In this episode, I’ll be diving into why it is worth leaning into the “cognitive dissonance,” or the space in between black and white where things feel a little more fuzzy – that all or nothing thinking. It is in this space that we grow. We try on new ideas, understand others on a deeper level, and create a safe place for ourselves, even when we don’t have all the answers.
Even more importantly, when we can allow the discomfort of the gray area, healing takes place. If we can believe that someone who hurt us is both good and bad, it becomes possible to heal the relationship, and to give ourselves that same consideration.
Listen to gain a deeper understanding of where you may be stuck in all-or-nothing thinking, and what you can do to broaden your view.
I’m Andrea Giles, and you’re listening to the Heal from Infidelity podcast,
episode number 29, All or Nothing Thinking.
Hello and welcome to the Heal from Infidelity podcast, where courageous
women learn not only to heal from their spouse’s betrayal, but to become
the boldest, truest, most decisive and confident versions of themselves
ever. If you know there’s more for you than the life you’re currently
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Stick around to learn how to create a life that will knock your own socks
off. Is it possible? It is, and I’m here to show you how. I’m your host,
Andrea Giles. Are you ready? Let’s dive in.
Good morning, everybody, I hope you’re doing well. I say “Morning” because
it’s morning where I am, I’m recording this before any of my kids are
awake. Today, I’m going to jump in and talk about something that I see my
clients struggle with, I see myself struggle with, it’s a pretty common
thing that we do, it’s all-or-nothing thinking. We are conditioned to think
in absolutes, it either is, or it isn’t, it’s black and white. We want to
know, it’s either good or bad.
So last week, I had a day where I noticed my brain, I watched my brain
throughout the day tell the story that this is a bad day, this is a bad
day, and it kind of started out… I had several calls lined up with
clients, back to back all day long, had a full day, and in my very first
call, my power glitched, the internet went out, and it would not turn back
on. And so I called the internet company, they’re like, “Oh, we know, we’ve
got people working on it, we’re hoping it’ll be back up soon.” So it
interrupted that first call, and then it carried into the next call, and
then the next call, and so I was shuffling things around with clients, and
had specific things I really needed to get done when I wasn’t with clients,
with my internet.
Anyway, one thing after another. I thought, “Well, I’ll just go sit in my
car and use my internet away from my house.” I kind of live out in the
country a little bit, and so I don’t have great service out here unless
it’s Wi-Fi, so I thought, “I’ll just go closer to town.” Leave to go to
town, my kids had driven the car and left it with almost fumes, hardly any
gas. Anyway, had to come back home, it just… One thing after another that
day, and I noticed my brain going, “Today has been a bad day,” right?
That’s what we do, “Today’s been a bad day,” and we can kind of start
gathering evidence for that. So why do we do this?
Actually, there’s a word for it, it’s called cognitive dissonance.
Cognitive dissonance is where we don’t like the discomfort of inconsistent
thoughts, we don’t like that in-between of good and bad. The definition for
it is having inconsistent thoughts, beliefs, or attitudes, especially as
relating to behavioral decisions and attitude change. The problem with this
kind of thinking is that it often leads us to shrinking, hiding, and
freezing, and I’m going to give you examples about this, okay?
So think about it. If we believe that people are just good or bad, that
puts a whole lot of pressure on people and ourselves to get it right all
the time. We are not going to risk making a mistake or getting it wrong
because the judgements of ourselves will be too harsh and too painful. So
where are some areas we may feel this? I’ll give some examples here, often
So I grew up LDS, as people here know, I grew up LDS, and I remember
hearing things about like, “It’s all this way, and people who don’t think
this are this,” very much labeled, okay? So you can imagine my discomfort
when one by one, all of my siblings have decided to leave the LDS faith,
all of them, every one. You could imagine my discomfort when I’m like,
“Wait, that doesn’t line up with how I was taught that. They’re really good
people, they’re really good. They’re good, care a lot about other people,
care a lot about God.” And so it created some serious cognitive dissonance
in my brain of going, “How can it be both?” And me not wanting to label my
siblings in a certain way has made way for me to grow and extend out my
belief, to ask my questions, to answer my own questions.
