All or Nothing Thinking: How It’s Making you More Anxious, Angry, and All Around Unhappy

Oh this is sneaky.  And convincing.  And it’s making you miserable.  Today, I’m talking about one of the biggest errors in your thinking.  All or nothing thinking.  And you do it so often, you probably don’t even know it’s happening. 

But it is.  And it’s wreaking havoc on all sorts of things in your life.  Your anxiety, your mood, your relationships.  All or nothing thinking sneaks into almost every area of your life.  And if you’re not careful, it can make a lot of those things worse.

All or nothing thinking is when your brain sees things in absolutes.  It thinks in extremes.  It categorizes things as black or white, either or, all or nothing.

One of your brain’s primary jobs is to generate thought.  It works rapidly to assess, categorize, and draw conclusions.  And while your brain does this at an impressive speed, it doesn’t always do this with impressive accuracy. It makes mistakes.  It miscodes things.  And it skews things.  One of the biggest errors your brain makes?  Yep, you guessed it.  All or nothing thinking. 

But how do you know if you’re stuck in all or nothing thinking?  I’ll give you a few easy clues.  You use words like, “always, never, everybody, and nobody.”  These words are instant giveaways that your brain has gotten away from you.  These words are clues that it isn’t seeing things accurately. 

And while your brain generates thought at an impressive speed, it doesn’t always do this with impressive accuracy. It makes mistakes.

If you haven’t watched my video on thinking like a scientist, I highly recommend checking it out.  Remember, you have to help your brain see things accurately.  As they are.  And this means that you have to pay close attention to the language you use. How often do you say things like, “She always does this.”  “No one ever asks me.”  He never listens.”  “Everyone else has it figured out.” 

Really?  “Always?”  Every single time?  I highly doubt that.  “Never?”  Not once?  Unlikely.  Thoughts and emotions are strongly connected.  The language you use and the way that you think is directly related to how you feel.  So when your thoughts are inaccurate, your emotions, including your anxiety, anger, and depression, follow suit.

In the video above, I share the hilarious, but accurate example of my dishwashing woes with Matt.  We follow this super helpful approach for tackling chores as a couple, and dishes are my chosen chore.  But Matt has the annoying habit of often leaving his breakfast bowl in the sink to “soak” when he’s done eating.  But this soaking quickly turns into sitting there all day long.  So when I get home and see his bowl in the sink, it takes less than two seconds before my brain annoyingly proclaims, “You always leave your bowl in the sink!” And just like that, all or nothing thinking rears its ugly head. 

But remember, your thoughts are not the truth.  Your thoughts aren’t always accurate.  So when it comes to all or nothing thinking, don’t buy it.  Don’t believe the extremes. Instead, challenge yourself to look at things accurately.  Look at all of the examples.  All of the situations.  Bring in all of the data points, and make an accurate assessment.

Remember, your thoughts are not the truth.

Because while my mind wants to huff and puff and complain that Matt always leaves his bowl in the sink to soak, the reality is that he doesn’t.  He doesn’t do this all of the time.  He does this some of the time.  And it’s a lot harder to be outraged about some of the time versus all of the time.  The key is to use accurate language.  Not extreme.  Not all or nothing.  Accurate.  If you want more help with this, go check out my scientist video.  It will break this idea down even more.

Remember, thoughts and emotions are connected.  So when your thoughts are off, your emotions are off.  So this week, pay attention to your thoughts.  Listen to the running dialogue in your head.  Be on the lookout for all or nothing thinking.  And when you notice this extreme and rigid language, challenge yourself to use more accurate language.  Sometimes.  Often.  Once in a while.  It’ll take some work at first, but your mood, your relationships, and your mental health with thank you!

PS: Curious what other thinking patterns might be getting in your way? This pattern is a big one, and it’s making your anxiety so much worse!

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