Mental Health

All or Nothing: Life Is in the ‘Or’

The dried mud that had been stuck on the bottom of her pink kitten rain boots was being chipped away from the force of her little size 7 toddler foot stomping about the kitchen. 

“Now!!!” She yelled. “I want butttaaa now mommy!”

“Piper, dinner will be done any minute. No butter unless it’s on a piece of bread,” I said, with my right hand on my hip, which happened to be slightly tilted toward her – basically a mom’s version of the Wonder Woman pose. There was no need for a hand on each hip, a widen stance, back straight with my chest pointing toward the sky (aka the Wonder Woman stance) … besides that was a lot to do just to get it across to a two-year-old that a spoonful of butter was not going to replace the homemade pizza in the oven. My Wonder Woman outfit had a BBQ sauce stain on it from the last time I wore it so it was in the wash anyway. Basically, I had no time for this little tantrum over butter. 

But her little foot persisted. Every time she stopped her foot in those boots,  I stomped right back. She was not going to win this one … and soon we were doing a hillbilly version of a Irish Riverdance. She eventually walked away with her arms crossed and a full on stink face that could melt her glorious butter.

Early on during her rendition of Stomp the Yard I caved and offered her Go-Gurt, a slice of cheese, a unicorn that farts glitter – anything to get her to chill out while I cooked and cleaned. I’m a clean as you cook kind of person, FYI. But alas, even putting her precious butter on a piece of bread, which is something she usually goes for, didn’t work … so now she had to wait until the pizza was ready.

This interaction from the other night got my thinkin’ wheels a turnin’ – I know, me thinking? Crazy cakes.  Since the beginning of 2016, I have read or listened to close 50 books – all about spiritual, emotional and physical health and how God built our minds and why we are the way we are. I’m not bragging about that number. I guess I’m just pointing out that I didn’t Google the topic and copy and paste some stuff. Now, some of the books brought a nice amount of science about the common mental distortions human experience on a regular basis.  One of those is known as “all of nothing” or “black and white” thinking. 

I’m not an expert at these by any means but through these books and meditation (hello mindfulness) I have noticed just how often I’m using “all or nothing” thinking … and how often people around me use it. 

Let me explain like this: How often do you think you’re a good parent and how often do you think you’re a crappy one? When working toward a personal goal, do you have to work incredibly hard to be the absolute best or there is no point in trying? You either go all in and if we can’t go and do as much as we want, then why even try? Why bother? Why waste our time if we aren’t highly ranked by what society tells us should hold value in our lives? We are either a loving mom or a driven career woman. We are either a best-selling author or we can’t even consider ourselves a writer. I encourage you to think about when in your life you tend to use “all or nothing “thinking. You can see from my examples how useless it is. We aren’t just one thing, we are multi-faceted beings. And who wants to be the absolute best at everything? The idea just sounds exhausting and boring. We are moms and career women and activists and bloggers and artists and make-up junkies and book lovers and animal lovers and chefs and mechanics and we can be funny, smart and beautiful and assertive and kind and gentle and strong and … the list goes on and on. But sometimes, for whatever reason, we think that we have to be one or the other, think in terms of black or white, why be gray? Well, from what I have learned life is really lived in the gray. We live life in the “or.”

So if you are reading this and think, “Okay, yeah, I can see that. Now how do I fix it?”To you I say, “great question.” All I can say from experience is that awareness is a big factor in any form of growth, and while I thought I was pretty self-aware, the journey I have been on when it comes to personal development says otherwise. And I’m nowhere near done, at least I’m hope I’m not. I haven’t come this far just to settle. God has put some pretty big dreams in my heart, ones I thought about as a young girl but tucked away as nice ideas, fun things to dream about but to really happen … that’s a different story.  This is where I can see my brain pulling up the highlight reel of its favorite mental distortions to replay – perfectionism, all or nothing (which as you guess go hand-in-hand), generalizing and catastrophizing. My brain sounds fun, huh? In all seriousness, it’s not all bad (I am actually pretty funny) but if I hadn’t become aware of those thoughts and started challenging them, acknowledging and letting go of them, learning to not identify with them (still a challenge) then I’d probably be in the same mental rut. But as you can see – therapy, meds (shout out to Wellbutrin and Xanax!), meditation, lots of compassion and patience with myself is all paying off. I’m just taking it one day at a time and make a point at least once a day to thank God for what I have in front of me, how far he has taken me and where he plans to take me. Like I said, I’ve got some Texas-size dreams.  I was never one to take the easy route and this type of personal growth is not for the faint of heart but this is why I felt like sharing this. I really hope you take a look at your mind a little bit more because it’s worth it.

Once you start reading up on the brain, you start to see that you can over time retrain your brain, lay down new tracks, new pathways to positive beliefs nested in your subconscious. This isn’t an overnight practice, not a one-and-done kind of thing; If you want to know more Google it and you will find all kinds of good reads. Personally, I prefer a good mix of science and faith. If you want a list of my recommendations, let me know. I’d be happy to share. There are plenty of books on the topic of mental health, which just reminds me that thankfully we are not alone – its one of the human conditions that we all share. When I am happy, I know millions of people are happy at that moment. And when I am sad or frustrated, I know there are millions more feelings those feelings, too.

So friend, if you find yourself stuck in a “all or nothing” mentality, I’ll leave you with this – life isn’t in the “all” and it isn’t in the “nothing” – it’s in the “or,” the gray area. I choose the or, I can beat myself up … or … I can choose to give myself compassion and move on. I can stay mad  … or … I can start the process of forgiving. We always have a choice, and there is always a better, healthier option and its living in the “or.” 

Go slow if you want to try this, be easy on yourself and know that I’m with you.


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