How about money? How many of you grew up with stories around money and
about people who had lots of money, or people who don’t have money? If we
are taught, for example, that people with a lot of money are selfish or
stuck up, or other stories such as that, that money’s the root of all evil,
what happens when we’re around people with money and we see that they’re
actually really good people, right? That can make way for some of that
How about relationships? Either the person is good or bad, either they’re
right or wrong. We do the same kind of thing with our relationships with
ourself. How many times have you made a mistake and gone to the extreme of,
“I just screw everything up,” or you make a parenting mistake and go to,
“Oh, I’m not a good mom, I’m such a terrible mom?” Going to one extreme or
another is a sort of indulgent comfort, but it’s not allowing for much
stretching or growth. When I say “Indulgent comfort,” it’s because there is
some kind of security in it, like “If I just stay here, then I…” It makes
sense of the world, right? Like, “If I just stay here, then I can hold onto
all these beliefs that I’ve always had, without stretching them and growing
them and feeling that discomfort.”
So another area we do this is in all-or-nothing actions, so I’ll tell you
what I’m working on right now in regards to this. For a long time, I’ve
been able to, if I decide to stop eating sugar or flour, or both, I can
decide and just stop, and I’ve done this several times throughout my life.
However, my brain is very all-or-nothing in this regard, either I’m on or
I’m off. So if I make an exception and have a treat, it’s like signaling to
my brain, “Oh, we’re back on,” and I want all the sugar and all the flour.
So right now what I’m working on is becoming the person who can most of the
time be no sugar, no flour, and have moderation, and decide ahead of time
when I’m going to have sugar and flour, and not be derailed by it.
Another area that I have grown is in growing my faith, and in owning my own
beliefs, my own perceptions, my own way of living my religion. It doesn’t
look like it used to. I believe in certain aspects to my core, and then
there’s parts, some of the cultural things, that I don’t necessarily
believe anymore, and I’m okay with it. To me, it means that I am growing
and taking responsibility for my own beliefs, instead of handing them to
Another area that we do this around with our actions is with work,
exercise. I either am working out a ton or not at all. I either have to
work all the time and be busy, or I’m just lazy. We just swing that
pendulum right back and forth. If I’m taking care of myself, I’m not taking
care of other people. If I’m taking care of myself, I’m not… I’m being
selfish. I’m being selfish, I’m not helping other people.
How many of us have done that, when we want… I know that I sometimes slip
into that thinking, I’ll want to take time out of a day to do something
that’s just for me, and then my brain will want to judge myself. “Well, you
could be doing this, you could be helping this kid, you could be helping
this person, you could be all these different things,” trying to trick me
into believing that I’m being selfish, and the truth is somewhere in the
middle. Growth is finding the middle ground where you can check in with
yourself, really identify why you believe the things that you do, and
decide for yourself what you want to believe. So where is the growth here?
The growth is somewhere in the middle.
A couple weeks ago, I did a podcast episode about growing your discomfort
tolerance. The whole idea behind that podcast is that emotional maturity
means moving past black and white, it is or it isn’t, and allowing both to
be right and both to be wrong in the same space. So how can that be true?
I’m going to give you some specific examples in regards to the clients that
I work with, okay? I work with women who are dealing with infidelity in
their marriages, and sometimes my clients will come and really be so
frustrated, and go, “I really thought that I married the right guy. How
could he be the right guy and do this thing?” Their brain is trying to make
sense of what happened, right? If we go to the black and white thinking, it
makes sense that, “Well, if he did this thing, I must have married the
wrong guy,” right? That’s the black and white, “If this is this, then this
is this. How can he have done these things and been the right person for me
to marry? I must have made a terrible mistake.”
What if being human means being both good and bad, every single person,
good and bad, right and wrong? Do you give yourself permission to be both?
And when I say “Bad,” I don’t mean like evil bad, okay? I mean like doing
dumb things sometimes. Sometimes doing things that others might feel hurt
by, inconsiderate, shortsighted, right? We all do this, we all do things
that we can’t quite see how it might be affecting somebody else. Does it
make us a bad person? No, it means sometimes we do things that are
inconsiderate. Do you give yourself permission to be both, to make
I can’t tell you how much freedom it has given me to allow myself to be
somewhere in the middle. I can make mistakes. I can say things that aren’t
really who I want to be, and still be a good person at the same time. For
me, it’s about awareness, it’s about going, “Nope, that’s not quite who I
want to be, that didn’t come out right,” whatever it is, and going and
correcting it. Allowing both good and bad requires critical, harder
thinking, it feels harder on your brain. But if we develop this skill, we
actually are able to grow more quickly. So I want to share with you a few
ideas of how to grow this muscle of getting out of black and white and
making room for learning new ideas, new ways of learning things, new ways
of viewing things. So instead of this or that, try on this and that, how
can both be true? How can both be true at the same time?
