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How Can We Avoid Dichotomous Thinking in Our Own Writing?

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Dichotomous thinking, also known as "black or white thinking," is a symptom of many psychiatric conditions and personality disorders, including borderline personality disorder (BPD). Dichotomous thinking contributes to interpersonal problems and to emotional and behavioral instability.

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A good example of a cognitive distortion is what Beck originally called ‘selective abstraction’ but which is often now referred to as a ‘mental filter’. It describes our tendency to focus on one detail, often taken out of context, and ignore other more important parts of an experience. For example, Jenny delivered some teaching at her workplace and got a round of applause at the end as well as numerous colleagues telling her how well she did and how helpful they had found her presentation

When she looked at the feedback forms afterwards she noticed one form with critical comments and a poor rating. She couldn’t stop thinking about this one piece of negative feedback and criticized herself saying “I’m such a rubbish teacher”. As a result she felt awful. Jenny’s thinking process was distorted because she had managed to ignore all of the positive feedback she had received and focus solely on the negative. She did this automatically and without realizing she had done it. Cognitive distortions are common, entirely normal, and not our fault. None of us are 100% logical and rational like Mr Spock. But when unhelpful thinking styles are present in our lives to an excessive degree they are associated with poor mental health. There is strong evidence that people with depression and anxiety think in characteristically biased and unhelpful ways. Recognizing and then overcoming our unhelpful thinking styles is frequently an important part of CBT treatment for anxiety and depression.

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The way a person perceives and thinks after succeeding in a certain thing is also a determinant factor of future success. A person with an emotional thinking style may for example over-celebrate an instance of success leading to future failures

It is however important to note that despite the fact that the optimistic thinking style is generally better as compared to the other two, it has its weaknesses. A person with an optimistic thinking style may take things for granted while assuming that all will be well. This may lead to a failure that will take him/her by surprise. After repeated failures, such a person may even develop a negative disposition like being emotional. This may make him/her an emotional thinker (Martin, 2010, p. 1). It is, therefore, important to note that dispositions are not static. Therefore, a person may have more than one of the three thinking styles during his/her lifetime. The three thinking styles are largely similar. One of their similarities is the fact that the three thinking styles stem from the disposition of the particular individual with whom they are associated. For instance, an emotional person is likely to have an emotional thinking style; a pessimistic person is likely to have a pessimistic thinking style while an optimistic person is likely to have an optimistic thinking style (Pritchett, 2007, p. 1). In addition to this, emotional and pessimistic thinking styles are likely to have more negative influences on an individual than the optimistic thinking style. This is because the thinking style of a person is a key determinant of the appropriateness and success of actions that he/she takes in order to make a situation better.

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By and large, there are decisions made from thinking based on personal emotions; this is usually referred to as emotional thinking. Emotional thinking is very dangerous as the results provided are usually biased. Creative thinking is thinking that brings forth new and different ways of approaching issues. This usually leads to new problem solving techniques. The different types of thinking have their strengths and weaknesses. The opinion of people on a given issue is usually different with respect to others

The best approach is usually to take critical analysis of all of them as well as checking on the possible consequences.

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Martin, P. (2010). Explanatory Style – Optimism/Pessimism. Retrieved from

Pritchett, P. (2007). How pessimism can add value to our work, Hard Optimism. Retrieved from

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