All Or Nothing

I really hate it when I repeat myself, but the truth is I do it all the time. As much as I try to stop myself from telling the same stories or writing about the same topics, I catch myself doing it frequently. At least with what I’m about to write here, I realize I’m doing it, and I acknowledge it freely.

I know I have written here about dichotomous reasoning, but when I did it before it was in reference to that also being recognized as “black-and-white thinking.” Things were either good or bad, right or wrong, and there was no in-between. Dichotomous thinking also refers, however, to “all-or-nothing thinking.”

All-or-NothingAll-or-nothing thinking can manifest itself in a number of different ways. For example, there’s perfectionism, where a person might insist on knowing a project will turn out perfect or just not start it at all. My issue with all-or-nothing thinking is a pass/fail mentality. Either what I do or have done is a complete success or it is a total failure. There is no “pretty good” or “acceptable,” and there is no room for the possibility that an outcome I haven’t seen yet could come true. I either succeed or I fail, and that’s that.

I have sort of a big week coming up, and I am trying my darndest to realize that the outcomes of upcoming events are not going to define me or lock me into an irreversible future I won’t be able to escape from. I’m also trying to remember that even if every plan I make this week goes awry, it does not mean that I am a complete failure, and it does not mean that I am doomed forever. Sounds easy enough, doesn’t it?

I wish it were that easy. The more I come to learn about dichotomous thinking, the more I realize it is one of the more insidious aspects of depression. It terrifies a person, mainly because they constantly feel as if they are on the brink of falling into utter ruin. Anytime I have lost a job or been passed over for an opportunity or gotten a poor grade on an exam or struck out in a baseball game, I felt like my life was over. It obviously wasn’t; I’m still here. But I live in this uncomfortable place most of the time, where it feels as if the knockout blow is just around the corner.

Tomorrow, I will try to kick off a week of keeping dichotomous thinking at bay. It’s already tugging at me, and it almost makes me want to just pass on some things out of sheer terror. I won’t know the results unless I try, though, so I just have to put one foot in front of the other and take things one step at a time. I need to repeat those words over and over and over…

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I Gotta

Have you ever had one of those mornings where all your issues seem to just lay themselves out right before your eyes? It’s like all of a sudden you see exactly what’s going on, and you begin to get a real sense of what is going to be required for you to turn things around. And then you make a fatal mistake by uttering those two terrible words…

“I gotta…”

Think you should be writing more? “I gotta get to work on that book idea…” Should you start bookexercising again? “I gotta get to the gym more often…” Missing old friends? “I gotta start being more sociable…” Thinking about getting the band back together? “I gotta start writing songs again…” Feeling a little far from God? “I gotta start reading my Bible and praying more…”

It’s amazing how two little words can turn something you’re passionate about or something you enjoy doing or something that could truly benefit you into grueling, grinding, miserable work of the most frustrating order. Suddenly, writing becomes a pressure cooker. Staying in touch with friends seems more like a weekly requirement. A relationship with God becomes a guilt-ridden minefield of good intentions gone awry.

It’s always astounded me, the way I’m able to put pressure on myself in a way no one else can or even does. Is there an editor somewhere expecting a manuscript from me by the end of the month? No. Do I need to set a new personal best time for riding my bicycle around my neighborhood because I need to qualify for some competition? No. Most of all, do I even possess the strength within myself to be the kind of Christian I should be?

No.

The problem with being a Christian and “I gotta” is that it flips the teachings of Jesus on their heads. When God puts a motivation on our hearts, what He wants us to do is turn to Him for the strength to do what needs to be done, not to place even more demands on ourselves. Instead of praying about my issues, I begin to obsess over all the things I should be doing more of. So I start putting forth greater effort, only to find I’m almost immediately overwhelmed and utterly depressed by my lack of success.

“I can’t do it,” I say to myself. “I’ve failed … again.”

You know what the only thing I gotta do? Trust God. Rely on His strength, not mine. Stop pressing so hard. Find some joy again in the things I love and stop making everything some sort of competition or deadline. Accept that if I make the attempt He’ll meet me halfway, instead of believing I have to complete the work and then present it to Him.

None of this is optional. I gotta do it.

 

Gray

You do what’s right. If you don’t do what’s right, you’re wrong. Plain and simple.

