In the end, if the effort fails, the person may view themselves as falling short. It may even be the case that the person anticipates a failed outcome and does not even try. In both of these cases, the person is locked into dichotomous thinking, where it is difficult to see any other options. In the example of exercise above, and in many other cases, the net result is that the person’s health suffers.
How Can We Change This Around?
The good news is that a gray way of thinking can be taught. This is referred to as a growth mindset, by Carol S. Dweck, Ph.D. in her book, Mindset.1 She has spent much of her professional career studying how mindsets are linked to behavior and has identified “fixed” (a.k.a, dichotomous) and “growth” mindsets.
(Note: Fixed vs. growth is not black and white! There is a continuum, and the mental approach can also be situational.)
Dr. Dweck has shown repeatedly and in different contexts that there are ways to learn to view an effort or a new situation as a growth opportunity, and not an opportunity for failure or embarrassment.
Also, read What Habits Will Improve Your Life?
Briefly, here are a few ways to do this.
1. Accept that none of us is perfect.
Nobody is at the top of their game every day. Accept that you are not “falling short,” but are just fluctuating, like everybody else.
2. Be alert to signs of a fixed mindset.
These would be things like defensiveness, insecurity, or comparing yourself to others (and not measuring up). These thoughts can be switched off. They can be replaced with the realization that you can always learn something new, find strategies, and seek input from others to help you.
3. Write down one black and white thought every day and then rewrite it using gray thinking.
For example, You skipped the gym last week. Does that mean you are unmotivated and always will be? Instead, have a look at the reasons that happened. If the gym is too far away, find another way to get some exercise. If it seems to take up too much time, break your exercise down into smaller events. Talk to someone who can help you figure out a way to succeed at your goal of getting more exercise.
Often the end result of black and white, fixed mindset or dichotomous thinking is a lack of long term success. Black and white thinking can seem totally natural until some of the difficulties and lack of results are pointed out. This may be an opportunity to start a dialogue about how to change to a more productive and hopeful approach.
References Dweck, Carol S., Ph.D. Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. Balllantine Books, 2006, 2016.
Written by: Kristen Carter Originally appeared on: Psychology Today Republished with permission