How frequently do you find yourself thinking, feeling, or talking as if there’s only one right way of looking at things? Ever so often, humans speak in binaries – either right or wrong, winner or loser, fat or thin, smart or stupid. Everything is either black or white, with no scope of a grey middle ground. This is known as ‘Polarised Thinking’.
Where does Polarised Thinking come from?
Polarised Thinking is very common. It is especially emphasised during childhood and teenage years by our elders:
• Either you are either a good child or a bad child;
• Either you tell the truth or you are a liar;
• Either you know the right answer or you fail;
• Either you come first in the competition or you lose.
Very often, spiritual and religious teachings also reinforce this concept:
• Either you follow this religion or you are not a true believer;
• Either you do punya or you do paap;
• Either you go to Heaven or to Hell.
Why is Polarised Thinking harmful?
Polarised Thinking is unbalanced. Such thought believes only in two extremes and ignores the complexities in between. In a difficult situation, one places the possible results on either poles.
In politics, Polarized Thinking effectively rules out opportunities for compromise or consensus. It is why issues such as Palestine and Kashmir are unresolved. Governments forget compromise and think that if they don’t win, they lose.
But the most immediate hazards of Polarized Thinking can be seen in our personal lives. For example:
• If I’m trying to lose weight, losing 10kgs is success and any less is failure;
• If I’m working at a job, being the best amongst my colleagues is success and any less is failure;
• If I’m trying for colleges, getting into the best is success and any less is failure.
We constantly demand perfection from ourselves and do not give room for flexibility. This all-or-nothing attitude is not constructive; it can be very distressing. This unreasonable demand for perfection leads to any other outcome to be seen as a failure. It leads to feelings of hopelessness and inadequacy. Studies have shown that the tension and stress of Polarised Thinking is counterproductive for most people of all ages. The fear of falling a little short can restrict you from working towards your goals and/or may hold you back from venturing into new avenues as well.
I found one case of Polarized Thinking in my own daughter. She is an exceptional poet who has won numerous awards for her writing. Yet, each time I propose publishing her work, she refuses, saying, “They’re not the best they can be. Each time I go back to them I find something to change and improve. They’ll never be perfect.” This inability to do something imperfect hinders her from doing something good. She forgets that just because her poetry isn’t the best doesn’t mean it isn’t fantastic.
How can you be free from Polarised Thinking?
Polarized Thinking is inherently irrational, yet Polarized Thinkers are some of the most rational people you will meet. This fascinating paradox is what coaches use to bring clients to recognize this limitation and rectify it.
A typical session usually involves asking some thought provoking questions. It starts with ‘On a scale of 1-10, how successful do you consider yourself?’ What this does is it allows the person to think of success as a scale rather than a binary. In choosing a number in between 1 and 10, the client is forced to face the possibility of their being a space between perfection and failure.
Other questions include ‘Who is successful? As compared to them, how successful would you consider yourself? What have they done to achieve this success? Do you know any of their failures?’ This allows the client to recognise that the path to success is not direct but often riddled with low periods. They face the reality that just because you are not perfect doesn’t mean you are not successful.
Further coaching and manifesting these realisations through graphology can eliminate demands for unattainable perfection and make it easier for you to work stress-free towards success.
My daughter just got a tattoo – an incomplete circle to symbolise that imperfections are ok. Are you too ready to let go of your Polarized Thinking?