Saturday, March 5, 2011

Black & White Thoughts of a Perfectionist

Is this purely black and white, or are there shades of gray?

In yesterday's post, I introduced the concept of Perfectionism. One of the "foundational pillars" behind the ideas and beliefs of perfectionism is black and white (also called all or nothing) thinking. For example, either I'm ALWAYS perfect, or I'm NEVER perfect (and therefore ALWAYS a failure). 
Although we hear the phrase "black and white thinking" often, I think it can be helpful to have something visual to help understand why black and white thinking is inaccurate and unhelpful. So, look above at the picture. What do you notice about it? What do you see in the picture? Ok, after you've done that, take away everything from that picture that isn't 100% black or 100% white (so, basically remove everything that is a shade of gray). Now what's left?
There is very little left to this picture if you take away the shades of gray. There may be a few lines here and there, but we won't get an accurate idea of what the picture actually is. The beauty and story is distorted.  
When we use black/white thinking, we are engaging in a cognitive distortion, or an irrational belief. Sometimes we feel like our story will be more dramatic and colorful if we use these types of words too. But taking away shades of gray distorts the picture, and shows us a view of the world that isn't real. And although we sometimes feel that using a shade of gray word is boring (for example, instead of sweltering or freezing, we may just say warm or a little chilly), but in reality, we need the shades of gray to see the details and the reality in the world. That picture is beautiful too.

So the next time you are tempted to think in black and white terms, go back to this picture. Or better yet, hang a black and white picture on the mirror in your bathroom, or on your desk at work, and when you're tempted to think in black and white terms (or engage in one your standards of perfectionism), look at the picture and challenge yourself! 

* you can see the rest of my series on perfectionism here.

How does black and white thinking play a part in your life? Do you use any visuals to help you remember things or challenge your thinking? 

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