Cognitive Distortion: All or Nothing

All or nothing thinking is a common cognitive distortion.


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Cognitive distortions are habitual ways of thinking which twist experience to fit what we already believe to be true. They are rigid and irrational, but the feel very true. In the weeks that follow, I will introduce some of the more common ones, with a tip or trick or two to get past them.

All or nothing thinking is a common cognitive distortion. Things live in black-and-white categories.  If the outcome falls short of perfect, you see you see total failure. This creates struggles in normal life, of course, but really has in impact on performance!

I watched a documentary on Netflix called Westside vs. the World, about the Westside Gym and its founder Louie Simmons. Westside pushed the sport of powerlifting with their methods and stable of world record holding lifters. They also tore their bodies up, literally, in pursuit of glory. It was truly all or nothing. The world may need folks like Louie to blaze the trail, but you will do better realizing there are options beyond yes/no, black/white, binary thinking.

To get some freedom from all or nothing thinking, stay away from absolutes like always and never. Very few things are actually absolute, there are many shades of gray, and many ways to frame our experiences. Be mindful of the journey and lean into it (it’s where the really good stuff happens), while keeping in mind that the desired outcome is the preference, not the requirement. Falling short won’t kill you, and it is a great teacher for next time.

Thanks for reading! I’m Dr. J., I run Mind Right Performance!
I help athletes, parents, teams, coaches, and anyone else looking to use sport and performance psychology to increase performance.
Check out the Mind Right platform through the links, I would love to work together!

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