Is All or Nothing Thinking An ADHD Tendency?

Day 23: All or Nothing Thinking

Something that you may experience as an adult with adhd tendencies is what’s referred to as “all or nothing thinking”. It means that things tend to be pretty black and white for us, there aren’t many shades of grey.

Do you remember as a kid sitting on the teeter-totter with a friend when suddenly they would push off the ground super hard and your seat would hit the ground?

It wasn’t a pleasant feeling. When we’re stuck in all or nothing thinking, we’re trying desperately to keep that seat from hitting the ground.

This can show up in many different ways. A few examples are:

  • “I’m all in or all out”. There’s no in between. When you discover a new hobby for example, you are super excited, run out and get all the necessary equipment, buy books and research the topic, Google it to death, find meetup groups where you can further hone your craft, prioritize it as more important than anything else in your life, and then a few months later when it’s lost its luster you’re over it. The equipment collects dust, and you’re on to the next thing.

  • “I just need to tap out for a bit.” You’re either super connected to the people in your life or you’re in a period of backingn off. Disconnected to recoup. You’ll be all in for as long as possible, and then while you love the people, you just get tired, can’t keep up and take a break.

  • “I’m a sprinter not a marathoner.” (Literally and figuratively) You’ll train hard for a race that has a goal and an end date in sight. It’s much harder to pace yourself for the long game. To commit to slow, steady, consistent steps over time. It’s almost painful.

  • “If this doesn’t work out I’m screwed.” You are a genious at thinking outside of the box and coming up with solutions, but your brain can lock into a particular solution as being “the one” and if it doesn’t work out it’s very hard to consider alternatives. You put all your money on one horse. All of the eggs in one basket. As an inherent risk taker, you’re willing to take a chance, but you don’t hedge your bets. You go all in on the one that you feel is the right one.

I love what Stacey Turis says about all or nothing thinking…

“ When you live in a state of all or nothing, achieving balance resembles a person running from one end of a teeter-totter to the other. There’s not much balance in there. Maybe a little bit right when you hit the center of the teeter-totter, but as people with ADHD, that’s not what we’re looking for. The trick is to never stay on one side for too long before you change directions. “ Stacey Turis, Portrait of An All Or Nothing Adult With ADHD, ADDitude Magazine

All or nothing thinking can be a bit of a game that our brains like to play. It keeps us actively engaged in a way that can’t be accomplished strictly with our brain chemicals.

We go all in on one thing, and then take it as far as it will go, or as long as our interest lasts and then before that teeter totter hits the ground we switch things up, throw caution to the wind and run hard and fast in the opposite direction.

It can feel exhilerating. It can also keep us learning and doing so much at the surface level without ever staying with something long enough for it to truly take hold.

In order to grow as a person, we have to go beyond our comfort zone. All or nothing thinking doesn’t allow us to do that. We give up and switch directions before the boredom and discomfort strikes.

Here’s my question for you…if there’s something that you really really want to master, what’s the worst that would happen if you allowed that seat to hit the ground?

What if you didn’t run immediately in the other direction as discomfort approached? What if when the seat hit, you stepped off, took a seat and reviewed what worked, what didn’t and then decided how you wanted to proceed. Conciously. You may want to head the opposite direction. You may want to step a little bit towards the middle so that the seat lifts back off the ground. You may want to run back to the middle.

But you are going to allow yourself to choose. You’re not afraid of the bounce.

I believe success is in the nuances. In being able to actually decide your next move, rather than feeling driven by fear of the seat hitting. ~Shaun