Are you a Black and White Thinker? Tips to Support Healthier Thinking and See the Shades in Between

Do you see things as having to be all of nothing, black or white? 


Are these familiar thoughts?

  • If I can’t clean the whole house today, then I might as well not clean anything.
  • In order to do something positive for myself, I need to plan a trip.
  • Self-care needs to take a large chunk of time and has to be done every day.
  • I can’t get organized, so I might as well not try.


A Common Thinking Pattern

Black and white thinking, also called all or nothing thinking, is considered a cognitive distortion.  It is a thinking pattern that prevents us from taking the small steps that will move us forward.  Black and white thinking hijacks our thoughts and often gets us stuck in perfection or planning actions that are not realistic. When we are stuck in black and white thinking, we can’t seem to find any alternative or realistic ways of doing things.


Individuals with ADHD have a propensity to get caught in black and white thinking. When black and white thinking takes over, the brain swirls these negative thinking patterns and options appear as either I do the task 100%, perfect, or I don’t do it at all. Projects that appear too big, too difficult or will take too long overwhelm and shut the brain down.


Tips to Help You See Options

So, what do you do to see smaller sized options?  How do you get away from 0% of the task being done or 100% of the task being done with no happy medium?  The following tips will help you see smaller, more healthy options that will move you forward.


  1. Acknowledge that you are caught in black and white thinking. Are you hearing yourself say, “I have to do (fill in the blank) this way or I might as well not start it at all,” or “This is the way it needs to be.” Sometimes it requires the help of a trusted friend to help you identify your patterns of black and white thinking.
  2. Practice self-compassion. We all end up thinking in black or white at times, so be compassionate with yourself.
  3. Identify the task(s) and actions that need to be done or that you want to do.
  4. Define “good enough.” What is good enough for your goal? If you value family time, but set a goal for yourself to have the house organized top to bottom in two days, you are probably setting yourself up for disappointment.  What can you realistically organize (it might be the papers on the dining room table, or maybe just one pile of papers), while still honoring your value of spending time with your family?
  5. Brainstorm options around your goal. These options are the “shades” between black and white. If you are having a hard time coming up with options, enlist a trusted friend to help you identify other options besides perfect(all) and not at all. Remember, many individuals with ADHD are verbal processors, which means you think best when you are speaking your ideas out loud with someone else.
  6. Pick someplace to start, if only for 20 minutes. Several rounds of 20 minutes will add up to a lot. Rome wasn’t built in a day, so your house won’t be organized from top to bottom in one day either.
  7. Celebrate! Acknowledge the good work that you did. We so often look at what we didn’t accomplish.  The ADHD brain is good at getting caught up in shame and other negative stories we tell ourselves. Schedule time into your day to acknowledge the good things that you actually did accomplish.


You Have a Choice

Black and white thinking is a thought pattern, which means that once we recognize we are engaging in it, we have the choice to pick more supportive thoughts and honor what is really important to us.  If you need help understanding the unique wiring of the ADHD brain or taking actionable steps to move yourself forward toward your goals, please contact me.

Kristine (Shiverick) Kaufmann
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