Updated: May 22
Well, my dear readers, we are now in the fourth Sunday of 2022. How are we doing? How are those commitments (New Year's Resolutions) going for you? In light of my debut article, "New Year, New Me: All Starts with Time" how are we doing with time management? Or the follow up article: "7 Wellness Hacks, in 7 Minutes or Less" how are we doing with taking just 7 minutes to do something nurturing for our souls? If I were to ask you to rate how you have done, how would you rate yourself thus far? Is it stressful to even think about?
With this article, my intentions are to continue our journey to keep you pumped, motivated, and on track to really make the kinds of small, incremental changes you desire. The inspiration for today's article came from a conversation with a friend about our shared anxiety experiences and examining their causes. I'll try not to hold you here too long. However, the information provided is something I will request that you reflect on over the next week. It may just change your life.
Before we can get into the title "Polarized No More: Embracing the Both/And" I must help you understand the context of the either/or. Because this is where we are as a society. This is the construct that society pushes, either/or. We'll start this journey with a brief overview of cognitive distortion.
Simply put, cognitive distortions are errors in our thinking. It is the ways our minds convince us of things that aren't necessarily true. Now of course, in our own minds, these thoughts may sound very convincing and completely rational. Problem is, more times than not, the thoughts are very much irrational. These irrational thoughts cause dissonance (tension/lack of harmony) in our feelings about ourselves, others, and the world around us. In order to restore equilibrium (balance and harmony) into our lives, we end up making key changes in our personality or behaviors even so far as to avoid certain people, places, and things. There are many different categories of cognitive distortions. But for the purposes of getting to either/or we will just review Polarized Thinking.
Polarized Thinking (The Either/Or)
Depending on the literature, you will see this listed as All-or-None Thinking or Black-and-White Thinking. We are trapped in polarized thinking when we see things in terms of black and white in which no shades of gray are allowed. We insist on either-or choices or perceive things in extremes leaving very little room for middle ground. We see people and things as either good or bad, either right or wrong, either wonderful or horrible, either success or failure. Because the interpretation or lens we see ourselves, others, and the world through is so extreme leaning, our emotional reactions can begin to fluctuate in extremes as well.
We were conditioned early on for these either/or. Have you been a good boy today? (If no then the alternative is bad). Choosing answers for a test and getting the answers right or wrong. Winning or losing a game. As we age, the scenarios become more complex as do the emotional responses they invoke. You are either for the vaccine and saving lives or against it and possibly hurting others. You are either prochoice and believe in the woman's right to govern or own body or prolife and believe in saving babies from murder. You are either for the right to bear arms or saving our children from school shootings by reducing access to weapons. Our parents were either good parents or bad parents. Our partners are either wonderful or horrible. You are either good and capable or bad and incompetent.
The either/or gives us a measure of security in that the answers can provide comfort and satisfaction. Because we must make the right decision. We must take responsibility. We must have accountability. This is what establishes order in the world. The paradox here is that the same security afforded the either/or also creates dissonance which can increase feelings of anxiety and the experience of depressive feelings. Because once again we must make the right decision. We must take responsibility. We must have accountability.
Being forced to make choices sometimes only accounts for half of who we are, who others are, or how the world is. Because I am right, does it really mean the other person is wrong? Because their viewpoint is different than mine, does it really mean my viewpoint is wrong?
The both/and takes away a measure of security and comfort. I will lead with this. The both/and asks more of us than we are sometimes ready to give. The both/and is filled with it's own dissonance. Now this can arise some uncomfortable feelings. Uncertainty, confusion, doubt are a few that come to mind. So why on earth would anyone want to take on a both/and approach especially if it too causes dissonance?
One key advantage that both/and has over either/or is that it frees us to separate what we do from who we are. An example would be if you feel like a failure at work. Every time you make a mistake, instead of acknowledging the error and trying to move past it, you assume you as a person will never be able to do well. You may even go on to use language like, "I am a failure." Because it is only one extreme or the other with no room for middle ground, it can impair your motivation and confidence and make it hard to stick to long-term goals. However, the both/and can allow you to acknowledge the error while still recognizing yourself as a capable person. You don't assimilate the mistake into who you are. You allow yourself to be more human and make mistakes.
Integrating both/and into your life can aid you in seeing that the world isn't an either/or place. There are shades of gray even complex rainbow colors. We can imagine a better way of doing things and think outside of the mental boxes perpetuated by society. It helps us to see that everybody has a right to their experience, regardless of what someone else is experiencing. Both/and gives us hope. It allows us to feel more than one thing at a time
You can both be angry with your parent, child, or spouse and still love them. You can feel both sadness and gratitude. You can both love your career and wish you had more time at home with your family. Benefits of both/and include more positive relationship with both yourself and others, positive change in your self-concept, leaning into success through reaching goals, and changing or accepting how you feel.
This shift from either/or thinking to both/and thinking will not happen overnight. It will require time and patience. But opening yourself up to the full range of experiences will help you create breathing space to work through your experiences without being critical or judgmental of yourself (or others).
What is one way or area you can use a both/and? Tell us about your thoughts in the comments below.
Do you have an either/or you'd like assistance with shifting to and embracing as a both/and? Contact us today to schedule a personal coaching session. We look forward to hearing from you.
"When something seems to go wrong, it's invariably part of a larger right." ~Jed McKenna
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