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Moving From Black and White Thinking to Shades of Gray October 6, 2014

There are many limits to thinking only in black and white terms. It can impact one’s mood, can limit personal choices and opportunities, damage relationships, and ultimately create suffering for the user and others around them. Black and white thinking limits one’s ability to have “win, win” experiences or exchanges. It also limits opportunities for learning from mistakes. In the mind of the black and white thinker there must be a definitive winner and loser in most situations. When one sees the world in black and white terms, they fail to consider others’ points of view and stick solidly to their own sense of rightness or opinion. Black and white thinkers also cut themselves off from a host of possible outcomes due to only having two choices, this or that and often extremes or polar opposites. This type of thinking is regressive to our childhood in that when we were learning about the world we did not have the ability to discern. But as an adult, all it takes is a little flexibility of thought to overcome the internal conflict of thinking in terms of all or nothing.

Just like yellow and blue make green, black and white make gray. Similarly, in relationships there is a you and a me that makes an us. Thinking in terms of shades of gray allows for compromise, learning within the self, and acceptance of others’ viewpoints. Over time the benefits of experiencing the world in shades of gray can reduce stress, anxiety, and depression –helping to develop more of an internal locus of control for the user. This in turn will also improve relationships.

Below is a diagram that can be used as a tool to help open oneself to thinking in terms of shades of gray, allowing for “win-win” situations.By labeling underneath each perspective black and white side of an issue one (or two) people can share underneath the gray, alternative points of view or outcomes. Identifying ancillary outcomes helps to reduce black and white thinking and feel the flexibility in the concept of shades of gray. An example might be: One partner of a couple forgets their anniversary or an argument occurs between two people. To the black and white thinker they may interpret that… (Click on the slide below)

Blk_Wht Slide

Aaron Foster

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