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All or Nothing Thinking Errors

All or nothing thinking is also known as ‘black or white’ thinking in that a person with these thinking errors tends to see things in these two polar opposite terms – things are either ‘fantastic’ or ‘dire’, people either ‘love me’ or ‘hate me’ and I’m a ‘success’ or a ‘failure’.

This type of thinking can lead directly to extreme emotions and behaviours and is one of the most common thinking errors we come across in the clinic.

Examples of All or Nothing Thinking

You’re on a diet and have decided to eat more healthily. You’re doing really well for the first two weeks but on Saturday you ‘caved-in’ and ate a doughnut. All or nothing thinkers are likely to conclude the the whole diet is a complete failure and you might as well go and eat the other five doughnuts in the pack.

You’re studying for your degree and with only two modules to go to graduate you fail a module. All or nothing thinking leads you to decide the the entire idea is a bad one and that you’re just not good enough to get a degree and it’s all been a waste of time.

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Managing All or Nothing Thinking

Try to see your thinking patterns more like how a thermometer works. A thermometer doesn’t indicate just ‘hot’ or ‘cold’, but instead gives you the temperature in a wide range of degrees with ‘freezing’ sitting at one end at zero degrees, ‘boiling’ at another end at one hundred degrees and then ninety eight other readings that are neither boiling or freezing!

Be Realistic

Nobody gets through life without ever making a mistake. One doughnut doesn’t ruin a diet or mean your eat unhealthily. Refocus on your goal, forgive yourself for this minor mishap and get back onto your diet.

Develop ‘Both-And’ Thinking

All or nothing thinking excludes two opposites by definition, so try to develop the reasoning skills to accept that opposites can co-exist.

You can BOTH be on a diet AND still eat the odd doughnut.

You can BOTH get a degree AND fail a module or two along the way.

All or nothing thinking has the ability to sabotage even the best thought-out goal seeking activity as you are far more likely to quit if the slightest ‘hiccup’ is interpreted as being a ‘complete failure’.

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Psychotherapist Paul Lee in Wombourne Clinic

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