The dangers of black & white thinking

In this podcast (episode #584) and blog, I talk about how to move beyond black and white thinking and expand your mind. 

This is a replay of a Neurolive webinar I did on my app. For the full webinar AD-free, please see

Have you ever caught yourself thinking that there is only a right or wrong way think, with no in-between? This is called black and white thinking, and even though it’s pretty common, it can make us feel frustrated and stuck. Life exists on a spectrum, which means that sometimes we have to embrace the grey areas in between all that black and white! 

Another way to understand black and white thinking is as all or nothing thinking. Being human is not simple, so neither should the way we think about and approach life. Many things have many causes, and in some cases, right or wrong comes face to face with moral ambiguity. Some conflicts exist without good or bad sides, and some problems have no right answers.

This is why it is so important that we learn to embrace “grey” thinking to deal with the hard-to-solve challenges of the real world. We need to step away from extremes and absolutes and acknowledge that much of life exists in the realm of “sometimes, maybe” rather than “always, never”. 

Indeed, if we are unable to see alternatives in a situation or as a possible solution to a problem, we can end up negatively impacting our mental health and life. We may end up punishing ourselves if we do not do something exactly “right” or if we fail to meet our own high standards, or we may end up overlooking how important we are to others. With black and white thinking, we can quickly become hopeless or depressed, and feel like we have little to no worth. 

If you feel like you often succumb to this way of thinking, take some time to observe yourself and note down how you are thinking about situations and how you talk to yourself. See if there are any patterns you can observe in your own life, what your triggers are, and how you can work on changing your responses and way of thinking.

To do this, I recommend using the Neurocycle mind management method I have developed and studied over the past three decades, which I discuss in detail in my book Cleaning Up Your Mental Mess and my app Neurocycle.     

The Neurocycle is a way to harness your thinking power that I have developed and researched over the past three decades. It has 5 steps. The first step is to 1. gather awareness of how you feel mentally and physically and your perspective when you find yourself falling into patterns of black and white thinking. The second step is to 2. reflect on how you feel and why. Then you 3. write down your reflections to help organize your thinking. The fourth step is to 4. recheck: think about what your thoughts and feelings are trying to tell you. What does it say about what happened to you? What is your “antidote”— how will you work through how your thoughts are affecting you? Look for clues in your writing, then start to reframe/reconceptualize the way you are thinking about what happened and how you can improve the situation. Lastly, do your 5. active reach. This is a thought or action you need to practice daily to help you reconceptualize what you thought about in the previous step - that is, what you are going to do each day to give yourself the time and mental space needed to deal with what is bothering you and turn your black and white thinking into a constructive future. 

For more on managing black and white thinking, listen to my podcast (episode #584). If you enjoy listening to my podcast, please consider leaving a 5-star review and subscribing. And keep sharing episodes with friends and family and on social media. (Don’t forget to tag me so I can see your posts!).        

This podcast is sponsored by: 

Betterhelp. We all carry around different stressors—big and small. When we keep them bottled up, it can start to affect us negatively. Like I always say, our emotions are like a volcano—if we don’t learn how to manage them, they will explode. And therapy is a safe space to get things off your chest—and to figure out how to work through whatever’s weighing you down. It’s helpful for learning positive coping skills and how to set boundaries; it empowers you to be the best version of yourself, and it can teach you how to your manage emotions before they take over your life. Therapy isn’t just for those who’ve experienced major trauma! I personally have found talking to someone I trust so helpful when it comes to my emotions and the “should have”, “could have” and “what if” thinking that I battle with—the outside perspective helped me gain more insight and wisdom into what to do to improve my own emotional wellbeing and manage challenging situations. If you’re thinking of starting therapy, give BetterHelp a try. It’s entirely online. Designed to be convenient, flexible, and suited to your schedule. Just fill out a brief questionnaire to get matched with a licensed therapist, and switch therapists any time for no additional charge. Get it off your chest, with BetterHelp. Visit today to get 10% off your first month.

Podcast Highlights

1:12 What happens when we get stuck in black and white thinking patterns 

2:37 Life is a spectrum

4:37 How all or nothing thinking affects our mental health 

5:11 Learning to embrace the “grey” in life 

7:45, 15:13 Why we should try to avoid extremes 

16:30 How to embrace “grey” thinking in your life

This podcast and blog are for educational purposes only and are not intended as medical advice. We always encourage each person to make the decision that seems best for their situation with the guidance of a medical professional.

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