The Obstacle of ‘All or Nothing’ Thinking

A part of the human condition is that we are all mistake capable. No one is really perfect, although it is healthy to strive for the best, and improve our results. How we go about that is often driven by the way we look at problems, and how we view “things” and our “relationships”

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The biggest obstacle often is ourselves. Humans have a tendency of seeking that things will always work out smoothly, and naturally, and we attempt to avoid pain and discomfort. That is how we’re wired. A problem arises when we are attempting to solve problems. Sometimes we develop an “either-or” mentality and miss the larger picture. We develop all or nothing thinking, there is no middle ground.

“A project team is trying to meet a deadline. Time is critical, and the deadline is looming. The senior manager seeks that the team approach the problem in a particular way, but gives the team little authority to look at alternatives to solving the problem. The problem solution has already been given, but the ‘how’ to do it, has not been determined. It would be easy for the team to adopt one polarized approach to meet the expectation. In their haste, they get a result, but failed to look at alternatives. The senior manager has scripted the team to limited options, and an all or nothing attitude develops, and key alternatives that might bring better results are missed.”

Sometimes the pursuit for the solution, and the will to demand a solution obscures one’s ability to consider options, a lot of them. When we look at things or relationships in dichotomous categories we basically shove everything else off to the side. We miss important options, ideas, and most of all straight jacket ourselves or team.

Individuals with life problems adopt the same “all or nothing” filter – which in the end keeps them from looking at all aspects that could bring potential solutions. It’s global thinking, but the global part means that everything is considered in the same way. Often times it is better to think in terms of possibilities rather than hard core givens.

Ways of avoiding the “all or nothing” mindset:
1. Frame problems as likely having many “approximate” not perfect alternatives.
2. Learn to evaluate all your alternatives, finding evidence for and against each one.
3. Understand that the world isn’t always the same.
4. Performance is about progress and moving forward, not exact perfection.

All or nothing thinking is an obstacle, but it is also very changeable. As long as you’re willing to consider that things in the world are not always perfect, you can consider that there are likely many explanations to problems you face on an individual, team or organizational level.

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