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Reduce Anxiety – Escape From All-Or-Nothing Thinking

Written by: Mari Vasan, Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.


Do you ask yourself questions like “Am I making the right or wrong decision?” or “Is this good or bad?” Do you say things like, “Everything’s going wrong” or “This always happens”? If so, you’ll want to pay close attention. These questions are typical when we’re in “All or Nothing” thinking, which is dangerous. In this article, I’ll explain why it’s harmful and how to get out of it.

All-or-nothing thinking, also known as binary thinking, is a thought pattern in which you perceive things in black or white, either/or categories, with no room for shades of gray. People who engage in this type of thinking tend to view life and situations in extremes, as either perfect or terrible, good or bad, success or failure. It is common in people with anxiety, depression, and suicidal ideation.

Binary thinking can make us feel stuck, hopeless, or helpless. This simple thought process resembles how we used to think as children before developing critical thinking skills, typically before the age of seven. As a kid, we would think in this binary, “all or nothing” way. This thinking has a lot to do with how disempowering subconscious patterns are created.

When we’re young, we make “all or nothing” conclusions. Let’s say you were four years old and wanted some time with your mom. But mom was too busy with work or with another child. You hadn’t yet developed critical thinking, which would have allowed you to understand that mom had demands on her. Instead, you probably would have concluded, “I’m not worthy” or “I’m not lovable.”

Maybe later, you were in school and wanted to join a game some other kids were playing, and they wouldn’t let you. You could have concluded, “No one wants to play with me,” or “I don’t belong.”

As we go through life, these beliefs get reinforced, and each time we encounter "evidence" that confirms our doubts about our worthiness or sense of belonging, the beliefs get even more entrenched. This pattern of thinking may result in all-or-nothing thinking.

Stress can also elicit an all-or-nothing mentality. When stressed, we often regress to childlike thinking – which is why it’s important not to make critical decisions under pressure.

How All-Or-Nothing Thinking Contribute To Anxiety

  • All-or-nothing thinking oversimplifies complex situations and experiences. Real life is rarely so simple, and most situations involve multiple factors, perspectives, and outcomes. By reducing complex issues to simple binaries, you limit your ability to understand, process, and respond to challenges and difficulties healthily and effectively.

  • It might make you feel there’s only one right way to do things and that deviation from this standard is unacceptable. This rigidity can limit creativity, flexibility, and problem-solving skills and lead to frustration, anxiety, and stress.

  • It promotes a narrow, perfectionistic view of success. When success is defined in such extreme terms, you may feel that you must always meet these high standards or risk being considered a failure. This can lead to a constant cycle of self-criticism and perfectionism, as well as feelings of burnout, stress, and anxiety.

  • It can lead to feelings of hopelessness and helplessness. When you believe there’s no middle ground between success and failure, you may feel your actions and efforts can only lead to a win or a loss. You might think there’s no room for error or that any mistakes are irreversible.

  • Relationships can suffer. When you view situations and experiences in extreme, binary terms, you’re less likely to understand and appreciate the perspectives and experiences of others. This can lead to conflict, misunderstandings, and strained relationships.

How To Reduce Anxiety and Eliminate Binary Thinking

Recognize some of these patterns? Here are seven tips to reduce anxiety and break free from other symptoms of all-or-nothing thinking:

1. Awareness is the first step.

Notice when you’re in all-or-nothing thinking. If you’re in either/or, good/bad, success/failure type of thinking, you’re likely in an all-or-nothing mindset.

2. Challenge your thoughts and look for contrary evidence.

Ask, “Is this true?” Focus on the gray areas and acknowledge that most situations are complex and have multiple perspectives. Look for evidence that contradicts the belief. Ask yourself what other information you may need to include.

For example, if you’re thinking, “Everything is going wrong,” you’re probably excluding much evidence to the contrary. It’s essential to include more. Ask, “What’s everything else that’s going right that I wasn’t paying attention to?” Make a list. (Is your heart beating? Are you breathing? Are there resources you haven’t been noticing? Do you have food to eat? What else?) Notice what happens when you put your attention on these things. Pay attention to what changes.

Let’s say you were thinking, “No one supports me.” Ask yourself if that’s true. Provide counterexamples. Make a list of all the people that do support you. (Do you receive your emails? Who are all the people behind the technology that ensures that happens? Do you have clean water to drink? Electricity? Think of all the people behind the scenes who make it possible for you to have these resources. Who else is there to support you? Then ask yourself this question: Who else has been supporting me that I have not been giving attention to? Notice what shifts.

3. Practice gratitude.

Focus on the positives in your life and express gratitude rather than fixating on the negatives. This can help shift your perspective and reduce the impact of binary thinking. Before going to sleep, list ten things you’re grateful for every night, and notice what changes after two weeks.

4. Go easy on yourself.

Be kind and understanding towards yourself. Self-compassion can help to reduce feelings of all-or-nothing thinking. Remember that perfection is the lowest standard because it’s unattainable.

5. Seek out diverse perspectives.

Engage with people who have different experiences and points of view. This can broaden your thinking and help you avoid binary thinking.

When we look closely at a situation and pay attention to the things we didn’t see before, our experience of life changes. My clients sometimes tell me, “Nothing is going right,” or “This job is terrible.”

Upon further examination, they usually notice that many things are going right or there are many positive aspects of their job. The problem was that they weren’t paying attention to those things. Once they begin to include more, their experience of life changes, and they can reduce anxiety successfully.

Try making these shifts to get out of all-or-nothing thinking, and let me know what changes for you.

If you're a high-achieving woman over 40, my website offers insights into rejuvenating your energy, releasing emotional burdens, and boosting confidence. Access free hypnosis downloads for improving confidence and peaceful sleep, and make the most of the second half of your life. You can also watch my free 30-minute webinar here.

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Read more from Mari!


Mari Vasan, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine

Mari Vasan is the founder of MV Coaching, a dynamic women's midlife personal development company, which specializes in a research-based transformation program that helps women worldwide live their best lives. Combining the "magic" of hypnosis with coaching, Mari also blends her research skills as a top-rated Wall Street analyst, with 30 years of intensively studying psychology and human behavior, with the wants and desires of the women she serves. The result is her 8-week course ‒ Supercharge Your Midlife Transformation. Mari is also the founder of, a nonprofit platform offering free mental health tools to anyone, anywhere.


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