All or Nothing thinking

Here is the first of my posts about cognitive distortions – I’ll be adding more as time goes on. There are 13 on the list; some of them I do all the time, some only sometimes and a couple I don’t really do at all.

All or nothing thinking – You see things in black and white categories. If performance fall short of perfect, you see yourself and others as failures.

This one definitely applies to me, although only in my own performance – not in others (strangely?)

I have one rule for myself and one for everyone else. Everyone else just has to do their best, whereas I have to be perfect.

A good example of this is that when I’m doing work I feel like if it’s not going to be perfect (worth a 1st) then there’s no point in doing it. Also, when I get my grades back, if it’s short of perfect I feel like a complete failure.

I do seem to be quite an all or nothing person. Sometimes this can be good, because it means I never give a half-arsed attempt at anything, but it can back fire because whatever I do will never be good enough for myself. It can also mean that I don’t want to attempt things because I know that if I don’t do it well enough I will feel like a failure.

It’s either perfect or a failure.

Would love to hear about other people’s experiences with all or nothing thinking. What do you do? How do you overcome these thoughts?


14 thoughts on “All or Nothing thinking

  1. Juliet says:

    same here… how do I overcome it? No idea. But I’m not so hard on myself anymore. I noticed that it’s okay not to be perfect. The world doesn’t end if it’s not an A. I’ve just become more relaxed about it. But it depends on the subject matter for me. There are modules at university I couldn’t care less about – but then there are others and in those, I’m more strict with myself.

    • anxiouselephant says:

      Glad that you aren’t so hard on yourself anymore. I need to realise that it’s ok not to be perfect. I know rationally that it’s ok, but my brain doesn’t usually agree with the rational side!! xxx

  2. Natalya says:

    Oh this was a big one for me but I did the CBT and conquered it. You can too! It’s so much more liberating to not have to worry about whether or not what you’re doing is perfect. Perfection doesn’t even exist-aside from a 100% on a test but in most things we are being subjective. I might think something is perfect but someone else may not. Perfection has a lot to do with opinion. If you can learn to love yourself you will not beat yourself up for doing anything less than “perfect”. Why miss out on trying something new b/c you know you can’t do it expertly yet? We all start somewhere and doing only those things we know we can do very well is a life not fully lived! I’m speaking from experience here! Besides all that you get to have more fun when you aren’t obsessing over achieving perfection all the time.


  3. maddsuspicions says:

    Hi, interesting post, I used to think the same years ago. I’m not sure of any actual steps I actively took to change those thoughts but they did seem to change over time mostly as I just began to learn about the different shades in between black and white in the world. There are still a couple of things I am quite stubborn about, but i’ll not go into that here. All the best.

  4. scienerf says:

    Oh the bane of my life, all or nothing thinking. I’ve always struggled to do work because of it and at the moment I’m in the middle of a conundrum over it…I know I don’t have to do it perfectly or over think it (they told me so right at the start) but I still can’t make myself do it! As always it will be a last minute dash to the finish line when the anxiety over being in trouble for not doing it is more than the anxiety over not doing it to my standards.
    I have however come to terms with the grade I got for my degree because well…no one doing my course got a 1st even those that are scarily intelligent who have gone on to do phd’s and I was (looking back) in the middle of a mental health crisis that I didn’t want to admit to!
    I repeat to myself that ‘Nobody is perfect’ when I’m struggling…keep telling yourself that because it’s true! xx

    • anxiouselephant says:

      It is a really difficult one. Thanks for sharing your story 🙂 Like you, I know that it doesn’t “have to be perfect”, but I can’t get it out of my head that it’s not going to be good enough! You are right – no one is perfect. xx

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