Are you living your life in black and white?

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A thinking style that sabotages success

» When you approach a task, how do you think about it ?
» Do you think about it in terms of total success or total failure?
» When you are discussing/arguing a topic with a spouse or colleague,
do you think in terms of absolute right or absolute wrong?

If you answered yes to the above you’re likely to have a thinking style known as either/or a.k.a black and white thinking.

Don’t panic! It’s not fatal but it is likely to sabotage your success.

Symptoms include:

» Procrastination – putting things off for fear of failure.
» Frequent frustration – When things don’t go the way you want.
» Rapid changes in direction – when something is not going completely to plan you change everything.
» Soured relationships – your need to be right has made you unpopular.

If the above descriptions resonate with you or remind you of somebody close then read on and learn to enter a life of infinite possibilities.

Yin and Yang

The Chinese Taoist symbol of Yin and Yang contains a powerful message of the way life is; the symbol is a circle split by two swirling colours, black and white – however inside the black section is a circle of white and inside the white section is a circle of black. In life nothing is all bad and nothing is all good, each negative contains the seed of positive and vice versa. Running is good for your fitness but could damage your knees; forest fires create destruction but at the same time germinate new life.

As Children we look for absolutes but as we mature we learn that pretty much everything depends on your perception. Black and White thinking is a perceptual mental filter (known as a Meta Program) that causes us to look for and behave as if there are absolutes – the result can be either paralysing or extremely destructive.

Black and White thinking

A black and white thinker may embark on a fitness program and set a goal to exercise three times per week. Their thinking pattern will now see this goal in terms of total success or total failure, i.e. if they only go twice they have ‘blown it’. Step back for a moment and consider, is going to the gym twice of absolutely no use? Of course not, it has some positive health and psychological benefits and the person has begun a fitness program. Yes I understand they did not hit their goal, but does it reinforce the positive behaviour of exercising by feeling lousy over the one time missed?

In relationships black and white thinking can be extremely destructive; if the behaviour of the other partner does not meet all the requirements of a ‘perfect mate’ then the black and white thinker is likely to call off the relationship rather than appreciating the uniqueness of their partner and working to build a relationship of understanding.

Now just as very little is absolute, black and white thinking is not all bad – it certainly has its place the key is to be very specific about the scope of your all or nothing thinking. Successful people are very consistent about the words “Yes” and “No”, they know what they are saying “Yes” to and what they are saying “No” to, they very rarely if ever say “Maybe” or “I’ll try”.

So if you tend to use black and white thinking, use it about things you can control, such as “No” I don’t want that extra piece of chocolate cake or “Yes” I will save and invest 10% of my income. Avoid using black and white thinking over larger scope projects or things you can’t control such as other people.

When coaching people with a strong mental filter such as black and white thinking, I ask them the question, “do you have this style of thinking OR does this style of thinking have you?”

If it is the latter we explore gaining choice and control by first identifying tasks this thinking does not work for and by learning to make even a partial success count as part of a journey towards an ultimate goal.

» What have you done today, however small that is moving you towards your success goals? Have you celebrated and made that count? «


A rainbow is made of many colours including red, orange, yellow, blue, indigo and violet; all of these colours are contained in white light. A rain cloud or prism splits the white light and gives us a new perspective of what was previously invisible to us. Time has a similar effect on our lives, often as we look back we can see the positives that have come out of negative experiences, so what will it take for the black and white thinker to see the future as containing colours of the rainbow? Here are some choices:

1.   Get a coach because your coach can challenge you to step back from you behaviour and become aware of black and white thinking. With awareness you can choose a more appropriate response.

2.   Attend a Neuro-Semantic workshop that addresses meta-programs (see below for dates)

3.   Choose to monitor your own thought processes and ask yourself the question “Are these my only two choices or are there other perspectives I have not considered?”

4.   Do nothing because black and white is about all or nothing,

My favourite maxim is:

“blessed are the flexible, for they will not get bent out of shape”

If you are feeling a bit bent out of shape right now then perhaps it is time to get flexible? The human mind is amazingly flexible – and when discover the ability to utilize this power you will be closer to the success you desire.

Reading People (learning meta-programmes)

Reading People (learning meta-programmes) is presented as: a two-day (June 11-12,2007) stand alone training as part of our Neuro-Semantic Master Practitioner Training (June 3-17,2007).

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