Posts Tagged With: black and white thinking

Day 1346: Winners and Losers

Today’s title reminds me of two common cognitive distortions:  black-and-white thinking and labeling.  Yes, we humans — winners and losers all — tend to see things in all-or-nothing terms and we also assign judgmental labels to people, especially ourselves.

We are all winners and losers at some points, aren’t we?  Actually, a more winning perspective might be that “winners” and “losers” are subjective terms that don’t really help.  If I call myself a winner or a loser today, does that change who I am?  Don’t those all-or-nothing labels just cause me to temporarily win or lose confidence,  putting myself on a self-esteem roller coaster?  What would we lose if we stopped calling ourselves losers or winners and just radically accepted ourselves exactly where we are? Personally, I think we would win a lot.

Considering my thoughts on winners and losers, am I a winner or a loser to now ask  which of my photos from yesterday are winners or losers?




















I shall not lose the opportunity to win you over by sharing the impulses behind those photos:

  1. I am trying to win some acceptance about starting a new medication: Warfarin (a/k/a Coumadin).
  2. Warfarin/Coumadin affects how your body uses Vitamin K.
  3. The foods listed on the white board win the prize for having high amounts of Vitamin K.
  4. I’ll need to win a greater understanding of how to control Vitamin-K-rich foods in my diet, or I might lose my health.
  5. Hygga is a Danish word meaning “cozy,” a new-to-me concept which I find very winning.
  6. My cat Oscar can be very hygga.
  7. I am trying to win calmness and lose stress about my upcoming heart surgery and my only child going overseas for college by playing online solitaire.
  8. My boyfriend Michael cooked a winning meal last night.

Is this piece of music a winner or a loser, according to you?


If you leave a comment, I’m a winner!

I’d be some kind of loser if I didn’t express thanks to all who helped me create this post and to you — of course! — for winning my heart by visiting here, today.




Categories: personal growth, photojournalism | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 33 Comments

Day 1159: Good enough

Yesterday, in therapy, somebody described feeling guilty about how good a friend they were to somebody else.  We discussed how we humans tend to think of ourselves as all good OR all bad — in friendship, at work, with families, etc. —  flipping back and forth between the two extreme judgments of ourselves.

I suggested that this person always think of themselves of a “good enough friend” no matter what, rather than getting caught in the trap of “all or nothing” thinking.

Is this post good enough?

It IS good enough, but I can make it better by adding all the photos I took yesterday.









It’s good enough, here and now, to let you know that last night’s therapy group chose to focus on the topic of “Happy/Happiness.”  During that group, I drew the two pictures shown directly above AND I also wrote down the lyrics of this good enough song by Pharrell Williams:


I hope you know that any thoughts or feelings you share here are good enough for me.

Good enough thanks to all!


Categories: group therapy, personal growth, photojournalism | Tags: , , , , , , | 43 Comments

Day 1024: Shades of Gray

Would it be shady of me to start this black, white, & gray post with this?


Would it be shady to share a definition of the all-too-human tendency for black-and-white thinking and a suggested antidote to that common cognitive distortion?

Black-and-White thinking.
Things are either all good or all bad, people are either perfect or failures, something new will either fix everything or be worthless. There is no middle ground; we place people and situations in “either/or” categories, with no shades of gray, or allowing for complexities. Watch out for absolute words like “always”, “never,” “totally,” etc. as indications of this kind of distortion.

Thinking in Shades of Gray. Instead of thinking in all-or-nothing terms, evaluate a situation on a scale of 0 to 100.  Instead of absolute words like “never”, “always,” and “completely,” substitute modulated words like “seldom”, “often,” or “somewhat.” Consider the concept of “good enough” (e.g., “I am doing a good enough job at this”).

Yesterday, during (and after) a conference on innovation in medical practice, I looked for shades of gray among the blacks and whites.

