Episode 107: All-or-Nothing Thinking

The Less Stressed Lawyer with Olivia Vizachero | All-or-Nothing Thinking

If you identify as a perfectionist, chances are you’re falling victim to all-or-nothing thinking often. Perfectionists tend to look at the world in extremes and see things as binary, black or white, this or that with no room for the grey, and this rigidity brings with it a lot of unnecessary emotional suffering.

If you hold yourself to insane standards and your reality often fails to live up to the expectations you’ve set for both yourself and other people, it might feel like things are always going wrong. Indulging in this type of thinking isn’t serving you because the truth is life is full of nuance, variations, and exceptions to the rule, and I’m inviting you to start looking for them this week. 

Join me on this episode to learn examples of how all-or-nothing thinking may be showing up in your life and what happens when you habitually indulge in it. I’m showing you how to begin identifying where all-or-nothing thinking comes up for you, what the opposite of all-or-nothing thinking looks like, and the long-term benefits you’ll experience when you stop this cycle.

If you want to start helping yourself first, it’s time to join Lawyers Only. This is my signature coaching program only for lawyers, and you can click here for all the details!

What You’ll Learn from this Episode:

  • What all-or-nothing thinking means.
  • Examples of how all-or-nothing thinking may be showing up in your life.
  • Why all-or-nothing thinking is a problem.
  • How to break out of all-or-nothing thinking.
  • The long-term benefits you’ll experience when you stop indulging in all-or-nothing thinking.

Listen to the Full Episode:

Featured on the Show:

Full Episode Transcript:

You’re listening to The Less Stressed Lawyer podcast, Episode 107. Today, we’re talking all about all-or-nothing thinking. You ready? Let’s go.

Welcome to The Less Stressed Lawyer, the only podcast that teaches you how to manage your mind so you can live a life with less stress and far more fulfillment. If you’re a lawyer who’s over the overwhelm and tired of trying to hustle your way to happiness, you’re in the right place. Now, here’s your host, lawyer turned life coach Olivia Vizachero.

Hello, hello, how are you? I hope you’re doing as well as I’m doing today. I am bopping all around Italy just having a grand old time. It is June here and it is hot. So, I’m doing my best to stay cool during an Italian summer. But I’m having a wonderful time. I just left Rome. I got to Florence. I’m headed to Tuscany next and then headed on down to the Amalfi coast. But while I’m doing that, I decided to take a little break and record a little podcast for you. 

A couple of podcasts episodes back I recorded an episode all about perfectionist tendencies. In that episode, I introduced you to the concept of “all-or-nothing thinking”, and that’s what we’re going to be talking about in today’s episode. 

I want to introduce you to what the concept of all-or-nothing thinking is. I’m going to give you a bunch of examples of it. And then I’m going to tell you why it’s a problem and how to overcome it, so you don’t fall victim to this type of mindset and then suffer the negative consequences of this line of thinking. Alright? Let’s go. 

All-or-nothing thinking is a very black and white way of looking at the world. It’s where you see everything as binary. You’re thinking in extremes, there’s no gray area, there’s no spectrum. Things are just all one way or all the other. Okay? It’s very this or that, not and/or both. 

Now, the first thing that you want to know about all-or-nothing thinking is that this is a version of perfectionism. Perfectionists love to look at the world as all black or all white, very one way or the other. There’s not a lot of that gray area, or that in between space. There aren’t any exceptions. There’s just a lot of rules and a lot of rigidity. 

And with that rigidity, comes a lot of negative emotion. So, when you’re holding yourself to these very rigid black-and-white standards, when reality fails to live up to that expectation that you have set for yourself or for other people, you experience a lot of negative emotion. Things feel like they’re going wrong, even though they’re not. It’s just your thinking that’s causing the problem. 

So, let me give you some examples of all-or-nothing thinking. And if these examples resonate with you, you’re going to be able to start to identify your own all-or-nothing thinking. An example of this would be if you say to yourself, “If I don’t want every motion, I’m a terrible attorney.” Or maybe if you get a negative review, you tell yourself that you’re doing a bad job, or that you’re a terrible lawyer, you’re not competent in what you do. 

You also might think, “If I’m not the best, I’m not good enough.” That’s an example of all-or-nothing thinking. Or if you make a mistake, you tell yourself that you did a terrible job. One mistake ruins everything else that you did. 

Same thing applies if you get negative feedback on a project that you’ve been working on, and you make that mean that the person who gave you the feedback thinks that you’re an idiot. It’s that one negative critique, or maybe it’s a handful of negative comments, and you make it ruin the whole assignment and the job that you did. 

Another example of that black-and-white, all-or-nothing thinking would be that you delineate between either being a success or a failure. There is no spectrum. There’s no nuance. You’re either all one thing, or you’re all the other. You might think that if your performance wasn’t perfect, it was terrible. Or that there are only those two options, it’s either perfect or terrible. 

