Throughout the past year, I have realized I’ve been living life in black and white. It’s how I’ve viewed myself and others without consciously deciding to. It masqueraded as integrity or authenticity – if I say I believe in something or want to live my life a certain way, I am all in because if I’m not ALL in, what’s the point? Any transgression would be a disappointment and likely to seriously have me questioning my identity. Like, seriously. Who am I if I don’t eat, sleep, and breathe whatever others have associated with me or that I wanted to be associated with? If I’m not an expert in every subject I have a passion for, that must mean I don’t care enough about it.
And unknowingly, I’d impose this judgement onto others, too. Especially for subjects near and dear to my heart. Depending on what it was, I would take it personally – how can they care about me and not care about what I believe in?! Or for something like climate change, other people could give me anxiety – how can they truly care so little?! It would turn my stomach in knots. I couldn’t see grey – it seemed crystal clear to me what was RIGHT and wrong.
Black and white thinking has crept into relationships and in general, how I see and show up in the world. Until now. Now, I choose to live in color.
Causes Pain and Distrust
Thinking in black and white causes a lot of pain. Why? Because it is a recipe that leaves one outcome: distrust. Of yourself and others. It’s like you’ve created a script of what life should look like and leave no room for you or the other characters to deviate from that script. And when they – and you – inevitably do, you feel betrayed. Self-betrayal is hard to recover from because you don’t feel safe within yourself. It’s a dangerous and lonely way to live.
Fear Inducing and Restrictive
Allowing yourself to live in black and white induces fear – if I don’t create and live by specific rules for every aspect of my life, what will people think of me? What will I think of me? Yes, there are personal morals and values we stick to (more on that in a moment), but B + W can make us really strict on even the smallest decisions. It can make us indecisive because we feel paralyzed by each choice we make (think Chidi from The Good Place). It makes us feel restricted and scared to try new things.
Increases Anxiety and Isolation
Above I shared a brief thought pattern on how I would feel about other people’s apathetic view on the welfare of our planet. As if the state of the planet alone is not enough to cause panic and anxiety, the fact so many choose to turn a blind eye to it can really send my nerves on high and make me feel alone within some peer groups. Ultimately, this is a black and white byproduct. By assuming that because others’ don’t share my exact level of concern or passion meant they didn’t care at all, right? And maybe they don’t care about me either? It’s real easy to spiral. Again, dangerous and lonely thinking.
Living in black and white caused a lot of serious health implications for me, physically and mentally. Whether it was being unkind to myself by beating myself up with a negative mental soundtrack or becoming obsessive with my diet and activity levels, it was all around a terrible situation. These self-harming habits have manifested in so many different ways throughout my life from disordered eating, exercise & calorie tracking obsessions, and constant compulsive research into topics that would increase my anxiety and depression. The sad thing is, a lot of these activities were disguised as healthy habits that I took pride in. In reality, they were inhibitors for my personal freedom.
*Note: this is my personal experience with diet/lifestyle choices I’ve made over the years. These situations don’t become problematic for everyone, but they did for me, which is why I needed to make changes.
So what does releasing black and white thinking leave you with? And how do you, too, live in color?
Get Honest With Your Ego
To really dig into this practice, you have to be willing to be honest with yourself and work on your ego. As a protective mechanism, the ego likes to create stories to support black and white thinking – I’m right, they’re wrong. By spending time uncovering the layers of the ego, we can release the stories and start to live in color. This is continuous work but does become easier. A great resource for ego work (and general self healing) is @the.holistic.psychologist.
Creating endless scrolls of rules is a way for us to have control. But it’s not realistic. We’re only in control of our actions, but even then, things may not turn out as we hope. For example, I bring my travel mug to a cafe but the barista forgets to use it and instead puts it in a disposable mug. There was a time that I’d beat myself up over it, but.. Why? There’s nothing I could have done differently; I could not control what the barista did. So why back myself into this black and white corner? Releasing control is a daily practice. Take it one thought process at a time. Pause for a deep breath whenever you’re feeling super control-y. Unclench your jaw. Try not to take things so seriously.
Focus on You + Your Values
As I said, the only thing we can control are our actions. And what’s really awesome is, we get to decide who we want to be and how we want to act. Spend time thinking about this (especially future self journaling from The Holistic Psychologist – can you tell how much I admire her?!).
We all have our own set of values that we adhere to. But we do not have to present them to everyone on the street. They do not have to be set in stone. They can grow and shift with us. An example of this is diet, which can range from eating very consciously to not and everything in between. Only the individual making the choice knows what works best for them and what they are comfortable with. And it can, and normally does, change often.
However, an example of something I am black and white on, that I would hope to say most people are, is discrimination or racism of any kind. For me, that is never okay. See what I mean – there are certain things you are going to be black and white on. And that’s okay.
There’s nothing wrong with wanting to educate or advocate for what you believe in, but there’s nothing personal if other people don’t jump on board. Some subjects can evoke a lot of passion within you that make you feel very black and white. And that’s okay, as long as you’re willing to hear the other side, too. The best way to educate others is to come from a place of love – you are planting seeds. You cannot change someone’s mind instantly.
This is not an excuse for being apathetic, not living with integrity, or for being a flakey or phoney. It’s about giving yourself permission to soften, to cut yourself some slack. One of my oldest and dearest friends gave me advice that has stuck with me for years – if at the end of the day, you can honestly look yourself in the mirror and be proud of who you are, that’s all that matters. And it’s true – you know where your own moral compass is guiding you. Listen to it.
Benefits of Living in Color
Living in color is beautiful. It’s peaceful. Your life is filled with more compassion. You release judgements, hone in on what really matters to you, and don’t take things personally. You invite more wonder and joy into your life. Your energy is no longer spent second guessing yourself but reassured with more self-trust. It requires us to challenge norms but releasing black and white thinking gives you freedom to connect with your highest self. To simply be and enjoy life.