In Part 1 we talked about why black-and-white thinking can be harmful. Part 2 focuses on how you can change old, unhealthy patterns of thinking to healthier, more rational ways.
The first step to changing the way you think is to identify when black-and-white thoughts invade your mind. Dr. Phil says, “You can’t change what you don’t acknowledge.” While I’m not a big fan of Dr. Phil, I think that phrase contains a lot of wisdom. You must first develop an awareness that black-and-white thinking is taking place before you can do anything about it. To help you begin to identify which thoughts are black-and-white and which thoughts are grey, I’ve compiled a list of each for you to compare.
“This was the worst day ever!”
“My kids are so out of control!”
“I can’t take this any more.”
“He’s so obnoxious.”
“Why do things always go wrong for me?”
“It has to be perfect.”
Grey Rational Thinking
“Today was challenging.”
“My kids will behave better after a full night’s sleep.”
“I can put up with things I don’t like.”
“I don’t like what he said.”
“Sometimes things don’t work out the way I’d like.”
“Nobody is perfect. I’ll strive for excellence.”
Step 2 is evaluating if your black-and-white thought is worth keeping or if it needs to be modified. At this point it’s becomes very important that you tune into your emotions. If the thought causes you to feel more depressed, anxious, angry, negative or out of control, then that’s a clue that your black-and-white thought is harming your emotional well-being and leading you to a dark place. Think one, two and three steps ahead. Ask yourself, “How does this thought make me feel?” “What action will I take as a result of my feelings?” “Will I end up doing something counterproductive or something I will regret later?”
For example, let’s work with the black-and-white thought, “My kids are so out-of-control.” After a rough day with her sons, Janine can’t help thinking this thought over and over. As a result of thinking her kids are out-of-control, she begins to feel helpless and desperate. Since desperate times call for desperate measures, Janine smacks her son to stun him out of his hyperactivity and get him to behave. Janine later regrets hitting her son and feels guilty about the way she handled herself.
Once you’ve decided that your black-and-white thought needs to be modified, Step 3 involves replacing the unhealthy, irrational thought with a healthier, more balanced one. Imagine if instead Janine thought, “My kids will behave better after a good night’s sleep.” This thought makes Janine feel hopeful and better able to tolerate her kids’ antics. Instead of panicking and losing control, she focuses on getting them to bed as quickly as possible so that they can get a good night’s sleep. This is step 4 – acting in light of the healthier, rational belief. This may be difficult to do at first. Chances are that Black-and-White thoughts will continue to pop into your head and you’ll want to react. Instead, act based on your new, healthy, rational thoughts. Replacing irrational thoughts with healthy ones doesn’t just mean thinking the healthier thought once. You are changing your default way of thinking and in the beginning, this requires a lot of effort and repetition. It may feel forced or unnatural at first, but with time and practice, healthier thinking will become easier and more natural.