When we think in all-or-nothing terms life becomes rigid. We ignore complexities and we make assumptions. It’s irrational but can feel oh so right in the moment.
All-or-Nothing Thinking Examples
Certain words are associated with all-or-nothing thinking. If you know what they are you can watch out for them and catch yourself when you’re thinking in all-or-nothing terms.
But remember that while these words may be an indicator of all-or-nothing thinking, using them does not automatically mean you’re thinking in all-or-nothing terms.
These words could also just be a minor exaggeration or a reduction for brevity. So it’s important to consider the thoughts and their impact before labeling.
Check out the examples below of all-or-nothing thinking grouped under 9 words commonly associated with all-or-nothing thoughts.
Quick Note Before We Begin
All-or-nothing thinking is negative. Just writing the examples made me feel heavy. So there are puppy pics to help lighten the mood while you’re reading. And check out the mantra at the end to leave on a positive note.
“There’s always a problem.”
“I always screw things up.”
“They always let me down.”
“This always happens.”
“I always make the wrong choice.”
“Always” is the most common indicator of all-or-nothing thinking.
So if you’re thinking “always,” take a minute. Do some inventory. Does this really always happen? When has it not?
Maybe someone is late a lot, and it feels like “always”. Collect yourself, swap out “always” for “a lot”. And if it bothers you, talk to them about it. You’ll have a clearer head and won’t be driven by the negatively charged “always”.
“We never go out anymore.”
“She never listens to me.”
“I never do it right.”
“Things never go my way.”
“It will never be OK.”
“I’ll never reach my goals.”
“I can never make decisions.”
“Always” is the most common sign, and “never” isn’t far behind.
Even though we may feel like something “never” happens, that’s likely not true. So you may think you “never” do anything right, but there are times you’ve accomplished goals.
And you may think things will “never” get better, but there are times when things have worked out for the best.
“Everything is falling apart.”
“Everything get’s ruined.”
“I mess everything up.”
“Everything happens for a reason.”
When we group life into “everything” we’re likely looking towards the negative.
We may group and label situations expecting them to all turn out bad. And it may feel like “everything” is falling apart. But that’s not actually the case.
So the next time you think “everything” stop and reflect. Find a fact that disproves the “everything” thought and gain a more positive outlook.
“Everyone is against me.”
“I hate everyone.”
“Everyone is happy and in love except for me.”
Similarly to how we may think “everything” in a negative tone. We may think “everyone” that way too.
Thinking “everyone” creates generalizations and separates you from other people. You need social connection in order to thrive. But if you think “everyone is unkind” or “everyone has issues” you’re less likely to connect.
And thinking “everyone” is happy and having a great life while you’re left in the dust can make you feel depressed, stressed and lonely.
“Nothing works out right.”
“There’s nothing I can do.”
“It’s all or nothing.”
This one’s right in the name.
Saying “nothing” is going right is just like saying everything is going wrong— different wording for the same rigid view of life.
So if you think “nothing” is going right, stop yourself. Think about what you can do to help things go more the way you planned. Or take an inventory of the things that are working out.
6. No one
“No one cares.”
“I would, but no one would notice.”
“No one wants to talk to me.”
Similar to “everyone” you may also group people into “no one”.
So you may think “no one” cares or “no one” loves you. This can bring loneliness and isolation, especially if you think “no one” will understand or “no one” gets it.
There are a lot of people in the world. People who are willing to help. And a lot of people who want to see you succeed. But you’ve been tricked into thinking “no one” and it can make you miserable and disconnected.
(Author’s note: I was recently in a writing group and a writer said he thought “no one” would read my writing. An example of him projecting his all-or-nothing mentality.)
“I can’t do anything right.”
“I’d try but I can’t do new things.”
“I can’t change even if I tried.”
Thinking you “can’t” do something may be all-or-nothing thinking.
You may feel you “can’t” do anything right, or you “can’t” overcome depressed thoughts or anxiety. But you can. You may not be able to do everything you want, but you can do way more than you think.
You should congratulate yourself for trying—this shit is though!
RELATED ARTICLE: Completely Change Your Life With a Growth Mindset (3 Steps)
“People either like me or hate me.”
“They’ll accept the proposal or my business is a failure.”
“It’s either a complete success or total failure.”
A part of all-or-nothing thinking is either-or.
Either everything is perfect or a complete disaster. You’re a success or a total failure. Someone is kind or they’re nasty. You get exactly what you want or you’re not satisfied at all.
So if you ever feel like a complete failure, look for things that you did right. Remind yourself that there’s a space in between either-or. People make mistakes and aren’t kind 100% of the time. It doesn’t mean they aren’t a kind person.
“I’m just not attractive in the job market anymore.”
“Things used to work out, not anymore.”
“There’s no good people anymore.”
“Anymore” is all-or-nothing thinking that idolized the past and puts a negative cloud over the future.
So if you go on 5 interviews that are all duds or 10 bad first dates in a row. Remember that you found a job and were in relationships before and you will be again.
There are millions of people who have jobs that they love, and millions of people in happy relationships too. You can be one of them. And it will be a lot easier when you ditch the “anymore” all-or-nothing thinking.
Ending Thought & Mantra
Say it with me now,
“While I may not do things right all the time, I’m doing the best I can with what I have. And in the end things will work out for me because I deserve happiness, respect and love just as much as everyone else.
Someone just spent hours and came up with examples so I can be aware of and get rid of all-or-nothing thinking. The puppy pics were cute as hell. She’s a genius.
There are people out there who care and genuinely want me to succeed. I’m gonna go out there and do this. I can!”
Want to stop all-or-nothing thoughts for good?
Check out the All-or-Nothing Thinking Workbook with 17 prompts to help you create a balanced mindset.
Photo by Alex Ghizila