IMG_6169 IMG_6171 IMG_6174 IMG_6176 IMG_6179 IMG_6180 IMG_6181 IMG_6182 IMG_6183 IMG_6184 IMG_6185 IMG_6186 IMG_6188 IMG_6195 IMG_6196 IMG_6197 IMG_6199IMG_6198

It’s good to be open to color, too.


What are your gray, black, white, and colorful thoughts about an appropriately shady song for this post?

You can find Haim performing Simon & Garfunkel’s “Hazy Shade of Winter” in shades of gray, here.

If you leave a black-and-white comment below, it will be read all over by me.

Thanks to all who helped me create this shadily good enough post and to you — of course! — for all the shades you see here, today.

Categories: personal growth, photojournalism, Psychotherapy | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 43 Comments

Day 774: What’s the right thing to do?

“What’s the right thing to do?” is a question I can ask myself, quite frequently.

Lately, I’ve been asking myself that question about:

  1. Preparing for a trip to California, starting tomorrow.
  2. Preparing for tax day, April 15.
  3. Preparing for my high school’s 45th reunion, some time in 2015.
  4. Preparing for the rest of my life.
  5. Interacting authentically with people, balancing my needs with their needs.
  6. Deciding, with the help of a cadre of cardiologists,  how to keep my very unusual heart beating, for as long as possible.
  7. Writing today’s blog post.

While asking

What’s the right thing to do?

can be important and helpful,  focusing TOO MUCH and TOO OFTEN on

“What’s the right thing to do?”

can be paralyzing and overwhelming, especially when right or wrong is not obvious.

When I am leading therapy groups at the Boston hospital where I work, I often say

There is no right or wrong way to do this.

I like saying that. And, people in the groups seem to like hearing that, too. Maybe that’s because we can all get caught up in the “cognitive distortion” of all-or-nothing thinking:

All-or-Nothing thinking (also known as “Black-and-White thinking”).
Things are either all good or all bad, people are either perfect or failures, something new will either fix everything or be worthless. There is no middle ground; we place people and situations in “either/or” categories, with no shades of gray, or allowing for complexities. Watch out for absolute words like “always”, “never,” “totally,” etc. as indications of this kind of distortion.

Today, Friday the 13th, February 2015, I hereby resolve to let go of right-or-wrong, all-or-nothing, and black-and-white thoughts that get in the way of my moving forward.

Instead, I’m going to allow room for shades of grays and the full spectrum of colors, like in these photos:


IMG_5428 IMG_5429 IMG_5430 IMG_5432 IMG_5431 IMG_5436

Yesterday, I couldn’t figure out

What’s the right thing to do?

… to load all those photos from my iPhone to my laptop.  Sometimes, just waiting patiently resolves a problem.

That last photo shows a new snow shovel that my wonderful downstairs neighbor, Karen, recently bought for us, to help us deal with all the !!@&!!!! snow in Boston  (see here, here, here, here, and here, for more details and images about that).

I don’t have to worry about

What’s the right thing to do?

with that shovel, until I get back from California.

I’m going to ask myself, just one more time:

What’s the right thing to do?

… before I publish this post.  What’s the right music to include here?

Do you have any ideas? Because I’m a little distracted today.

Maybe I should take my own advice:

 Sometimes, just waiting patiently resolves a problem.

Got it!

Dr. John performing “Right Place, Wrong Time” is in the right place here on YouTube.

Thanks to doctors everywhere, to anybody who has ever asked “What’s the right thing to do?” and to you — of course! — for being the right place at whatever time, today.

Categories: personal growth | Tags: , , , , , , | 47 Comments

Day 676: Colors

Several years ago, I went into a store in the Boston area and noticed that people from a local radio station were there. One of the DJs announced to the shoppers:

A prize to the first person who can come up with eight musical groups with a color in the band’s name!

I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this in any of my previous colorful or non-colorful blog posts, but I love

  • CONTESTS and

I wonder if people who are reading this know that about me, or whether they are finding this out for the first time, much like I discovered, just now, that I can use colored letters in WordPress.

Anyway, the radio guy in the store announced that contest, and my mind went to work.

