Man painting

This multisyllable thinking error has a lot in common with all-or-nothing thinking. You interpret one thing as “a never-ending pattern of defeat.” (David Burns, MD)

Remember my story of dropping out for 4 bars while accompanying the chorus on piano? I made it into a never-ending pattern of defeat by never even trying again. By, in essence, “retiring” at age 13. (Though, happily, I came out of “retirement” eventually.)

One of your teammates blows his coverage assignment and you say, “He never stays with his guy.”
You have a day when you don’t like anything you put on canvas/paper/computer and you say, “I don’t have what it takes to paint/draw/write/design.”

A referee makes a lousy (in your humble opinion) call and you think, “I’m always getting the lousy calls. I never can get a break.”

When you find yourself over-generalizing ask yourself the questions we’ve been going over, such as: What’s the evidence? What are alternative explanations? What are the implications? Is this a useful thought?

Next time I’ll weigh in with my thoughts on some of these questions.

All-Or-Nothing Thinking Remedies

As promised, here are things you ask yourself when you notice you’re in in all-or-nothing thinking.
1) What is the evidence that the whole thing was a failure? Acknowledge the things you did do, the things that did work. All the “correct” notes you hit. The rest of the painting. The aspects of your race that were positive and that you can build on. It can be helpful to write these things down. This is not bragging or inflating. You are simply doing a thorough assessment.

At the end of this assessment, you’ll probably find lots of shades of gray and will have more energy to apply yourself to what you need to do. Education research shows that people learn from encouragement, not from being beaten down. By finding reasons to be encouraged you will improve your learning and results.

2) What are the alternative explanations? This question doesn’t give permission to make excuses. It gives permission to look at extenuating circumstances. Dan Jansen was favored to win a gold medal in speed skating in the 1988 Olympics. Try as he might to race at his peak he could not overcome the effect of the death of his sister only hours before his race. He finally got the elusive gold medal (and a world record) in the 1994 Olympics.

3) What are the implications? Really, when you think about it, so what if the note was wrong? If the shading was off? If you didn’t hit your PR today? All is not lost. The true implications are that you will need practice that part of the song or solo more; you will experiment before applying shading; you will continue to work to improve your time. In the great scheme of things whatever happened is not an insurmountable setback.

4) Is the thought useful? Hard to see how a thought that dismisses anything positive and erases all hope for enjoyment and improvement can be useful.