Our brains crave certainty, often pushing us into a mindset of either/or, weaving narratives of success or failure, virtue or vice. I’ve noticed this to be the root to many of my clients’ shame or guilt as we work together on their mindset. They’ve convinced themselves that they’re either good or bad, succeeding or failing in some way. But this binary thinking is easily broken by learning to live in the ‘and’.
The binary trap
This binary thinking, ingrained in our beliefs, often keeps us striving for the ‘good’, leaving us feeling lacking when we fall short. The truth is, this is an illusion. Life, for the most part, isn’t defined by either/or scenarios. It’s a vast spectrum of experiences. Yet, many of us generate intense negative emotions and pain, believing that if we’re not one thing, we must be the other.
The crux of the matter is that life is not a series of rigid binaries. I want you to explore the idea that you can be a little bit of both. Good at some things and bad at others. A success in the ways that matter to you and a failure at things that weren’t meant for you anyways. This is how you start finding freedom from the constraints of either/or thinking.
For me, I realized that I had this story about being lazy. My whole life I carried this narrative. But when I started showing myself all the evidence that I am incredibly persistent, a really hard worker, and an overachiever, it was really hard to hold these two truths together.
I struggled to identify as someone that is not lazy because I really do love doing nothing and taking naps all the time! I will always take time to rest throughout the day. And so I kept thinking, am I really lazy? Yes, in certain things. But I’m also extremely hardworking and extremely persistent. It was then when I started to truly understand that I am an incredibly persistent, hardworking person AND I’m lazy. Both of these things are true. Both of these things are part of my personality–not either/or.
Acknowledging this duality was huge, as it meant reconciling the image of a determined achiever with that of someone who also valued lots of rest and relaxation. In this mindset, I could be both by choosing to live in the ‘and’.
Changing the narrative
So many people come to me sold on one story that they have about themselves. They’re sold on the story that they are selfish or that they are not smart, for example. When we consider what could be on the other side of the story that they’re ignoring or look for the pieces of evidence that they’re not looking at–they can identify that. But they have a really hard time changing their identity from their original story. And a really easy way of bridging that gap is by changing one’s perspective to, can I just be an ‘and’ for a while?
Maybe you start realizing, I can be extremely loving and be a rude person. I can be absent-minded and forgetful, and I can care very deeply about things that are important to me. You are a multifaceted person that has the ability to be multiple things at once.
When we can break from the either/or mindset and start seeing ourselves as multifaceted, it becomes easier to see other people like this, too. It becomes easier to understand that other people are not these dichotomies of good and bad. From here, we can create not just a rich life for ourselves, but rich relationships where we understand that no one is perfect. No one person is either/or, good or bad, nor a success or failure.
By recognizing that everyone possesses both strengths and weaknesses, I’ve learned to approach relationships, even in professional settings, with more dimension and empathy. You may start realizing your boss or coworker is not someone that’s on a power trip. Maybe they are on a power trip and are also extremely insecure or think that is the best way to do things,
This understanding is not for them, but for you. It gets you out of the potential anger and frustration of, Why is this person this way? And allows you to color that experience with understanding and empathy
Facing your flaws
In the world of personal development, the ‘and’ perspective is also a game-changer. Growth and development isn’t a punishment for being deeply flawed or needing to change if you’re not ‘good’ or ‘bad’. We all grapple with our contradictions—hypocrisy, lies, selfishness—yet, within each of us resides beauty, love, generosity, and kindness.
Rather, can you accept your weakest parts? What if you could love and accept yourself and know you can still work on your weaknesses? This mindset shift has alleviated the pressure to achieve perfection and allowed for a more loving approach to my own development. For example: I don’t have to change because I’m bad at XYZ, I can be bad at XYZ and know that I can improve on it with compassion for myself.
Challenge yourself to seek the ‘and’
Living within this ‘and’ perspective and consistently reinforcing it within yourself eases the process of navigating through all facets of your identity. The next time you find yourself attempting to persuade yourself of a particular truth about your identity, challenge yourself to seek the ‘and.’ I promise this perspective allows for a more authentic self-exploration, without all the hang ups.