I now interrupt this story to bring you this question:

What band names, with colors in them, can you think of, right now?

While you’re thinking of those, here’s some mood music, brought to you this morning from high (or medium) atop the Koplow Family & Friends Building in beautiful suburban Boston:

(YouTube video of Duke Ellington‘s “Mood Indigo” found here)

And in case you prefer a different kind of music, here’s another tune, with the same color in the title:

(I found “Indigo Passion” by the Atlanta Rhythm Section on YouTube, in this video created by DJ Bayonic)

Okay, ladies and gentleman! For my listening and viewing pleasure, please place your colorful, musical names in the comment section, directly below this post.

For your listening and viewing pleasure, here are the band names I came up with, back then:








Green Day

Simply Red


Black Sabbath

Deep Purple

Pink Floyd

The Moody Blues

Blue Cheer

I remember the radio D.J. doubting “Blue Cheer” as a real band name, but I must have convinced him (without anybody having access to the internet, back then), because:


Like I said, I love winning.

And I love colorful things, including these:


and these:

IMG_1809… which are the “Coping and Healing” group handout folders, that people get to choose from, before they join my therapy groups.

I also love shades of grey (which is an antidote to the unhelpful cognitive distortion of Black-and-White Thinking), as you can see by this still life in my office:


I like to point out the ever-present box of tissues to people in individual and group therapy, to let them know that all feelings are welcome. I like to point out that clock, too.

Speaking of feelings, time, color, and art, yesterday I got this email from my long-time friend and amazing artist Paul Nagano (previously appearing in posts here and here):

Dear Friends:                                

                    THE FINAL
                               OPEN STUDIO  
                 of PAUL NAGANO in Boston
Saturday and Sunday —     Nov. 15 and 16        11am to 5pm
                 This is a 
                             CLEARANCE SALE 
               because I will be leaving Boston and moving to Honolulu on December 19.
art, frames, books, art materials, objects, kitchen utensils, tools, 
even a few pieces of furniture  —  will be available for sale.
You will also be able to view the original of my magnum opus from this past summer–
“PARINIRVANA in the Great Garden” —
 I look forward to seeing you for a fond farewell.
Please, as always, bring some canned goods or other non-perishable food items
to benefit our Annual Food Drive for the GREATER BOSTON FOOD BANK.

P a u l — (after 47 years, leaving Boston on Dec. 19, to live in Hawaii 

                       …..and…….    arriving    there     on     Dec. 22)


In response, I sent Paul this one-word email (even though I knew this move was coming):



and Paul replied:


Remember, Ann, CHANGE is GOOD!  –even when it’s bad, and a little sad.

I’m going to let Paul have the last words, today, except for these:
Categories: inspiration, Nostalgia, personal growth | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 36 Comments

Day 296: The other side of containment

“The other side of containment.”

That was the title on my mind, when I woke up today.

And I just want to warn you: it’s going to take me a while to work back to that title.

So let’s digress together, shall we?

I’ve blogged a lot about cognitive distortions, this year, including this one:

Shoulds. We have ironclad rules about the behaviors of ourselves and other people.  For example, “I really should exercise. I shouldn’t be so lazy.” A more effective way to motivate ourselves is to identify positive results, rather than whipping ourselves with guilt.  For example, “When I exercise, I feel better.”

I’ve seen “shoulds” do a lot of damage to people; and yet, people naturally think those thoughts.

There is a particularly nasty form of “should”-ing, related to feelings.

Two examples:

I shouldn’t feel this way.

I should be over this, already.

As I’ve written before, cognitive distortions are human, so I assume that you have thoughts like those. I know that I do.

So they’re human. Yet, I have never experienced a helpful “should” thought, about feelings.

And that sentence I just wrote? That fits the “duck test” for another cognitive distortion:

All-or-Nothing thinking (also known as “Black-and-White thinking”).

