Ep. 17: The Problem with ‘Either/Or’ Thinking

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Human brains love black-and-white thinking. Thinking in terms of absolutes: of ‘right or wrong’, of ‘good or bad’, of ‘all or nothing’.

With black and white thinking, there’s no tension or resistance – none of the discomfort that comes with cognitive dissonance. Because things are either one way or the other way, and this allows us to settle into the comforting absence of ambiguity – the comfort of being 100 percent convinced that we’re right, or that we are good, or that they’re wrong, or that that’s bad.

In truth, there is a level of indulgent comfort in this way of thinking. It saves us from having to think critically or negotiate the complexity of the reality we want to create in life.

Here’s the catch: humans are not good or bad. Humans are good AND bad.

And ideas, thoughts and approaches are not right or wrong. They are, most often, right and wrong.

So, when we can hold these conflicting truths – of both things being true at the same time – and use our critical thought, we can evolve ourselves much more quickly.

When we understand that life is about succeeding and failing, getting it right and getting it wrong, being a good person sometimes and being a “bad person” others…there’s freedom in that.

Freedom in being able to use the word “and”, instead of “or.”

Today, we dig into what black-and-white thinking looks like and why it’s necessary to shift these thought patterns in order to grow in big, tangible ways.

If you’re bent on being good and being right and only speaking when you’re the ‘expert’ on a topic, you’ll miss that opportunity to evolve as a person.

You also miss the opportunity to listen deeply, to be curious, and to learn.

Being open and not afraid to consider other ideas – knowing that your values will hold true for you, or that maybe you want to question your values or your history, and that you’re starting to identify how you want to change – that is a beautiful thing.

That is evolving. 

When you can embrace the ‘both/and’ that exists in the world and in yourself, it will be easier to forgive yourself, to cut yourself a break AND show up in ways that are important, to both hold yourself to higher standards and understand yourself (and other people) more authentically.

Let me be clear: the path to get there is a much harder one. It takes strength and stamina to learn these skills, because it’s easier to rest on your ‘either/or’ laurels.

But we NEED to learn to hold both at once.

So I ask you:

:: Can both/and be true?

:: Can you hold space for the both/and’s in yourself? All the contradictions in your life?

:: And when you do, what do you notice? What happens inside your brain and inside your body when you’re willing to give up the all-or-nothing thinking?

Consider this. It’s an urgent invitation.

In This Episode You’ll Learn:

  • Why black and white thinking is limiting for personal, professional and societal growth
  • How to train your brain to be able to hold all the ‘both/and’s’ that exist in this one precious life
  • Why it’s easier to think in absolutes than sit with the discomfort of cognitive dissonance
  • How to apply the tools shared in this episode to your life so that you can start to see change in your thinking habits and patterns
  • Why the spaces in between all the polarities that exist in the world are where the magic happens
  • How to use ‘both/and’ thinking to grow, evolve and live more authentically – in the long term, and everyday


// The reason many humans like all-or-nothing thinking is because there’s no cognitive dissonance. Check out Episode 14 for more on what cognitive dissonance is and how to create new beliefs that actually serve you.

// Read this piece I wrote in Elephant Journal about How to Drink like a Buddhist, and learn the 4 steps that helped me cut back on the booze.

// If you want more of this Jedi juice, head over to our Rebel Buddhist Facebook page and join the free private group where important conversations are happening in a safe place. There’s a weekly FB live called Wake the F*ck Up Wednesday, and it’s a place where you can ask questions that come up as you do this work – in all parts of your life.

// Want to learn more about how to free your mind and free your life, go to RebelBuddhist.com and grab my free Rebel Buddhist Toolkit, where you’ll receive a video training on cultivating resilience, a copy of the gorgeous Rebel Buddhist Manifesto, and more!

// Enrollment is currently closed for Freedom School, my one-of-a-kind membership program that helps you free your mind and free your life. If you want to be the first to know when enrollment opens, go here to get on the waitlist.