So in the realm of religion, for me, there are things about my church that
I love, that I love, that I believe to be true, and there are also things
in my church that I think are not, and more cultural things, some of the
ways that things have always been done that I don’t particularly agree
with, and I’m okay with it. I’m okay with that, okay? Instead of “This is
the right and only way,” it looks like “This is the way I’ve chosen, and
others can choose what is best for them.” This makes it so we don’t have to
be hanging out in this, “I’m over here on the right, and you’re wrong over
there.” How does it feel to just think that other people are wrong and
you’re right? How does it feel? Sometimes it doesn’t feel very good,
sometimes it can feel quite isolating, right? Polarizing.
Another way to really check where you’re at in this all-or-nothing thinking
is checking in with your values and using them as a measuring stick. So for
example, if you’re in a marriage and you want a monogamous marriage, it’s
something you believe in, it’s something you like your reasons for, but
your spouse may not share that same value, it may come up against this
all-or-nothing thinking, okay? You might be over here going, “This is what
I want,” he might be over here going, “I don’t see the problem, it’s not a
problem,” okay? So how to kind of see where there is wiggle room, where
there’s area for growth, is just in asking yourself, “What are my values
here?” You might want to stay exactly where you are, but you have checked
it against your values.
So for example, if your value is that “I believe in that monogamous
marriage,” and the other person does not, then you use that to tell
yourself the truth and say, “Even though you have these things that I love
about you, and I have things that I love about our marriage, this is a
value that I’m not willing to bend on.” You can see them as a wonderful
person, and it’s not going to work, because this rubs up against this
value, this core value of mine, and I’m not willing to bend on that.
But do you hear how in that example it wasn’t, “I’m right, you’re wrong,
I’m good, you’re bad,” it was a deeper discussion within yourself,
answering the questions, “What are my values? Do I like my values? Why do I
like my values? Why? Why do they matter to me?” And then being willing to
stand with your values instead of watering it down. “Well, I guess I could
compromise here. I guess I could do this, if that’s what makes him happy,”
right? It still requires growth, even if you come to the same conclusion as
you did before, that that’s where you stand. It requires a more critical
way of thinking.
Another way to grow in this capacity is by asking yourself these next three
questions, and I want to share that these questions I learned from my
coach, Brooke Castillo. Number one is, what feels authentic and true? This
requires you to drop out of people-pleasing and looking around, scanning
your environment for what other people want you to do, looking around and
seeing, “Oh, if I do this, they might get hurt,” okay? You’re dropping out
of that and answering the question for yourself, what feels authentic and
true here? What is your answer and why?
Number two, “Where can I have the most powerful impact? If I can’t be all
the things to all the people, what is something I can do? What is it? Where
can I do something meaningful, based on my talents, my values, and my
skills?” The last question is, “What can I release for now?” We cannot
possibly solve all the problems and have all the answers right now, right?
We’re not intended to.
Last year, I worked with a client who’s a wonderful, wonderful person, and
it was right in the middle of so much chaos in our country about politics,
and it was a tough time. It was when everything happened, when the riots
started, things like that, and she was really, really hurting, because she
could see how comfortable she was and how uncomfortable some other people
were in our country, and she felt a lot of guilt for it, like “How can I be
this and they be that? How is it okay?”
And she had some major dissonance in her brain, she was really punishing
herself for it, and that third question comes to play here. “What can I
release for now? What can I release? I cannot solve all of the problems and
have all of the answers. What is urgent right now, right in front of me,
something that I can do? With my own skills, based on my own values and
talents, what can I do?” One thing at a time. For this client, what calmed
her brain was those thoughts of going, “Okay, this is something I can do.
This is something I can do,” to help kind of bridge the gap in her mind.