Things are either all good or all bad, people are either perfect or failures, something new will either fix everything or be worthless. There is no middle ground; we place people and situations in “either/or” categories, with no shades of gray, or allowing for complexities.  Watch out for absolute words like “always”, “never,” “totally,” etc. as indications of this kind of distortion.

It was the word “never” in my sentence,  that tipped me off.

However, that sentence IS also the truth. I have never experienced a helpful “should” thought, about feelings.

I think it’s time for me to re-approach my topic, for today:

The other side of containment.

Why was that on my mind, this morning?

Because I have been having some difficult feelings lately. And I often hear people talk about containing difficult feelings.

What are the difficult feelings I’ve been having?

Fear, for one.

It’s time to go to my old friend, Google, for images about fear:







fear5 (1)


Speaking of fear,  I fear,  right now, that I won’t be able to complete this post before I need to leave today.

And why am I afraid that I won’t finish in time? Because fear wasn’t the emotion I was intending to write about.

Here’s the emotion I planned to tackle, this morning:


But it’s more difficult to write about anger. At least it is for me.

I have some fear about anger, people. And I know I’m not alone in that. Here’s  some immediate evidence, from the Google Image Buffet:


Here’s a particular fear I have, about anger: I fear that I (and others) judge and disown our anger.  And I think THAT can be dangerous.

When I see that fear of anger in others, sometimes I respond by saying:

Anger is just one of the basic human emotions.

Anger is the human response to not getting our needs met.

And I hope that’s helpful.

But what does this all have to do with containment, my alleged topic for the day?

Here’s what:

When I was hospitalized as a young child, I got some messages that anger and fear were not okay.   I got the sense that people did not want to see — or deal with — any anger or fear I might have about what was happening to me.

Therefore, I believed  (whether or not the messages were really there) that I needed to contain those feelings.

In this blog, I have written about several containers, for feelings and thoughts (like here and here).  And those containers can be useful, for sure.

However, I will say this:

When  a therapist talked to me, recently, about the technique of imagining a container for difficult feelings, I replied, “Personally, I would need such a  container to be open.  I wouldn’t want to believe that I have to close off my feelings, no matter how difficult they are.”

Therefore, I imagined a container, like this:


but opened, like this:


And that seemed like a good idea.

Before I end, I want to mention/brag about one more thing.

I am going to Game One of the World Series, tonight!


Earlier this morning, I had this thought about that:

What’s the matter with you?  You should be ecstatic!

There it is, again: another “should” thought about feelings.

Earlier this morning, I also had the urge to yell, to get some anger out. And I thought, “I can’t do that!!”

But what about this, as a solution?

I’m going to the World Series tonight! What better place to yell??!!?


Much better.

Thanks* to the Boston Red Sox, the St. Louis Cardinals, to containers of all kind, to people who have fear and anger, and to you, too, for visiting today.


Also, for the images, to (for the “fear face” and an interesting article), (for another “fear face” and interesting article), HowStuffWorks,, Rebuilding Divorce Recovery, and

Categories: personal growth | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Day 86: Dear Readers, Non-Readers, and Everybody In Between

I was trying to decide on a topic for my blog post today, and I was having a conversation about that with my bf. (BTW, I’m AAA  — Ambivalent About Abbreviations —  but I prefer “bf” to “boyfriend.”) In the course of that conversation, I asked him if he had been reading this blog lately.  He said he hadn’t read any posts recently.

And there are other people in my life who rarely read these posts.

I have to admit to you, dear reader, that who reads this blog, how frequently or infrequently, does have an effect on me.

I work on losing my investment in the outcome of readership.  And I can often do that.

BUT ….

At the same time (probably like other bloggers), I also have this fantasy of people waiting for every post and DEVOURING EVERY WORD.

And I do have some readers who actually come close to fulfilling that fantasy of mine. And I feel incredibly lucky and flattered about that.

But, here’s the deal.  The NOT reading feels more powerful — more important — than the reading.

The Negative sticks. It can seem more powerful than the positive.

