Life’s a rainbow

Seeing life in black and white can be a natural perspective, but it could mean you miss out on all the wonderful colours and complexities life has to offer

Good or bad, love or hate, friend or enemy, success or failure – many of the expressions that pop up in daily conversation seem to categorise situations and people in one of only two ways. Despite the fact that every single event, action and person is complex and impossible to sum up in one word, human beings sometimes reduce their analyses of experiences as being either completely wonderful or totally awful.

Usually, this is just shorthand – a quick way of communicating how you feel when you don’t want to go into more detail. Many people do this, and generally it doesn’t cause any problems. However, seeing the world and everything in it as either black or white can become a habit – one that can be limiting and might affect your wellbeing.

Having an all-or-nothing mindset, also called ‘splitting’ or ‘dichotomous’ thinking by experts, can prevent you from appreciating the world’s diverse riches and layers. Once the brain gets used to thinking in these binary terms, it’s almost as if it becomes encased in a tunnel. Rather than being able to look around and view a situation from many angles, it sees only the two ends of the tunnel – one leading to positive interpretations, the other to negative ones.

This this kind of thinking can give you a distorted image of yourself, your friends and your life. For instance, if you do badly in one exam, you might quickly get sucked along that tunnel to the failure end. Instead of being able to assess your result in context, you might be hindered by the thought that you’re no good at that subject and there’s no point in working harder to improve.
Similarly, if you fall out with a friend or sibling, you might not stop to think if they had any grounds for being upset with you or to remember the many reasons why you enjoy being with them so much. Instead, you could race quickly towards branding them as your enemy.

At the other end, believing your friends are perfect, that you’re brilliant at games or always going to get up at 6.30am to go for a morning run can put unrealistic expectations on both you and your friends – which may set you up for disappointment.

Your friends, being human, might do something you won’t like, one day someone will beat you at your favourite sport and at some point you could be too tired or not well enough to go for
that run. Viewing each of these normal occurrences through an all-or-nothing lens could lead you to think badly of your friends or yourself and undermine your self-confidence and relationships.

Having a balanced approach allows you to appreciate that while there’ll be times when you do have extreme emotions or experiences, they’ll be relatively few and far between. There will be highs and lows for certain, but most of life actually plays out on a more even playing field – one that’s multicoloured, multidimensional and full of possibilities.

Try not to use absolutes such as ‘everyone’, ‘no one’, ‘never’ or ‘always’. First, they’re rarely accurate and second, they can knock self-esteem and distort thought patterns. Say, for instance, you’ve fallen out with your friendship group. There’s no doubt this is upsetting, yet it’s not true that no one likes you and you’ll never have such good friends again, or that your ex-pals have ruined your life. Whenever you find yourself slipping into this way of thinking, take a moment to reflect on the situation and consider the full picture.

Whenever you find yourself assessing someone or something as either/or, try thinking of them as this and that. So instead of attempting to make up your mind whether the new person at school is fun or shy, consider that they might be both.

Do your best to keep your mind and heart open. Life is fluid and change can bring opportunities. Try not to close yourself off from them by seeing everything in black and white. Embrace the colour.

Think of times when you approached an event with a mindset of ‘either this’ll be the best thing ever or it’ll be a stinker’ – maybe when a new teacher took over a class, when you went to see a film adaptation of a book you love or when you tried a different recipe for chocolate chip cookies. It could be anything. Now ask yourself if the experience was all good or all bad. Explore it in detail and note down areas that fell in the middle, those that weren’t really so bad and others that didn’t wow you as much as you expected.

But after reflecting on the entire situation, if you’re going to lean one way more than the other, positive thinking is always best, as you learn how to appreciate life’s colour and it’s richness of experience – no matter the outcome.

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