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stop seeing life in black & white



"In the early days, I had a very black and white view of everything."

Cat Stevens

Lately I've been giving some thought to extremes and how often we look at situations from extreme points of view. It's so easy to label something as "good" or "bad" so we do just that rather than really giving it thought and figuring out what it really is. I find myself guilty of this more often than I'd like to admit. When I see or experience something, I'm quick to label it, to try to fit it neatly into a box. But, as Van Morrison said, "There is no black and white situation. It's all part of life. Highs, lows, middles." Life -- and most of what we experience -- really is that way. It's not just "good" or "bad" or "black" or "white." And, from my experience, when we attempt to classify things in very general categories, we limit ourselves and the world around us. 

It can be very tempting to look at a situation or even another person with an all-or-nothing outlook, but it's usually not going to bring out the true nature of that situation or person. Most things are much more complex than a single adjective or label. Most things are a whole big mess of things and when we allow ourselves to get caught up thinking about something as only "black" or "white" we often miss out on the various depths of things. We miss out on seeing the true complexities of the world around us. I've found that this kind of thinking is pretty much better avoided so I've come up with my thoughts on how to stop seeing of the world in black and white. 


How To Stop All-Or-Nothing Thoughts


    • Open your mind to new ideas. While of course it makes sense to think of whatever situation you're face with using an open mind, it's also important to keep your mind open at all times, not just when you're looking at a specific situation. Keeping an open mind can help you to think about the world differently, which will allow you to approach any situation (even the one you're looking at through an all-or-nothing lens) with new eyes. When you remain open-minded, you're likely to perceive a situation as it is rather than how you think it should be. New ideas are always useful and it's especially important to be open to them when you're trying to stop seeing the world in black and white. 

  • Let go of your expectations. Personally I find that expectations are one of the main reasons all-or-nothing thinking happens to me. I think something "should" be a certain way, so I am either eager to accept the situation as normal when it happens as I thought it should or I am quickly disappointed when the situation doesn't meet my expectations. Letting go of expectations is one of the keys to ridding your mind of all-or-nothing thoughts. Expectations -- those little "should" and "should nots" in your mind -- can really force you into thinking in extremes. Letting go of the notions of how you think the world should or shouldn't be will really help those black and white thoughts to turn to shades of gray. 


    • Look for the gray areas. While it's tempting, as I said, to fall into the "black" or "white" mentality, keep in mind that there are almost always gray areas. In almost everything situation, there are different layers and different ways of looking at whatever you may be faced with. It's easy to slip into that "black or white" thinking because it comes so readily to most of us. However, it's worth it to give any situation you see in black or white a little more thought to see what's truly happening rather than accepting your initial reaction. 

  • Try to see things as they are. Much as I hate to admit it, I tend to see things the way I want to see them rather than the way they really are and this can be a major problem. It's often this distorted thinking that causes me to see the "black" or "white" in a situation because I'm taking what I see and transforming it in my mind. When you actually look at situation as it is, you're much more likely to see the layers and complexity of it. You're much more likely to avoid extreme thinking if you do what you can to remove yourself emotionally from a situation and really look at what's actually happening. 


  • Avoid labeling with a single word. This one sounds simple, but it's important. When you think of something in terms of one word, you're limiting it immediately. Think about it like this... If someone asks how your day is, you usually respond with words like "Good!" or "Terrible." And even phrases, like "It was okay...", can be limiting. When you label a situation/person/etc. with a single word or phrase, you're instantly limiting it. Recognizing that everyday is more than "good" or "bad" is a great way to start realizing that situations are always more complex than a single descriptive phrase. Open yourself up to describing things in detail (at least in your mind) to avoid those thoughts in black and white. 



Even when a situation seems like it can fall into an extreme -- as in "amazingly perfect" or "incredibly terrible" -- it's almost always more complex. Thinking in extremes (even when the extremes are good!) can really cause more negativity in your life than you need. When you're always striving for an extreme ideal or perceiving a bad situation in an extreme negative light, you're limiting your thinking and, as a result, you limit your actions and reactions. If you find yourself thinking in extreme terms, give these tips a try and open your mind to viewing the world with a completely new mindset. 

Do you find yourself looking at the world in black and white? 
What tips or tricks do you have for avoiding all-or-nothing thinking? 


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Hey Dani.

Lately I have been seeing more of a spectrum, instead of just one side of something or the other side of it, when viewing a debate or discussion. There are people at different locations on the spectrum, and often hard-line cuts are made, where if someone is at a certain point in the spectrum, they are rounded to the nearest side. It makes for good business, but isn't as representative of the original position someone takes on an issue.

I hear your point about labels as well. Most of my labels, or the ones others use, start to require effort to maintain, because labels don't really work. They try to put the human condition into a box, and the human condition tends to want to jump out of that box. I also often see that labeling something one way is usually ridiculous because the opposite might as well be true about it, and we usually don't really know.

Due to the messages behind this article, I won't say that it is 0% insightful or 100% insightful, and also won't label it as insightful.

