For some reason we humans tend to look at things in terms of dichotomies:
- go to the gym/stay home
If you’re going to do something why not do it all the way, right?
Last week I turned 30 and I have to admit I spent the whole week celebrating. My reasoning: well, I started the week eating unhealthy stuff and have so many parties and social things to do I might as well just keep eating bad the whole week….
So I presented myself with choices like:
- Write another blog post or relax.
- Eat a brownie or have no dessert at all.
- Go to Starbucks or having nothing for breakfast.
I know, I know. Not the smartest decisions, but I know I’m not the only one who is guilty of all or nothing thinking. When I was learning to be a teacher at the University of Montana a professor told me something I’ll never forget: Many student teachers make the mistake of giving their students ultimatums. For example, “Do your work or go to the Principal’s office.” Obviously, the student teacher immediately laments their decision to give the student a choice when students dig in their heels and chooses the Principal.
My professor suggested that we avoid this by never giving students a choice we don’t want them to make. All or nothing decisions can end badly (students in the Principal’s office aren’t studying) and they are ultimately unnecessary. Instead, a smart teacher will do what quizzes, polls and surveys often do. Present you with a few unappealing choices (all of which will result in something good) and let you pick the path that sucks the least for you. For example, “Read a chapter from the book or write in your journal for 15 minutes.” Neither is appealing to a stubborn student, but given the choice, they may prefer one more than another.
I’m not going to go into WHY I think people tend to think in dichotomies, but this morning I propose using a brilliant mental ‘trick’ to help yourself avoid all or nothing thinking.
Trick yourself into changing your choices.
Here’s How to Do It:
- Consider the “bad” and/or extreme decisions you make often that you’d like to change.
- Think about alternatives you can give yourself.
- The next time you need to make a decision, pay attention to your thoughts.
- If you’re giving yourself a “good vs bad” type choice, change the decision from “good vs. bad” and give yourself a few choices you dislike. For example, instead of: Eat ice cream or have nothing for dessert; make the choice: Have fruit or yogurt for dessert.
- Stick with your decision. You’ve picked something you don’t want to do the hardest part is to dig in your heels and really commit to your decision.
- Pat yourself on the back if you go through with it. If you don’t go through with it think about why this might be and try again.
- Practice! The best way to get better at good decision making is by doing it over and over again. Keep at it.
Don’t forget to let me know how it goes too!