Do You Think This Way—Yes Or No?

by Doc Orman, M.D.


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How Either-Or Thinking Leads To StressMy final post for this week was originally published, in this blog, in early 2012, which is several months later than the first two posts I reviewed this week appeared.  I selected this particular post to revisit with you today, because it gives you one specific example of what I mean by an internal (hidden) cause of human stress.

Either/Or Thinking

by Doc Orman, M.D. on January 25, 2012

In this post, I’m going to focus on one of the major categories of hidden causes of stress—Either/Or Thinking. This one category, which contains many specific types of Either/Or Thinking, plays an important (but often unseen) role in how much stress we experience.

What Is Either/Or Thinking?

Either/Or Thinking is our tendency to automatically view the world around us, and many of the events that happen within it, from an either/or framework. It is a pattern of thinking that is very prominent in Western, industrialized societies and less prominent in others, particularly Eastern, Oriental cultures.

With Either/Or Thinking, we tend to view life as occurring in very discrete, polarized opposites. Something happens, and we view it as being either good or bad. Someone does something or says something, and we view it as being either right or being wrong. Something goes well, and we look for people to credit. Something goes poorly, and we look for people to blame.

In other words, we tend to view many aspects of life from a wide array of polarized Either/Or dichotomies. Something can be either black, or it can be white. But if it is black, it can’t be white, and so on.

[It’s important to understand that Either/Or Thinking is not something we consciously choose to do.  It is an automatic tendency that becomes “hard-wired” or “conditioned” into our bodies at a very early age. It’s a “short-cut” way of thinking that helps us to simplify many complex aspects of life, but this simplification also comes with a price, which is a good deal of added, unnecessary stress in our lives.]

The Problem With Either/Or Thinking

While Either/Or Thinking may seem like a convenient way of simplifying our understanding of life, it can lead to faulty impressions that can cause us to experience stress. The reason is that life rarely happens in nice, neat, one-sided, compartmentalized ways. Life is usually much more complex, messy, and multidimensional. So when we focus exclusively on just one side of a complex dualistic reality, we artificially make it appear to be exclusively one-sided, when in truth it is not.

[In other words, Either/Or Thinking often makes us temporarily “blind” to certain dimensions of the world around us. By focusing primarily on any one side of an either/or dichotomy, we often find it difficult to appreciate any aspects of reality that might be part of the other side.]

For example, life rarely happens in exclusively good or exclusively bad ways. Most things that happen have both good and bad qualities, or they can have potentially good and bad possibilities to them. Eastern cultures have embodied this dualistic nature of reality in a Yin-Yang way of thinking, where aspects of life are viewed as always having a broader spectrum of qualities, including both sides of a dichotomy, even though it may initially appear to have only one.

Either/Or Thinking, Focus, And Stress

When we focus on just one side of an Either/Or perspective, and deny the existence of any other qualities, we significantly distort the truth about reality. And when we have a distorted view of reality, we can generate stress in our lives that would never have occurred if we had a more correct and expanded view of what actually happened.

Similarly, when we become aware that we have automatically become trapped within a very narrow, one-sided view of reality, and when we consciously choose to expand our focus to consider other legitimate viewpoints, we can prevent or eliminate much of the stress that did result, or would have resulted, from our previously distorted viewpoints.

Here again, we see the enormous influence of focus in our lives. Because we live (and grow up within) a society that conditions us to think in misleading Either/Or terms, our focus is restricted to just one side of a much broader reality, and we can generate stress as a consequence.

On the other hand, we all have the ability to expand our focus…anytime we choose. Even though our bodies are programmed to think in Either/Or ways, we don’t have to remain stuck in these narrow perspectives. We can consciously choose to expand our view and consider other aspects of reality that may also be true.

So the next time you automatically view something as being exclusively good, or exclusively bad, or exclusively right, or exclusively wrong—take just a few moments to test your awesome powers of focus. See if you can look from the opposite perspective and notice other “truths” about reality that your initial, limited focus might have caused you to miss.

If you try this a few times, you might be amazed at what new things you will see. In fact, if you get very good at this handy refocusing skill, you might just find that some of your stress will magically disappear. Hocus focus!

[I hope you’ve enjoyed revisiting these three important blog posts this week. Even if you saw them originally, it can’t hurt to be exposed to them again.  Also, if you haven’t yet visited my Pinterest stress relief boards, please do so at http://pinterest.com/docorman and please feel free to comment on, like, or repin any images that you think others should be aware of.]

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