On the other hand, it was insightful.

i really like the "avoid labelling things in a single word" suggestion...things are never black and white, need to remember that!

I don't really see life as black or white. I think doing that is boring and just limiting your mind to a two dimension world.

Like you said, I think just seeing the things they way they are, instead of adding your own label or how you want to see things, helps open up the mind all the possibilities out there.

Heya Dani! :)

I think this is the most true: "Try to see things as they are."
We often try to impose our view upon the world instead of seeing how the world is.

Have an awesome monday!:)

I think NOT seeing life in black and white is a really big challenge, so I'm glad to see your article on it.

Seeing things in blank and white makes making decisions much easier. With no shades of gray, there is no uncertainty. Therefore, the big temptation. Problem is, most of these decisions are also black and white, an ineffective.


Armen - Haha, great comment! I agree that there are multiple ways of looking at most situations and it's important to be open to interpretations and to avoid labeling things.

Rachel - I'm glad you liked that one. It's something I need to work on myself and I hope that, in doing so, I'm able to see situations from new points of view.

Tristan - Exactly! Black and white thinking is definitely boring and one of the best ways to avoid this is to see things as the way they truly are.

Diggy - Yes, we often try to force our own perceptions or expectations on the world instead of accepting it for what it is. We have to accept life for what it is in order to truly see the complexities in it.

Eduard - It's certainly challenging to see all of the shades of gray when it's so easy to just label things or place them in a specific category. Great point about how tempting black and white thinking can be but how ineffective it really is!

Hey Dani,
Well...I found myself last weekend in a situation - seeing it as only black and white. And it felt like I had been "wronged". I said some things that I normally wouldn't say...in the heat of the moment. And it really was much more grey than I thought. And really, what I said was not appropriate. I still feel bad about it, even after apologizing.

Yes, rarely are things black and white - and as much as I know that - in the moment - it can be easy to slip into thinking they are. It takes conscious effort to see the grey sometimes...

Nice post Dani. I was thinking about my blog and all the work I've put into it, and the fact the last 5 months of a job search have allowed me to build it. When I thought about in more than black and white, I realized I may have just set myself up to not actually need a job in about a year or two. So, in the end it actually ended up being good for me.

Interesting how things that suck in the moment, can be really beneficial in the long run.

One thing that always helps me is just to remember the line from Star Wars where Obi Wan tells Luke "Truth often depends on our own point of view." or something like that :) In any case, it helps me remember that every situation that arises is complex, with lots of layers and angles, not all of which are visible. I think recognizing that every situation is different for every person that experiences it is important for maintaining a happy lifestyle, because it breeds forgiveness and tolerance.

Lance - I'm glad you could relate to what I was talking about in this post. I certainly don't see everything in black and white, but sometimes I find myself in situations where I'm viewing things in extremes and that's usually unhealthy. It definitely requires effort to see the various shades sometimes.

Srinivas - Great point! There is usually good and bad in situations and even though I'd love to undo some unhappy things in my past, I know they've brought me to the place I am in now, which is a happy one. It's important to recognize this when we're faced with difficulties.

Jay - That's a great quote and so very true (which, I suppose, means it's true from my point of view...). Excellent point about how all angles aren't always visible. It's important to keep that in mind as well as the fact that everyone experiences situations differently. Great comment!

opening up is it! Thanks for a great post!

So true!

This is the hardest when it comes to things that hurt us. It is so natural to equate our pain with badness. But pain is often a sign that we are growing, or hurting, or that we need to pay attention.

Labeling our experiences as "bad" curtails that truth.

Dani, "seeing things as they are" is such a biggie. I think if we do that one thing alone, our life can transform. Thank you for the great post!


http://www.TheHappySelf.com :)

Really well said and written, Dani! I'm the same as you. I tend to judge immediately, and it's usually an extreme judgment. When I am able to separate myself, though, and see things objectively, I find I'm much happier.

It's amusing that so often the ones who label me a black and white thinker (b/c I recognise we are going in different directions and choose not to cultivate a friendship with them~ am still polite to them tho), are the one's who practice being black and white by virtue of the label they give me ~:-)

Projection without reflection...

Kaushik - You're welcome! I agree about opening up. It's so important.

Hayden - It's definitely hardest when dealing with painful things. It's so tempting to immediately thing of them as "bad" when, as you said, pain is often a sign of growth and we need to be open to that.

Dayne - Exactly! Seeing the world as it is can be the biggest life changer. It really can change everything if we're able to do this.

Megan - Thank you! It's hard when it's so tempting to judge things as "good" or "bad" right off the bat, but it's so important to take a step back and look for different perspectives. Looking at things objectively really does help.

Char - Good point. When we label others, we are really labeling ourselves. That's why it's so important to see the various shades of others (and ourselves!).

