These next few posts are sequels of the “You Are What You Think” post I wrote a few weeks ago. I mentioned in that post about the 10 Cognitive Distortions or Distorted thinking patterns every negative thinker makes a habit of using. Not all negative thinkers use all 10 cognitive distortions, but all 10 are used at some point by someone, so I am going to address all 10 of these irrational thinking habits in separate posts. This first post will address “all-or-nothing thinking.”
All-or-nothing-thinking is the first distorted thinking pattern mentioned on the most common cognitive distortions or, negative thinking pattern list. This form of thinking means that everything you encounter is viewed in a black-or-white mentality. For example, if you fail at a test or do not get a job promotion, you may think to yourself that you are a failure at everything in life because you did not perform well at this one task. This is all-or-nothing thinking, and it is an irrational thought pattern. It is irrational (or not realistic) in that just because you do not do well at one task, doesn’t mean that you will not do well at other tasks. Everyone has their own talents to offer. This reminds me of the Bible parable about the 5 talents in Matthew 25. Each servant who used his talents given to him by the Lord, doubled his amount of talents. The servant who hid his talent for fear of losing it, however, gained nothing (See Matthew 25:14-30).
The danger of all-or-nothing thinking occurs if we base all of our achievements and worth on one negative event such as not performing well at some task. Conversely, if we perform well in one task, we cannot assume we will do well at everything in life. That will also cause us to think negatively because if we expect to be perfect all the time, we will be disappointed. No one is perfect and everyone makes mistakes. Everyone also has their own special talents to offer and to use to serve the Lord. Philippians 4:13 states, “I can do all through Christ who strengtheneth me.” We should always trust in God and know that He will help us achieve anything we desire to achieve. If we fail at something, we should think positively and try again at the same task or try something else. All-or-nothing thinking can keep us from wanting to try again because we make assumptions about how we will do in the future before we even try.
All-or-nothing thinking can also occur in the church. A male who wishes to start participating in church services may be nervous the first time and make a mistake. For example, a young man may accidently drop the contribution plate or get tongue-tied while teaching a lesson. If he uses all-or-nothing thinking, he may tell himself that he would be a failure at anything he tries to do in the church service and decide to not try again. However, if the young man remembers such verses as Philippians 4:13, then he will know to put his faith in God and try again. The same goes for a woman who wishes to teach a Sunday morning Bible Class or Vacation Bible School class.
With my clients, I always battled this form of irrational thinking by making them look at the evidence which supports the fact that they cannot use one mistake they’ve made to apply to all of their other activities in life. For instance, one girl told me that since she failed an exam in science, she was a “bad student.” I made her point out to herself how she was doing well in her other subjects and had even done well on another test in science. Instead of generalizing herself based on one mistake, she began to reason that although she did poorly at one task, she had proven herself to have the ability to do better in the future. We should also take the same mentality this student used with us while working on becoming better Christians. If we make mistakes along the way, (and we will), we should always ask for forgiveness for past sins and move on. That will help us stay focused on doing better in the future. As Colossians 3:23-24 says; “And whatsoever ye do, do [it] heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men; Knowing that of the Lord ye shall receive the reward of the inheritance: for ye serve the Lord Christ.”