How to avoid thinking in black and white

Infuriating isn’t it? Let’s say you’re feeling decidedly below par. Hopefully it’s not the case right now but it does happen to the best of us now and then.

So you’re going through a rough time, and you know quite incontrovertibly that if you could only just take a positive approach to things, you might be able to edge yourself back on track. You know this. But you know this in theory. The chances of being able to think anything other than negatively at a time like this are, frankly, remote. On a par with winning the lottery.

So what the heck do you do?


Well let’s imagine a scale which has Very Negative on the left and Very Positive on the right, and let’s add a Fairly Negative and Slightly Negative to the right of Very Negative, and a Slightly Positive and Fairly Positive to the left of Very Positive.

Then I think we’re entitled to add one more position on the scale: there’s no reason at all why we shouldn’t place this slap bang in the middle – right there between the Slightly Negative and the Slightly Positive, and we might choose to label this as Neutral.

So where has this piece of mental origami taken us? I reckon it suggests that when taking a positive approach is out of the question, it may be more realistic to see if we can actually adopt a neutral way of viewing things.

An example? Certainly. Let’s imagine you’ve been invited to a party when you’re feeling pretty gloomy. The (most likely) negative viewpoint is to believe you’ll have an awful time if you accept, while the (unlikely) positive is to predict that you’ll really enjoy it. To some extent these are both extreme views, though, and the truth is that you can’t actually know how much or not of a good time you’ll have.

You might still not really want to go to the party, but at least you’ll keep an open mind if you do.

Next time you’re faced with a situation that seems to depend on you either taking the positive road or the negative one, why not add a third direction?

The neutral approach may just be a more realistic one.

5 thoughts on “How to avoid thinking in black and white

  1. Thanks for your nudge Jon, in an increasingly didgital world it is difficult to go back to the analogue world of spectrum though eevrything in the end is connected and continuous.

    I like the idea of fifty shades of grey between black (nothing, darkness,loneliness) and white(light, ectasy, connected).

    In the depths of winter I try and add colour to the mix let the Rainbow emerge.

    Thanks again

  2. This is a really useful piece of advice, thanks Jon.

    When I’m really down, trying to achieve a really upbeat perspective doesn’t just seem difficult/impossible – it also seems profoundly irritating when coming from someone else.

    Really upbeat feels unachievable and also fails to take into account the possibility that the downside has traction.

    Achieving neutrality…”OK..things do feel really bad right now, but there is the possibility that….X or y might be happen/ be achievable and that would be better/ give me a chance to improve on my present position. That’s a start”.

    That might be achievable so worth trying for.

  3. This is very helpful Jon. When feeling despair it feels there is no way out, this shows there is an inbetween place we can be to rest for a while. Thank you.

  4. Thank you Jon. Simple but powerful lens to look through. I have been feeling very down and negative lately and it certainly starts to color everything I see and do. Small things to interrupt the vicious cycle are very helpful.

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