Do You Think in Absolutes? Reap the Benefits of the Gray Areas

It’s tempting to see the world in black and white, but there are drawbacks to ignoring the gray areas. If you’ve ever been stuck in the habit of absolute thinking, there are ways to recover.

Do you sometimes notice that when you forget to pick up the dry cleaning, you figure it’s because you’re distracted by deadlines at work? Then, when your neighbor neglects to return the ladder they borrowed, you decide they’re an inconsiderate person.

Evolution conditions us to take shortcuts to defend ourselves quickly from threats. Unfortunately, that also means we may overlook important facts and jump to the wrong conclusions. Try these strategies for keeping your “all or nothing” thinking in check.

Reasons to Recover from Absolute Thinking

1. To expand your experiences. Absolutism is limiting. It makes you avoid the people and events that you consider problematic. Tackle those irregular French verbs instead of telling yourself that you’re no good at foreign languages.

2. To ease your anxieties. You reduce your fears every time you face them. Your confidence will soar as you master simple plumbing jobs or learn to speak more assertively to your coworkers.

3. To strengthen your relationships. Having a balanced view of your loved ones helps you to appreciate them for who they are. We all have strengths and weaknesses. More realistic thinking also helps you to support each other’s personal growth.

4. To promote harmony. Absolutes are polarizing. A more understanding and forgiving attitude will help you get along better with others.

5. To manage uncertainty. Absolute thinking is often driven by the need for security. When you accept that many details in life are beyond your control, you’ll be able to relax and become more resilient.

6. To enjoy more happiness. The best thing about flexible thinking is that it generates more joy and peace. You’ll be more aware of the beauty around you and have more faith in your abilities.

Strategies to Help You Recover from Absolute Thinking

1. Question your assumptions. Examine your mental shortcuts. It’s probably okay to avoid shellfish if it always makes you sick. On the other hand, you may want to practice asking for a raise instead of assuming that your boss will reject you.

2. Develop greater empathy. Increasing our compassion is a powerful antidote to absolutism. Be more gentle with yourself and others. Allow for errors and focus on solutions rather than holding grudges.

3. Spot exaggerations. If you feel like every sore throat means you have the flu, consider more common explanations. If you think that nothing will ever live up to your last vacation destination, remember the mosquitos. Avoiding exaggerations helps you live more in reality.

4. Change your vocabulary. Our words influence our emotions. Avoid using absolute words such as “always” and “never.” Speak more precisely when you catch yourself saying that it always rains on weekends or your kids never clean their rooms.

5. Vary your routine. Shake things up by changing your routine. Prove to yourself that you can handle working different hours or eating more whole grains.

6. Accommodate others. Take sensible risks. Go along with other’s suggestions instead of insisting on having things your own way. Use a different route for driving to the beach or be open to someone else’s recommendation for the next selection for your book club. You’ll soon start to notice more options and alternatives throughout your daily life.

7. Review your past. Looking back at your past makes it easier to see the flaws in absolute thinking. Notice how your beliefs have changed over the years. Chances are you’ve pretty much forgotten about someone you once had a serious crush on.

The comfort of clinging to absolutes comes at a high price. Adjust your way of thinking to see the world more clearly and lead a fuller life.

Glen Murdoch

Glen Murdoch is the founder and CEO of The Life Coaching College. He has a long history of working with Athletes and Teams as a Performance Coach and Analyst and has developed Australia's number 1 Life Coaching College.