I see this one a lot with my clients if they don’t get a pay raise that they’re hoping to get, or a promotion that they’re hoping to get, or a particular bonus. They’ll tell themselves that their employer doesn’t value them. They make the compensation that they receive mean that they’re valued or not valued, rather than there being nuance there. That it is possible that you could be valued and still not receive the compensation that you want. 

Another thing that I see people struggle with all the time is if they don’t say everything the right or perfect way, they tell themselves that they’re a bad communicator, even though they communicate really well most of the time. They make those few instances, where they think they don’t say things the right way, be indicative of being bad at communicating overall.

You might tell yourself that if you’re not good at something that you’ll always be bad at it. I talked about this in the perfectionist tendencies episode. Where you expect yourself to be good from the get-go, and if you see yourself as not being good at something from the get-go, you’ll make it mean that you’re always going to be bad at it. You don’t give yourself any room for there to be nuance where you could make improvements, you could learn how to do something, you could build a skill set. 

If you’re a procrastinator who’s also a perfectionist, you might struggle with this one. This is an example of all-or-nothing thinking. You’ll tell yourself that you have too much to do, so you can’t get started. This happens a lot. You’ll have such a long to-do list, you’ll make the length of your to-do list a problem, and then you won’t take action and make a dent in that to-do list. You just say, “There’s no way I can get it all done. So, I might as well not do anything.” Alright?

You also might speak in really hyperbolic terms. Maybe you tell yourself that people always do things or they never do things. Maybe you’re thinking of a colleague or a partner, and you tell yourself, “They never help me.” Even though, if you had to get really honest, they probably do sometimes help you; maybe not just as often as you’d like. 

Or maybe you think someone always speaks to you disrespectfully, or they always raise their voice. Again, that’s that hyperbole coming through. It’s either all one way or all another. But if you were to look at the evidence, the evidence doesn’t actually support that belief. 

You might also ruin your day over something going wrong. If one bad thing happens, the entire day is ruined. You’ll let it taint your entire experience, rather than having a little bit of nuance and saying, “Yeah, not everything went my way, but it was overall a pretty good day. Even though one or two things happened that I wish they wouldn’t have gone the way that they did.”

“Should” thinking can also be an example of all-or-nothing thinking. People will speak in very extreme terms when it comes to “should’ thoughts. You might tell yourself that people shouldn’t lie. But if you started to explore that a little bit further, a little bit deeper, you might find some nuance there. Are there certain situations where you think it’s okay to lie? 

But when you encounter it, when you’re in that state of all-or-nothing thinking and someone lies, you have a really strong reaction to it. Because you’re in that state of it being all one way or all another way, all good or all bad. You either can do it or you can’t. Okay?

I see this happen a lot. Here’s another example of a “should” thought. People will tell themselves, if the phone rings, “I should answer it always.” Now, you might have been told that by a mentor or by a supervisor. Someone who had a little bit of a scarcity mindset, that if you miss one call you’re going to go out of business. That’s a great example of all-or-nothing thinking. You don’t leave any room for there to be a discrepancy, for there to be some nuance. 

A much better thought to think is, “Sometimes I can choose to not answer and I can call the person back, and it’ll be okay.” to give yourself some breathing room, to be able to finish projects that you’re in the middle of without having to interrupt yourself. 

These are all examples of all-or-nothing thinking. Again, it’s that very black and white, all one way or all another way, types of thoughts. And here’s why they’re a problem. First and foremost, you hold yourself and others to an extremely rigid standard. 

And when you hold yourself to an extremely rigid standard, and reality doesn’t match that expectation or that standard, you create and will experience a lot of negative emotion. Okay? There’s no room for exceptions to the rule, so when reality doesn’t conform to the rule, you suffer emotionally. 

Now, when you’re suffering from this type of thinking, or indulging in this type of thinking, you’re going to create a really unnecessary negative outlook of the world. And you’re going to feel terrible as a result. You’re going to feel really badly about yourself. You’re going to feel negatively about other people. You’re going to feel negatively just about your experience in the world. 

And all of that is unnecessary and avoidable. Okay? So, we want you to avoid it if you can. And you can, because your thinking is within your control. 

So, first and foremost, you are going to feel more negatively if you’re indulging in all-or-nothing thinking. In addition to feeling negatively, remember your feelings drive your actions. If you’re feeling negative feelings, you’re going to take negative action or no action. And if you’re all-or-nothing thinking, chances are you’re probably going to be buffering a lot. You’re going to seek that instant gratification. 

You’re also going to indulge in inaction. If you look at your A-line, if you look at the action that you’re taking, it’s not going to be very impressive. It’s not going to be very positive. You’re going to freeze, you’re going to spin, you’re going to shut down. You also will probably find yourself giving up really easily because you’re going to be telling yourself, “What’s the point? If it’s not all perfect, if it’s not all good, then it’s all bad. And if it’s all bad, why would I even bother?”

So, you can see why this is a problem. You think negative thoughts because you’re in all-or-nothing thinking, you feel negative feelings, and then you take negative actions or no action at all. And that’s not what we want. So, we want to break out of all-or-nothing thinking. We want to get out of this perfectionistic mindset that you might find yourself in.

