All or Nothing Thinking

A lot of people with ADHD find themselves getting stuck in ‘all or nothing’, ‘black and white’, or ‘always or never’ thinking.  It’s easy to get overwhelmed with all or nothing thinking. Most problems in life aren’t black and white, there’s a lot of shades of grey we can play with and explore.  

Does this happen to you? When do you know it’s happening? How can you tell? Is there a pattern to the types of things where ‘all or nothing’ thinking occurs? Most of the time, things in life aren’t all or nothing. Can you think of some instances- no matter how big or small- where can find some holes in the illogical ‘all or nothing’ thinking?

I’m going to make up a common example of this type of thinking. Let’s say you’re overwhelmed by a messy house. The house is always messy but there’s never enough time to clean everything. It feels like you’re always stressed because there’s always something that needs cleaning. In this example, we can ask ourselves the following types of questions: How much time do you need to clean the house? Is it possible to just clean part of the house? Or clean one thing? Does everything need to be cleaned in one cleaning session? When isn’t the house messy? When haven’t you been stressed because of the mess? What’s it like thinking about your messy house 24/7? What else occupies your mind? What is having a clean house worth to you? What does it mean to have a clean house? When have you had time to clean before? On a scale of 1-10 (1 being completely messy, 10 being immaculately clean) how messy is your house? What would it take to increase the number by just one increment?

Noticing when you are getting stuck in this ‘all or nothing’ thinking and looking for exceptions to this thinking can be helpful. This all or nothing belief can be changed. Is there any truth behind this type of thinking? Is it rational or irrational? Does noticing these things help? What would help? If you like numbers asking yourself where you are and where you want to be on a scale of 1-10 can be helpful.

What would happen if this problematic ‘all or nothing’ thinking went away? What would you notice first if you no longer thought about things as ‘always or never’?

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