Now, for any of you who are listening and are considering remarriage, maybe
you’ve already gotten divorced, you’re considering remarriage, and you
might have people say to you, “It’s so hard, why would you want to do that?
Blending families is so hard. Taking on somebody else’s kids is so hard.
Staying single is so hard.” So sometimes we get paralyzed by that, like,
“Why would I want to do something hard? I’ll stay over here where I’ll
pretend like it’s easy,” right? Guess what? What if it’s both? What if it
can be hard and easy? What if it can be really powerful and really, really
challenging? What if there can be parts about it that are good and parts
that are not so great?
I will say that that has been my experience with remarriage, with blending
families, two large families. There’s parts that are very, very
challenging, and parts that are amazing. There are parts about building a
marriage with somebody with lots of history, and my own history, that are
really challenging, and parts that are really beautiful. That’s my truth,
is that it’s somewhere in the middle, and that hard is okay. I can do hard.
Hard is not a problem.
What if it’s hard and easy? Can I make space for both? What if blending
families is hard and easy? I believe that. I believe that it’s both. When I
allow it to be both, I’m not surprised when it’s hard, I can make space for
it, and I love the times that are easy and like, “Yep, this is easy, I knew
it, it’s both hard and easy.” When things get hard, when my husband and I
are having an off day, or when we’re dealing with something with a kid, I’m
not making it mean that I made a mistake, right? Our brains love to go
there, “Oh no, I picked the wrong thing, I did the wrong thing. I’m stuck.”
Our brains love to go there. Instead, I think, “Oh yeah, it’s hard and it’s
easy. No problem, it’s all good, it’s all okay.”
Why do this work? Why open up to that? Why challenge our thinking? It’s
easier not to, it’s easier to retreat and to stick to the beliefs we’ve
always had without challenging them. It’d be easier to go run away to the
woods and lock yourself up and not have to deal with anybody. But this work
of challenging your extremes, the one side or the other, is part of
evolving, it’s part of growing up, it’s part of taking responsibility for
your beliefs and owning them for reasons that you’ve considered, that
you’ve deeply considered, and that you deeply like.
And when we do this work, we show up in the world in a different place. We
show up to others with more compassion, with more understanding. It doesn’t
mean that we have to agree with everything that other people say, but it
does mean that we grow our capacity to hold space in a relationship when
we’re willing to lean in and hear somebody else’s view. Like, “I think that
this is what I think over here, they think something very different,” so
instead plugging our ears and closing our eyes, we’re leaning in and going,
“I wonder what they have to say. I wonder what’s going on here.”
The same holds true in your marriages, wherever you are, okay? Whether
you’re married and on your way out to divorce, whether the infidelity
happened and you are trying to make it work, the same thing will help you
so much to make space for you to get it wrong, and to be messy and to say
the wrong thing and do the wrong thing, and it will also give space for
your spouse. We were not supposed to be perfect, that was not the plan
here, okay? We’re supposed to be messy, it’s part of our evolvement. When
we can allow ourselves to be messy, that’s how we progress.
The only way we’re not progressing is if we’re quitting, if we’re freezing,
if we’re holding ourself back, that’s the only way. Progression is not
perfection, progression is not getting it right and moving forward,
progression is simply moving forward. And sometimes moving forward means
making major blunders, realizing our blunders, and carrying on. Growth,
How can you extend this to yourself more? “I can be messy and amazing. I
can be both hardworking and lazy sometimes. I can be really smart and miss
some things. I can be a really loving spouse and sometimes get it wrong. He
has made some mistakes that I don’t agree with, and he can still be a good
person. Our kids can be both wonderful and challenging, and it’s okay, it’s
not a problem.” Go try this on, see what areas your brain wants to jump to
black and white, and where there’s room for leaning in and allowing space
for both. It’s kind of a fun exercise to go look around and see where you
polarize things in your mind.
All right, my friends, that’s all I have for today. I do want to add that I
have some one-on-one spots that are coming open here pretty soon. If you
would love to work with me one-on-one, I suggest reaching out soon, as
those spots are going to fill up quickly. I hope that you all are doing
well, I love hearing from you, and take care. Thank you so much, I’ll see
you next time.
Thank you for listening to the Heal from Infidelity podcast. If you would
like to be kept in the know about upcoming free classes, new podcast
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