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Four Ways To Unlearn Limited Thinking

2020 has shown us that it's a VUCA world out there! …. and while we seek to lean in and embrace the volatility, complexity, uncertainty and ambiguity of our everyday, it can feel a bit prickly at times. As human’s our potential to adapt is immense. It lies in our ability to simultaneously learn and unlearn, and to consciously evolve our inner game – our beliefs, frames of thinking and emotional state. How we express our thinking in our words directly reflects the health of our inner game. How do you express your thinking?

How you think about your reality can determine whether you view things as stuck and unchangeable, with limited choice or as a spectrum of possibilities. Are you able to adapt how you think situationally, or does your thinking have you across most contexts of your life?

In its’ attempt to manage complexity and ambiguity the human brain constantly seeks out mental short-cuts by selecting and sorting information into opposites (polarities). It does so using perceptual filters and belief frames.

Either-or thinking, otherwise known as black and white thinking acts as a mental short-cut by assuming polarities operate as mutually exclusive choices – I am either good or bad, right or wrong, a success or failure. While either-or thinking is a part of our natural thought process, when used habitually, this dichotomous thinking style induces the language of ‘necessity’ – “must, have to, had to, should” and the language of ‘impossibility’ – “can’t, couldn’t, shouldn’t, mustn’t, don’t”. This distorted and generalised language helps us adapt the world out there to our idea’s, beliefs, values and our need for closure, regulating and controlling our life events. Our language feeds back onto our thinking reinforcing a distorted and generalised perspective of the world, our self and others, often resulting in amplified states of anxiety and frustration. When we habitually use the language of either-or thinking, we operate from a mode of personal limitation, obligation and stuckness through lack of choice.

Both-and thinking, also known as continuum or shades of grey thinking views polarities as defining a spectrum of possibilities, inviting us into the continuum between both good and bad, right and wrong, success and failure, increasing the choices and possibilities available to us. Both-and thinking integrates the language of ‘desire’ – “I want to, love to, choose to, opt for, get to” and the language of ‘possibility’ – “will, may, can, could, would” into our thinking enabling our will, intention, choice and responsiveness. When we operate from the mode of possibility, we adopt the language of behaviour, verbs and process and in doing so create reasons, look for opportunity to expand our options and feel motivated to make choices and take action.

Four Ways To Unlearn Either-or Thinking

Gain Self Awareness Through Inquiry

Gain awareness of when you use either-or thinking. Ask yourself ‘how’ questions…how did I motivate myself to exercise, go to work, mow the lawn, walk the dog? Did you have a reason or did you ‘have to’ do it? Understand if this thinking is contextual or habitual, is it resourceful or not? Once you have the awareness you have the choice to make a decision to integrate the language of possibility and desire.

Reframe Your Thinking

Ask yourself…what is the positive intention here? What might be useful about this experience? What might I learn from this mistake? What did I do well? What else could be here? What might I be missing? What other options might exist? What am I assuming with this way of thinking?

Get Comfortable With Uncertainty

How do you feel uncertainty? With anxiety or excitement? Where in your body do you feel anxiety or excitement? How do you experience it? Does it have a color, shape or sound? If it’s anxiety you feel, can you accept it, take care of it and in doing so be free of it, so that it doesn’t impede your thought and action?

Embrace Curiosity

Curiosity generates inquiry which supports problem-solving. Inquiry through questioning helps you gather multiple opinions and perspectives – consider truths beyond your own truth, even if you think you already have the answer.


Hall, L. Michael; Bodenhamer, G. Bob (1997). Figuring out people: Design engineering using meta programs. Wales, UK: Anglo-American Books

Huffington Post, (2016), Eva M. Selhub. Accessed 30 November 2018.

IQ Matrix, Adam Sicinski. Accessed 30 November 2018.

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