During the first month of this Year of Blogging Daily, I considered writing a post titled “My Boyfriend Doesn’t Read My Blog.” I thought that was a catchy title. (And I was also wondering how long it would take him to see it.)

I didn’t write the post, though, because the title was … not true.  He does read it.  Sometimes he reads several days in a row.

But look at how I re-cast that  balanced story in my head, to accentuate the negative. I made it all-or-nothing:  “My boyfriend doesn’t read my blog.”

Because the negative is more powerful.

When people aren’t reading my blog posts,  here are some negative thoughts that can rush in:

They don’t like my writing!  If I was a better writer, they would be reading more frequently!

And if The Somebody Who Is Not Reading is somebody close to me,  those negative thoughts aren’t just rushing in, they’re carrying extra luggage:

The people who know me best don’t find me interesting.


If people really cared about me, they would want to read my blog.


Those negative thoughts all involve the cognitive distortion of mind reading.  So, to challenge that, I need to go to the experts on that experience — the experience of not always reading my blog.

Those people who are close to me tell the story differently. And when I let that story in (instead of my fear-based, self-judgmental story), I hear things like this:

Those posts are good, they’re well-written, but you know what?  I’d rather hear those thoughts from you in person.

I like that story better. I hope I can remember it (especially when those pesky, matched-luggage-carrying thoughts are trying to rush in).

Thanks for reading (whenever you do).

Categories: personal growth | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

Day 50: Sleep — Needs, History, Distortions, and a Wish

I’ve been struggling to get enough sleep lately.  I seem to be a person who can function pretty well without enough sleep.

(Sometimes I think the world is divided into two types of people: (1)  People who can function “well enough” without taking care of their sleeping needs and (2)  People who can function well enough without taking care of their eating needs.)

(Sometimes I think the world is divided into two types of people: (1) People who think that the world is divided into two types of people and (2) People who don’t.)

So even though I am used to functioning without enough sleep (by the way, I CANNOT function without enough food), I still feel pretty lousy when I get less than 6 hours of sleep a night. And getting 6 hours or more has been a problem for me lately.

I know a lot of people who struggle with sleep issues.  It seems to me that this might be an epidemic —  although I’m not an expert about sleep, by any means.

Speaking of being an “expert”,  I plan on writing a future post about Experts — and the punchline for that post will probably be something like this: We Are All Experts, But Only of Our Own Experience.

So while I’m not a Sleep Expert, I am trying to access, right now, my expertise about Sleep and Me.

And expertise starts with looking at data and history.

So that means  that, in order to improve my sleep, I might start by looking at my history of sleep issues.

But I’m resisting doing that right now.

That resistance probably has to do with my preference — or tendency —  to focus on the present moment rather than focusing on the past.

That preference — for the present over the past —  might have to do with several things, including my perception that I don’t have a good memory.

Pardon me while I indulge in a rather long digression about that thought: I Don’t Have A Good Memory.  However, you might find this digression useful — since it will reference several Cognitive Distortions, all listed and defined here.

Digression about the thought that  I Don’t Have a Good Memory.

This thought is probably  an unhelpful piece of self-judgment, which seems to involve several cognitive distortions, including Labelling. Because what does “not having a great memory” mean?  Does that mean I think that my memory is not as good as most other people’s? If so,  that thought involves the cognitive distortions of Comparisons AND Mind Reading.   Also, now that I think about it, I do have some data — from cognitive tests I’ve taken — that indicate that I have a Very Good Memory, although I seem to have trouble holding on to that data. (More proof that I have a bad memory?) (Kidding!) . Also, maybe I’m comparing my memory now to how my memory used to be when I was younger, another form of the distortion of Comparisons.

Shorter digression about the thought (expressed 4 paragraphs before)  that I Tend to Focus on The Present Moment Rather Than On The Past.

It’s not all or nothing. (Wouldn’t you know it? This is related to yet another Cognitive Distortion.) That is, I don’t have to look at the past OR the present. I can  look at both the past AND the present when I’m working  on growth and healing (in myself and others). 