From the looks of it, we have grown with this predilections for black and white precise because we want instant answers or definition. However, I agree that we must evolve from this limiting attitude. Of all the factors you have stated, the most difficult thing to change is our expectations of things; it takes time to tame this characteristic but it's worth it. :-)

I def try to be the bigger person in situations that most of the time I would put in a black or white category. I try to remember that everyone has flaws and their upbringing can be a factor to their bad personalities. I have to think about what they're going through at the moment and what they have been through. Everyone has a good side to them too. Great post.

I Choose to believe in my own way of thinking. Instead of seeing things as others. Thinking outside of the box above and beyond the normal.

Hi Dani, this is fantastic. I really like this one: "Avoid labeling with a single word". I've found that when I stop labeling situations or people I can truly appreciate things in a different way.

Hi Dani .. I love the comment 'don't label things with one word - it is so limiting' .. so true;

Seeing things in black and white is like seeing the negative - but not considering there is a positive .. a rainbow approach to that challenge or that thing.

Thanks - Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

Walter - That's a great point. Seeing things in black and white is so much easier and so instant that it's tempting to give in to this way of thinking. It definitely will take time to change expectations of understanding and recognize that I can't define something in an instant.

Diana - It's great that you take the time to consider what others are going through or experiencing. That really is critical to breaking free of all-or-nothing thinking.

Josten - Good for you for thinking outside of the box! It's awesome to be different, but also important to remember that "normal" isn't necessarily bad.

Stephen - Thank you! :) I just came up with that idea while writing this and I've found that it's helped me out a lot already. Everything is multi-faceted and it's important to look at all of the different possibilities.

Hilary - Thanks! Really great comment about how we should take a rainbow approach instead of black and white thinking. I LOVE rainbows so I really love that idea. Thanks for bringing it up! :)

Thanks for a great post! I definitely agree with what you say and by trying to see things as they really are, I think we all can learn something new and useful, that might come handy in our daily life.

"Avoid labeling with a single word" is also a very good and practical tip, that I'll definitely try to use more often than I do now. :)


Knallan - Thanks for stopping by and commenting. It's so important to see things as they really are (which can be so hard sometimes!) in order to get the most out of life. I've started using the "avoid labeling with a single word" tip since I wrote this post and it's helped out a lot!

Good post! Applying understanding to a situation is what helps me. We tend to see life through our own (thinking) filters. Sometimes we think everything is "about us," and it's not. In relationships you really get to work on your "understanding" skills. This is an ongoing effort.

Anita - Thanks! Excellent point about applying understanding. This is critical when it comes to seeing life through an unbiased lens instead of thining everything is about us. Great comment!

I'm glad to see many shades of color when I think of things. I seldom think in terms of black/white. But the expectations still are tricky. I lower mine as far as possible. Good post!

Whenever I have a strong feeling like "Steve was mean" I try to turn it around and consider the thought "Steve was nice" or "I was mean." Sometimes the turnaround has a lot of truth to it. This is a lesson from Byron Katie, are you familiar with her Work?

Syd - That's great that you're able to see many colors when you're looking at the world. It's so important not to think in extremes. Thank you! :)

Michelle - Oh yes, I love Byron Katie's book "Loving What Is". That's such a great point you've brought up and it really does work whenever I've tried it.

Moderation in a grey world is harder to practice when you consume media (or it consumes you) on a daily basis.

You have to literally step outside the "extreme" box that's set up in magazines, newspapers, TV, and books meant to sell through attraction and stress vibes.

Really insightful post Dani. I myself have been thinking about seeing things as they are or should be concept and your explanations on seeing things as they are are true.

One other point I like is avoid labeling with a single word. Nice post!

Great post.

I think the degree of detail and refinement that we can see in a situation is a direct reflection of the depth of our understanding and evolution in that area.

When we are ignorant of a topic we use the broad brush of a single word, but as we become more enlightened we see the finer details.

Akshay - Great point! I do spend a lot of time in a media-saturated world and it's certainly harder to see shades of grey when media make everything so black and white.

Lila - Thanks! It's definitely important to see things as they are (and not how we want them to be or think they should be) but that's always easier said than done.

Rob - Thank you! Really great point about how the detail we see in something reflects how much we understand that area...which is interesting when it comes to human interacts. How much do most people really understand those? Enlightenment of any kind definitely leads to a greater understanding of life and, in turn, a better ability to see the depth within it.

I have a tattoo that says: nothing is what it seems.
I've always been a "look at the gray areas" kind of gal. So far, this has worked wonders for me.


Meream - Wow, that's cool! I've always wanted to get a tattoo and I think that's a great one, especially in the context of this post. Good for you for looking for the gray areas. It's so important to be able to do that and, unfortunately, a lot of people lack that skill.

Hi Dani! I'm back - sorry I've been MIA! I have been reading religiously though. I really liked the part about labeling with a single word. I do that all the time - or then I dramatize one of the words to make a situation bigger than it is. All of a sudden, I have created my own little black and white situation, even if I didn't know it. :) Thank you for always putting things back into perspective!

Laura - Thanks so much for reading! :) I appreciate the support. I also tend to label things with a single word, but after writing this post I've tried to stop doing that and it's made a world of difference. I'm glad you gained some insight from this post!

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