“I shuffled to the bathroom, allowing myself only a brief, sidelong glance in the mirror. I’d slept in the XXL Sex and the City baseball tee, though it no longer fit like a nightgown so much as a slightly too-big shirt. No weigh-in today, but I would start again tomorrow, definitely. I would go to the supermarket and stock up on all my safe foods, then hit a yoga class tonight and go straight to sleep with a Benadryl to know me out. I would claw my way back into the zone, and lose the remaining forty pounds, starting tomorrow.” ~Kelsey Miller
“Oh my gooooosh. I was supposed to be so good today. But at work there was a tray of cookies for someone’s birthday, and so I had one. Today is ruined. I might as well order a pizza pie, some wings and garlic bread. I’ll start new and fresh tomorrow. Maybe I’ll even do a juice cleanse. That’ll get me back on track.”
How many of your have had the inner dialogue before? I’m willing to bet most of you have at some point. And it’s a really tough cycle to be part of, and to break free of. This is called black and white thinking, or all or nothing thinking. This happens when we see situations as good or bad, right or wrong, perfection or failure. It leaves out the middle group, the gray, the wide spectrum that life exists within. It can be really limiting and distorted to live in the black or white. It may be easier to feel bad about not doing something and attempt to start over in the morning, but that does not have to be the case. Let’s work together to get in the gray zone (or rainbow, because that’s prettier and more fun.)
Places black and white thinking can exist:
Nutrition and diets. To a lot of people, it’s easy to become really rigid and strict with food choices. And a common pattern is straying a bit from the regimen you created for yourself, and thus thinking, “I ate 1.5 cookies, I am a failure at life, I might as well just eat 6 more cookies and start over tomorrow.” Rather than being comfortable and accepting of the 1.5 cookie.
The gym and working out. I was once someone who would be too busy and thus miss a workout midweek, and my whole week was ruined and over, and I could not to workout again until the following week began. What?! So illogical, one missed workout does not mean workouts the rest of the week are not allowed.
Relationships. Those people who appear really picky, and will be seeing a guy for a few weeks, but will see that he wears Nike shoes and need to end things. One perceived flaw and you’re out of there, expecting someone to have all of the qualities you want and expect in a partner.
Work. You are seemingly doing a great job and get a lot of positive feedback from supervisors, but an email asking you to rewrite a report sends you into a negative spiral of thinking you will be fired.
As you can see, black and white thinking can impact all areas of our lives and can be really debilitating, stressful, and upsetting. Here are some ways to challenge black and white thinking. On that note, I know that changing a mindset is incredibly difficult, so like everything else these practices take time and patience.
Rate the situation on a scale of one to ten, one being the worst possible situation in the world and ten being the most wonderful outcome you could have dreamed of. For example, if you grabbed some candy hearts while in the office, you may not be thrilled with yourself, but also no one died, no one was hurt, you have the opportunity to eat something “more healthful” later. So remembering that this was not the absolute end of the world, although it may seem it in the moment.
Familiarize yourself with your automatic thoughts. Maybe you grew up with labeling chips as “bad food”, so when you snack on a few, you feel like the world is over and you are a “bad person” for eating a “bad food.” Reestablish an understanding of yourself and the place your mind may go immediately, given past situations and experiences. Rewriting these automatic thoughts is incredibly challenging, but the first step is to notice and observe yourself. Start to create new associations in your mind.
Take a step back and think about how this one situation impacts your health, your relationship, your job, etc. on a broader scale. Will one missed yoga class ensure that you will never be in shape again? No, I don’t believe so.
Speak the situation out loud. If a friend called to say she is breaking up with her boyfriend, who is incredibly kind and wonderful, because he does not play the drums as well as she was expecting you would think that’s ridiculous! So give yourself that same leverage and flexibility in situations.
Take control of your situation. Ultimately, your next move is your own decision. You may feel out of control sometimes, and not able to make logical or rational choices. Take a breath. Try to identify what you are feeling and what you truly need in the moment.
The quote at top is from Kelsey Miller’s new book Big Girl, where she explores her disordered eating patterns and documents her journey to intuitive eating. I highly recommend it if this is something you are working through yourself, or simply if the topic interests you!
Have a beautiful weekend friends! What does black and white thinking look like to you?