Build Your Flexible Thinking Muscles With This Simple Tool

Photo by Jonathan Borba on Unsplash

I recently wrote about all or nothing thinking (also known as “black or white thinking”), and the negative impact that rigid, inflexible thought patterns can have on a person’s well-being.

In the aforementioned blog post, I discussed mindfulness as a powerful, key tool for challenging these types of distorted thoughts. In short: by using mindfulness, we can become more aware of distorted thinking patterns as they occur. A mindfulness foundation sets the stage for your success, because as G.I. Joe says: “Knowing is half the battle.” You can’t start to challenge or change something you aren’t aware of.

Today I want to share another tool for building your flexible thinking muscles that you can start putting into practice right this minute. It’s simple, really:

Use “and” instead of “but”

This is a technique I learned from an amazing CBT rock star therapist during my graduate training. He loved this approach so much, he almost never used the word “but” in conversation. In the years since , I have also put this into practice, in both my written and verbal communications.

Integrating “and” into your mental vocabulary instead of “but” can help to cultivate a more flexible approach to your thoughts and feelings. It reminds us that things that seem incompatible can exist and be true at the same time. They can both be valid instead of one cancelling out the other.

You can practice this approach in your self-talk, as you notice all or nothing thinking occurring, and even in your verbal or written exchanges.

Let’s put it into action with an example:

“I’m a really hard worker and devoted to my job…but I didn’t get a promotion” versus: “I’m a really hard worker and devoted to my job…and I didn’t get a promotion.”

Does one feel different from the other? Even though two “truths” can appear to exist in opposition, they are capable of co-existing.

Some more examples:

“I love my mother so much…but she drives me crazy.”

“I love my mother so much…and she drives me crazy.”

“I worked so hard to make that project a success, but it didn’t happen.”

“I worked so hard to make that project a success, and it didn’t happen.”

“You cleaned the kitchen, but you didn’t mop the floor.”

“You cleaned the kitchen, and you didn’t mop the floor.”

“My partner is loving and kind, but it’s hard for me when he’s socially awkward.”

“My partner is loving and kind, and it’s hard for me when he’s socially awkward.”

“Having a dog is great, but I hate having to clean up after it.”

“Having a dog is great, and I hate having to clean up after it.”

“I had a pretty good day today, but my depression hasn’t gone away.”

“I had a pretty good day today, and my depression hasn’t gone away.”

It might feel a bit awkward or strange to try this exercise…AND you should stick with it for a bit to find out how it goes (see what I did there?).

Remember that your brain is neuroplastic, meaning that it can change. By using this simple, easy-to-practice exercise, you can begin rewiring your brain to adapt a more flexible thinking style. Start today and see what happens!

If you’ve been using mindfulness to become more aware of your moment-to-moment, day-to-day thoughts, I doff my hat to you! You are setting yourself for success, and for changing your brain! (Isn’t that amazing?)

And if you haven’t started a mindfulness practice yet, download my free, guided audio meditation. It’s perfect for beginners and will guide you through all the steps of mindfulness mediation:

Eight Minutes to Calm: A Free Guided Audio Meditation Delivered to Your Inbox Today!

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This site is for informational purposes only. It isn’t intended to diagnose or treat any mental health problems and is not intended as psychological advice.
© 2020 Gina Davis, PsyD. All rights reserved.

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