Now, you can check in with yourself and say, “Where might I have picked this up?” Perfectionism normally gets passed down to us from other people. So, check in. Are your parents, or the people who raised you, or the people who trained you, do they indulge in all-or-nothing thinking? 

You can start to spot it in other people. I find that sometimes it’s easier to start to challenge these thought processes when you see it in other people, because it doesn’t feel as true for you when someone else is doing it. And you can see the nuance, you can identify the gray area, you can identify the spectrum. And you can choose better thoughts to think along that spectrum. Okay? 

You can make room for that nuance, for that gray matter. Which can free you up to feel better, a lot less frustrated, a lot less resigned. All of which is just going to benefit you in the long run. 

Now that you know what it is and why it’s a problem, let’s talk about how to solve for all-or-nothing thinking. First things first, you need to create awareness around it. You’ve heard me say this before, but the first step to solving any problem is becoming aware of the problem to begin with. 

You want to start to identify, “Am I indulging an all-or-nothing thinking here?” If you’re experiencing a negative emotion, if you’re feeling frustrated with yourself or inadequate or disappointed, ask yourself: Am I thinking about this in a black-and-white manner? Am I in all-or-nothing thinking? Do I think it needs to be all one way or all another way, or am I leaving room for nuance?

If you identify this, you will make it a lot easier for you to start to shift out of this thought pattern. Okay, and then from there, once you’ve created awareness around it, you can start to find the gray area and the spectrum between those two bookends, between those two extremes. 

Life is full of nuance, variations, and exceptions to the rule, so you want to start to find those exceptions. You want to start to find that nuance. You want to start to find that gray area and those spectrums. And see if you can plot a point along that spectrum that isn’t at one of the polar ends. 

When you do this, when you start to find other points along the spectrum instead of the two ends of it, you’re going to feel so much better about yourself, about other people, and about your experience in the world. So, let’s take those examples that I gave you a moment ago and go through what “spectrum thinking” would look like, or that gray area thinking would look like.

You could tell yourself, “I don’t have to win every time in order to be good at my job. I don’t have to be the best in order to be good or great, or at the very least good enough.” You can tell yourself, “One mistake doesn’t invalidate everything else that I’ve done.” You can tell yourself, “I can do a great job and still get feedback that allows me to improve further.” 

That was a big one for me. I used to make negative feedback a real problem. And then it dawned on me, “Of course, I’m going to get feedback from people. Of course, they’re going to push me to improve even further. I’m new at this. I’m learning. Not every comment that I get is going to be glowing. And that’s okay. I can still be smart. I can still be capable. I can still be competent and have room for improvement.”

“I can tell myself that it isn’t all or nothing. It’s not just ‘perfect’ or ‘terrible’ when it comes to my performance. My performance can be good enough. There can be aspects about my performance that were good and aspects that were maybe not so good. And that’s okay.”

“I can tell myself that just because I didn’t get the result that I wanted doesn’t mean that everything’s bad. Just because I didn’t get the compensation I want it doesn’t mean I’m not valued. Just because someone gave me a critique doesn’t mean they think I’m not smart.”

“I can tell myself that I don’t always need to say everything perfectly, and I can still be a good communicator. Even though I have a lot to do, I can make a dent in my to-do list just by getting started. Even if that means I’m not going to get through all of it today. That’s okay. Progress is better than perfect. Getting started is better than expecting myself  to be done with everything, and freezing because I won’t be able to get done with everything today.”

“Rather than being in that hyperbolic all-or-nothing, always/never thinking, I can tell myself that sometimes this person helps me. Sometimes they speak to me in a way that I don’t love, and sometimes they speak to me in a way that I do.” It’s okay for people to be nuanced themselves, right? People don’t have to be all one way or all another way, and very rarely are they ever all one way or all another way. 

“I can just look at the day overall and say one or two setbacks don’t determine the course of my whole day. My day can have highs and lows.” You’ve probably heard me say this on the podcast, that life is 50/50. And just because something is “negative”… and I’m using air quotes there, because “negative” is a thought… just because something negative happens doesn’t make the whole day bad. Okay? 

What I want you to start to do is identify the all-or-nothing thinking that you might be indulging in, and then ask yourself: What does the in-between space, between that all-or-nothing thinking, look like? What’s the gray area look like? What’s the spectrum look like? Where’s the nuance? What are some alternate ways I could think about the situation that aren’t at the polar opposite ends of the spectrum?

That’s going to help you feel so much better day in and day out. Alright? If you can overcome and stop indulging in your all-or-nothing thinking, it’s really going to make an impact on the quality of your day-to-day life. Alright? I hope this helps you. That’s what I’ve got for you this week. I will talk to you next week, in the next episode.

Thanks for listening to The Less Stressed Lawyer podcast. If you want more info about Olivia Vizachero or the show’s notes and resources from today’s episode, visit www.TheLessStressedLawyer.com.

Enjoy the Show?

Recommended Posts