Hmmm. I got pretty caught up in those digressions, where I noticed and challenged some cognitive distortions. Is it possible I can find my way back to The Topic of  Sleep, and finish this post before I leave for work?

I think I can. Here are some things I know, this morning:

Most nights, I am not getting enough sleep.

I have had some resistance to looking at this issue.

I deserve to get enough sleep.

I would like to get enough sleep.

I can access my own experience and expertise about this issue.

I can also seek help — from people who have expertise about sleep — to work on this issue.

Wow.  As often happens when I write a post, the post goes places I don’t expect.

However, where the post is ending up, this morning,  relates to a wish I made as I was writing it.

I wish that I could get more sleep.

I think I’ve taken some steps — and identified others — in this post, which may help me move towards that wish.

Thanks for reading.

Categories: personal growth | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Day 20: It’s not All That (or All Anything)

I’ve started several different blog posts today, unsure about what topic I wanted to pursue. I think this topic might be “it”, though.  That is, I think this post is going to make it to “The Show”  today, rather than being delegated to the Farm Team — the Drafts bin.

This Post with Good Prospects has to do with another cognitive distortion, another “psychological epidemic” of unhelpful thinking.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy calls this distortion “All-or-Nothing Thinking” (or “Black-and-White Thinking”)

Here’s a description,  from a hand-out I use on cognitive distortions:

All-or-Nothing Thinking (also known as “Black-and-White Thinking”)

With this distortion, things seem either all good or all bad, people are either perfect or failures, something new will either fix everything or be worthless. There is no middle ground; we place people and situations in “either/or” categories, with no shades of gray, or allowing for complexities.  Watch out for absolute words like “always”, “never,” “totally,” etc. as indications of this kind of distortion.

Boy, a lot of people have a reaction when THIS ONE comes up.  As a matter of fact, people often say this (all-or-nothing) response:

I do that ALL THE TIME.

No, they don’t.  They have other types of thoughts, too. It just SEEMS like it’s all the time. And there’s the basis of All-or-Nothing thinking.

There are shades of gray, even when we are only noticing the black and white.

The reason that All-or-Nothing thinking became The Alpha Topic today is this:   I realized that All-or-Nothing thinking was the subtext of every other topic I was considering. One of those other topics was Fears about Fragility — how we can worry about our own fragility, other people’s fragility, and the fragility of connections with others — and how this affects how we are with others.  And I realized there was some Black-and-White thinking involved there, too. I realized this had to do with All-or-Nothing thinking about people and connections    — that they are either Fragile OR Resilient, not allowing for variations and shades of gray.

Hmmmm. I’ll tell you what I’m wondering right now, dear reader.

I’m wondering if I’m being confusing. I’m wondering if I’ve lost you.

Hey! That relates to both topics, I think — black-and-white thinking and fears about the fragility of connection.

Now that I’ve noticed that, I’m going to try to challenge some possible distortions.  Want to come along?

Okay, so maybe my writing DID get more confusing above.   That doesn’t mean there’s an All-or-Nothing switch, changing this post from Coherent to Incoherent.

Or from Useful to Useless. There are degrees of usefulness, aren’t there?  This post — and every other blog post in the Great Blogosphere —  is neither Completely Useful nor Completely Useless. Different readers will take different things away, from whatever they read.

Communication, in general, is not All-or-Nothing.  No matter what the form of communication — in blogs, in person, in writing, in speech — there’s no perfect communication of meaning. (In order to attain that, we’d all have to be mind-readers.)   There are so many shades of gray there — so many shifting variations and levels of understanding and being understood.

And if I did “lose” you, dear reader, that was — most likely — momentarily. Connections — of understanding, between people — don’t have to be perfect. There’s room for variation, for shifting degrees of engagement and disengagement.

Okay!  Thanks for reading. Because even though this blog post wasn’t All Coherent or All Useful or All Anything, it is this:

All done.

Categories: personal growth | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

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