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how to challenge your all or nothing mindset

October 8, 2021

An “all or nothing” mindset is a form of limited, distorted thinking. It’s a mindset of absolutes, where you feel like you either pass or fail every interaction with others or every choice you make. The problem with this mindset, however, is that thinking in all or nothing terms limits your ability to see everything else that happens in between your perceived failure and the reality of the situation. For instance, if you recognize that you misworded your thoughts during a conversation, you might worry that the other person completely misunderstood your intentions or developed negative thoughts about you; in reality, it could have been a constructive dialogue in which you failed to recognize all of the positive aspects.

As an absolute, all or nothing thinker, your attitude may be preventing you from tackling new challenges or setting higher goals for yourself. If you feel like you can’t do something perfectly, any obstacle is an excuse to avoid setting new goals at all.

This all or nothing thinking is an extreme way of viewing life, and a healthy goal may be to find ways to challenge this mindset.

Eliminate Absolute Words and Thoughts

Repeatedly thinking that you must “always” do something a certain way sets you up for feeling like you have failed if you deviate from the predictable or expected path. This isn’t necessarily true, and it is okay for you to change course. If you always say you “cannot” or “never” do something that you want to do, ask yourself why. You may fail at something if you don’t try at all, but you’re not automatically a failure for not doing something perfectly. Try to eliminate these absolute words from your spoken vocabulary first, and then slowly try to eliminate them from your current thoughts. 

Look for Gray Areas in Difficult Situations

If you think there is only one possible outcome, and not achieving it is failure, slow down for a moment and regroup. Think about how others act in similar situations. You can even consider asking outsiders how they view the situation. Looking for alternative outcomes allows you to expand your mindset a little at a time.

Accept Your Mistakes

We are human, and mistakes happen. Sometimes we make poor choices, we misspeak, or we don’t meet an important goal. Instead of viewing a mistake as an automatic failure, focus on how it can help you grow. Look at mistakes as an opportunity to learn new ways to make choices or set realistic and worthy goals for yourself.

Find Someone to Talk To

If you feel trapped by your all or nothing mindset, find someone with whom you can speak. This can be a trusted friend, a mentor or a therapist. Your goal is simply to find a safe space to talk and work through your concerns without judgment or fear.


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