“The antidote to all-or-nothing thinking is vulnerability and self-compassion. Owning the reality of your humanity and loving it. This leads to healthy achievement and growth. This allows you to be authentic, to risk courageously, and to connect.”
All-or-Nothing thinking is just what it sounds like. It is viewing things in black and white with no shades of grey in between. It involves thinking in extremes. It is the belief that if something does not go perfectly, then it is all wrong, a complete failure. It can be directed at yourself, your endeavors, others, or a given situation/experience. Perfectionism is related to All-or-Nothing thinking. It is a thinking error and irrational because, in reality, there is no such thing as a perfect human.
My Versions of All-or-Nothing Thinking
Perfectionism and not good enough have been big culprits for me, or mind traps. I can’t post a blog post if it isn’t perfect. I can’t life coach because I’m not good enough at it yet. I’ll probably mess up so I’m not going to do this. Too risky! My brain still hurls these at me very regularly and I need to make sure I am on high alert so that I don’t buy into the unintentional default without knowing it.
Professionally: I could do this as a dentist really well. I could do a procedure where everything would go right accept one thing. And the one thing was nearly always something out of my control that I would blame myself for. If it was something in my control, it could always be fixed by just spending a little more time or scheduling another appointment until we get the desired result. But I could take the one thing and turn it into that entire procedure went wrong. And I felt terrible as a result. In my mind, I became a “terrible dentist.” This mindset didn’t even really help me progress as a dentist. I think I thought it would. I think perfectionism will protect me but it is a major burden. And in reality, it was slowing down my growth. And the truth is, I was a fantastic dentist: really engaged with patients, good at communicating, empathetic, and very on top of the skills and details required to optimize treatment for patients. But most of the time I couldn’t see the truth because of this damn twisted thinking.
Personally: If I fail one time, with one thing, in one instance, I can make it mean that I am a failure as a person. I can’t believe I was tempted to do that, I’m such a bad person, how could I even think that?! I could spend my whole day curing aids, cancer, serving others, solving the problem of world hunger, and I would still be able to obsess over one negative thought toward someone, make it mean I’m terrible, and ruin my whole day. This is hypothetical, by the way. I have not actually solved world hunger or cured aids and cancer. Sorry if I got your hopes up.
Whether we realize it or not, shame is an integral part of all-or-nothing thinking and perfectionism. Seeking perfectionism is trying to earn approval and acceptance through achievement and performance. Brené Brown says that “when we don’t claim shame, it claims us. And one of the ways it sneaks into our lives is through perfectionism.” We believe that if we look perfect, think perfect, and act perfect, that we can minimize our pain from judgment or blame.
All-or-Nothing Thinking leads to depression, anxiety, addiction, life-paralysis. Brené also says “It’s terrifying to risk when you are a perfectionist; you’re self-worth is on the line.”
The antidote to all-or-nothing thinking is vulnerability and self-compassion. Owning the reality of your humanity and loving it. This leads to healthy achievement and growth. This allows you to be authentic, to risk courageously, and to connect. Christopher K. Germer says “A moment of self-compassion can change your entire day. A string of such moments can change the course of your life.”
Some Amazing Thoughts to Think
- “B-minus gets the job done.” -Brooke Castillo
- Just as I am right now, I am enough.
- I have always been enough and always will be enough.
- This will go as it’s supposed to and I will learn.
- That happened as it was meant to.
- I can accept my past choices and behavior.
- I am enough when I ______________. (challenge yourself with something you dislike about your behavior here)
- I am learning.
- I am figuring this out.
- You are exactly as you should be.
- Unconditional love is something I do for myself.
- It’s not what we do – it’s who we are.
- There’s nothing you can do that wouldn’t be worthy of forgiveness.
- Nothing has gone wrong here.
- There’s nothing wrong with you.
- We’re here to get to the work of ourselves.
- Your past is perfect.
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Please share your experiences with all-or-nothing thinking. Make comments. Let’s get a discussion going.
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