InsideOut Empowerment Principle #7: People often see their choices as either/or choices, creating imagined dilemmas and forced choices. For as long as I can remember, my family serves both pumpkin and apple pie for dessert on Thanksgiving. The question is always, “Do you want pumpkin or apple pie?” I want to know why I can’t have both? Now that’s a simple example with a simple solution. Think of some things you force yourself into a choice over when it would be possible for you to have both. For example, I want to eat chocolate/I want to lose weight; I want to buy the things I want/I want to eliminate my credit card debt; I want people to like me/I want to be myself.
Either/or thinking is a known to be a component of Western culture—Eastern cultures are not as plagued by these forced-choice self-created dilemmas we often put upon ourselves. Why is this either/or thinking so bad for our mental health? Well, when you tell yourself you must give up something you want, you tend to generate unhappiness and possibly need-frustration.
You can greatly increase your power by asking, “How can I do/have/be both?” For example, how can I reduce my credit card debt and still buy things on a whim when I want to? Or, how can I lose weight and still have chocolate? Or, how can I be myself and still be liked by others? When you pose the question, your mind begins to work to find the answers. When you tell yourself you can’t do/have/be something, you shut off the flow of possibilities. Of course, you can eat chocolate and still lose weight by increasing physical activity. You can still spend on a whim and reduce debt by earmarking a certain amount of “mad money” you can spend frivolously on a whim. You can be yourself and the “right” people will like you. The people who will like the person you are will be attracted into your life when you are behaving authentically.
You will expand your thinking, increase freedom, and reduce a sense of scarcity, when you begin to develop a both/and mentality and eliminate either/or thinking.
Now, if you do happen to run into a true dilemma where you really can’t have both things you want, then you must make a choice. Ask yourself, “Which is most important?” Try to reach beyond just what is most important in the current moment and consider the long-term effects, as well. You may still choose what is most important right now, but at least consider what could be even more beneficial later.
And when you are making a decision to give something up, you must figure out what need that will frustrate and build in more ways to get that need met in your life. For example, if you are giving up a relationship, then you must plan more connection in your life. If the thing you give up frustrates your freedom need, then build in more ways to feel free in your present circumstance. You want to balance your needs to prevent a relapse. Do you have an example of a time you changed your either/or thinking to both/and for a much better solution?