always” and see what follows these loaded words. It may be helpful to write out your thoughts in a journal or on your smart-phone to see what is actually running through your mind.

“I never do well in job interviews”

“First dates are always awful”

“I always do horrible on tests”

Look for the exceptions

All-or-nothing thinking causes problems because it puts everything in black or white — either I get everything right or I failed. The best way to get out of this negative cycle is to look for the exceptions, the times when even if things did not go how you wanted it was not a total failure either. Try to think of time when these thoughts were not completely true. A test that you did ok on, a first date that was not a total disaster, or a job interview where you answered some questions well. To challenge our all-or-nothing thinking we must examine all the evidence not just what supports our original thought. Only after examining all the evidence can we come up with a more balanced thought, or at least, an alternative perspective.

“Even though I get anxious during job interviews, there have been times when I presented myself well and got a second interview”

“First dates are hard, but if I go on enough of them I am bound to meet someone I like”

“I may not always get the grade I want on tests, but I rarely get a grade lower than a B”

This may seem difficult at first, but with practice, you can begin to recognize all-or-nothing thinking as it occurs in your day-to-day life, and take steps to start to challenge it. If at first you find it hard, try again, because after all nobody would be expected to catch their all-or-nothing thinking every time.

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