Either/or thinking is the bane of human existence. Whether it's business, politics or relationships, either/or thinking dumbs down pretty much everything.
Be it an interdepartmental turf war or you and your spouse arguing about the best way to load a dishwasher, the moment we descend into an either/or, I'm-right-so-you-must-be-wrong-mindset, is the very moment we lose the opportunity to create anything better than what we've already got.
Either/or thinking is easy to spot in others. Who hasn't been frustrated by a black/white thinker who refuses to see any perspective except his own?
Yet many of us fall into the either/or trap ourselves, without even realizing it. Like when we believe that the boss must either side with us or with our crazy co-worker who doesn't understand the big picture. Or when we assume that we have to choose between being a good parent or being a good provider, or that our lives can either be organized around love or money.
But instead of thinking in terms of either/or, you'll get better results if you think in terms of AND. As in, perhaps the boss can implement your ideas AND those of your coworkers. Maybe there's a creative way to be a great parent AND a great provider, and have a life that includes lots of love AND money.
Here are six suggestions for harnessing the power of AND in your own life:
1. Make peace with uncertainty. AND takes longer than either/or because the solutions aren't always readily apparent. But wading through a little ambiguity and uncertainty is how you make things better.
2. Withhold judgment. Passing judgment too quickly shuts down the creative process. When you immediately decide that something, or someone, is wrong, it prevents you from seeing the positive kernels buried inside. The idea might be half-baked, AND some elements of it might be great.
3. Question with curiosity. Jumping to all the reasons why something won't work -- my spouse won't go for it or I can't afford it -- takes potential solutions off the table before you've even explored them. Instead, try asking, "What element of this might work?"
4. Lose the labels. Labels are helpful when it comes to file folders or mail. But they don't serve us well when it comes to people and ideas. People are both good AND bad, and their ideas are both right AND wrong. If you find yourself saying the words bad AND wrong a lot, stop. Chances are, you're probably missing about half of what the world has to offer.
5. Eliminate should. Just because someone once told you that good parents, or nice people, or hard workers "should" act a certain way, doesn't mean that model still holds. Trying to adhere to a one-dimensional version of the way you think you should be diminishes your own potential. However, if you can open your mind to the possibility that you can be this AND that, you'll tap into more of your own internal power.
6. Take a breath. Either/or thinking is a reactionary thought pattern, but if you can take a minute, take a breath, and remind yourself that everything doesn't have to be settled right now, and that life doesn't always have to go exactly the way you scripted it, you'll open yourself up to a whole of host of new options.
AND -- It's a simple word, and it has power to change everything.
Snellville resident Lisa Earle McLeod is a nationally recognized speaker and the author of "Forget Perfect." Contact her at www.forgetperfect.com.