Black and white thinking

I’ve been in therapy for a while, and I’ve been in my head for way longer, and one thing that plagues me and probably a lot of you is black and white thinking.


I think this might be part of a Protestant upbringing, this damning or blessing of activities, people, ideas, songs, and anything else you could imagine. It’s as far away from Stoicism as you can get. As far away from Buddhism. The core tenets of these religions say that you must control your reaction to things, you must fail to assent to information or feelings that might otherwise direct your actions in a bad way.


For instance, I have a friend who refuses to have any but the best speakers. He says all the other speakers are crap, because they are not as good as some $50,000 speakers somewhere that sound like they are playing music through Angelina Jolie’s vagina. Or something. Speakers that are not these best speakers are bad. When pressed, he will admit that there are sub-mortgage-level speakers that sound great for the price. 


For him, speakers are black and white. There is an approved list, and a disapproved list. Nothing is semi-approved. Or maybe it is, when you push him.


But the snap judgment for me goes to bad or good. And this fits in very well with my inherent perfectionism. When I think about tasks in terms of black and white thinking, I either know I can do them to 100% satisfaction, or I know I cannot. Tasks that fall into the latter category without me paying attention tend to not get done. But this is a nonsense way of thinking about it. Part of the cool thing about being a human with a rational brain is that I can think about things in terms of priorities – first priority, second, third priority, never-getting-done priority. I’m sure I can have more than three priorities, but that requires a list, and I’m not so great at making those yet.


This made school hard for me for a while. Getting acquainted with “good enough” has made my life a lot better. And to be clear, “good enough” is neither black nor white, neither good nor bad, neither $50,000 speakers nor overpriced Bose tin cans onna string.


Do you do black and white thinking? Or can you conceive of shades of grey? 


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