Fifty Shades of Grey, the first book in the Fifty Shades trilogy by author E.L. James, has been on the New York Times bestseller list (along with the other two books in the trilogy) for thirty-three weeks, and counting. There is buzz about the film. Even bigger buzz is about why the book has been such a hit, and inspiring either “love it or hate it” reactions. I confess, I haven’t read anymore than the first sample chapters that I could get for free on my iPad–and that didn’t drive me to instantly download the rest of the book. Since I was only mildly intrigued, the book has slipped to my “spare time” reading list. Seems to be another way that psychologists are just like you, for there it stays, waiting for either a classic Dallas ice storm stay-at-home day or a broken leg.
While I am not recommending that fifty shades of grey, there are fifty shades of gray that most of us all-or-nothing thinkers need in our lives. All or nothing thinking is that thinking trap that I write about frequently because it fuels unhappiness so powerfully: success or failure, with no grace in between. Either I parent perfectly, never yelling at my kids, or I’m a bad mom. I earn all As, or I may as well flunk out. My house is spotless, or I’m a rotten housekeeper.
This black and white thinking pattern is so common that we can probably write it off to simply being human. In the course of the evolution of the species, questions with yes/no answers contributed to survival. You steered clear of the saber tooth tiger, or you got eaten. You avoided the poisonous berries, or you died. Humans who had this “all or nothing” decision tree burned into their brains are the ones who survived. AND lived to reproduce. Here we are, their descendents, only doing what we have evolved to do: reasoning in very black and white ways. We get it honestly.
But the world is not very black and white any more. Decisions aren’t as clear. We stress ourselves less when we learn to look for the shades of grey, particularly when evaluating success or failure. There are innumerable shades of grey along the continuum of our lives, degrees of accomplishment. In defeating this all or nothing thinking in your head, it helps to consider the grey. Count what you have accomplished.
Here’s a little tool for remembering to look for the shades of grey in your life.
I give these out as bookmarks, to remind black and white thinkers to look for the grey. Yes, it’s a paint sample strip. If you, like me, are plagued by all or nothing thinking, drop by your local paint store and pick up your own.
What form does your all or nothing thinking take? How can fifty shades of grey to shift your perspective?