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Mistakes in Thinking: All or Nothing

The mistake in thinking I’m going to talk about right now is called all or nothing thinking.

Hi, I’m Dr. Calbeck, and I’m here to talk with you today about cognitive behavioral psychotherapy and mistakes in thinking.

The mistake in thinking I’m going to talk about right now is called all or nothing thinking, which is sometimes called black and white thinking or dichotomous thinking. And this is when we take a very extreme viewpoint of something and extrapolate that out.

So it might work something like this. For example, if you made a mistake during a presentation, you may focus only on that one mistake and determine that the whole presentation was a complete and abject failure.

And because of this, you will continue to have nothing but failures in the future. This will lead you to feel sad and depressed and anxious, probably unnecessarily so in cognitive behavioral psychotherapy. This is one of those instances in which we would break down that thought, assess for the extreme thinking because I made a mistake. It’s evidence of my overall capacity for failure. And then we would try to understand how that is affecting your emotional life. And if that kind of suffering is really that helpful or necessary at this time, then we would further ask ourselves about evidence against this belief and any evidence for it and try to understand if it’s possible that the extreme thinking is not really serving a very helpful purpose at this point in time.

So in this way, in this example of the person who made a mistake during the presentation, we would probably try to say that, of course, it’s a bummer to make a mistake during a presentation, but that doesn’t necessarily negate all of the other helpful information that was presented and that in the future we could do some practice for how to recover from mistakes during a presentation so that we can move forward in a more confident and helpful way. So that was just one example of dichotomous thinking, sometimes called all or nothing thinking or black and white thinking that we would look at and try to unravel a little bit in cognitive behavioral psychotherapy.

Thank you so much for joining me today.

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