It sounds like a noble and upright philosophy, doesn’t it? What could possibly be wrong with that? It’s ethical, it’s truthful, it’s, well, right. Good people do good things, bad people do bad things. It’s neat, it’s tidy, and it makes life so much easier to navigate.

Except it doesn’t. Especially if you apply it to yourself.

I only recently stumbled across the term “cognitive distortion.” In short, a cognitive distortion is cognitive-distortionsthe term given to the way our minds can convince us certain things aren’t really true. They’re mostly used to reinforce negative thinking or emotions. We lead ourselves to believe cognitive distortions help us make sense of things, when in reality they usually only serve to make thinking even more difficult for us.

I use the words “us,” “we,” and “our” here to refer to those who have developed cognitive distortions as a result of depression or some other mental illness. Of course, the trick with a cognitive distortion is being able to recognize it, which, ironically, lies at the heart of how such faulty thinking begins in the first place. Whatever distortion is in place just becomes natural over time, so the impetus to correct it starts to disappear. It’s just sort of there.

So I’ve been a guy who believed in justice, in people living out what they say. One of my favorite sayings of all time has been, “If I go out to lunch with you and you’re nice to me but rude to the waiter, you’re a rude person.” The middle ground is where ethics get violated, where virtues get compromised, where hypocrites breed. There can be no gray area; life is black and white.

This particular cognitive distortion, I’ve come to find out, is known as polarized thinking. It’s a tricky one, because it seems so well-meaning on the surface. In reality, though, it’s a sure-fire recipe for perfectionism. If I expect this high of a standard in others, I should expect it in myself as well. If I think John Doe is a bad guy because he says cuss words, I’d better not be saying them either. Doesn’t matter if John Doe does a hundred other good things every day; I’ve honed in on a negative entrenched within the positives. Likewise, my positive traits never outweigh my negatives. One dark blot corrupts the entire picture.

The-Perfectionists-Guide-to-Results-LoI’ve always believed in absolutes. I believed I could separate the bad bosses from the good ones by whether or not they hosed their employees. Notice I didn’t use the word consistently, though. I could separate the hypocrites from the real Christians by how badly they sinned. Notice I didn’t take repentance into consideration. This was how I was going to live with integrity and virtue.

The only problem was I left myself no room to fail. I either failed or I succeeded; there was no middle ground. I took scriptures from the Bible that talked about how if even a small part of the law was broken the whole thing was, and I magnified them one-hundred-fold. I either did everything right or I failed utterly. I judged my performances so harshly that eventually the negative connotations began to seep into my soul.

I’m not just doing things wrong. I am wrong.

I’ve been challenged lately to break this pattern of thinking, but it’s so ingrained in me. I’m petrified someone is going to see the “real” me, the one who not only isn’t perfect but is actually pretty despicable a lot of the time. I keep hearing that the things I find so unappealing about myself are pretty common in most guys, but I don’t believe it. They couldn’t be as bad as me, could they?

It’s been a long day, and I plan on writing more about this in the future. I’d like to close with a little revelation I had just this week about the level of righteousness God expects of us.

In Matthew 5:20, Jesus says that “unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” This verse has terrified me for years, because I’m not even close to that level. For some reason this week, though, I saw this verse in a different light. Jesus was constantly critical of the scribes and pharisees for attempting to display a level of righteousness they hadn’t truly attained. The only way to achieve true righteousness would be through Christ, and that could only happen by admitting sin and weakness, not by touting strength.

I’m imperfect. I don’t always get it right, but I don’t always get it wrong either. I’m gray, and I have a feeling you probably are, too.

 

Embarrassed To Be Here

My oldest daughter is 12 years old, and she’s experienced some strange health problems over the past couple of weeks. Some chest pains, some shortness of breath, and some 12-year-old girl panic to boot. If you have a theory on what could be causing this, please don’t pass it on to me. Everyone short of Dr. Oz has offered us a diagnosis, and he may be planning a half-hour special as we speak for all I know.

holterBeginning a little after 3 p.m. yesterday, she began wearing a Holter monitor to record her heart’s rhythms. The monitor could come off after 24 hours, and since I was off work today and hadn’t taken her to any other doctor visits since this all began, I took her to the hospital this afternoon to have it removed. I actually had to wear one of these devices myself years ago, so I could sort of sympathize with what she was going through.

After we arrived at the hospital this afternoon, we were led to a patient room in the cardiopulmonary department. I asked my daughter before the nurse came back if she was going to have to take off her shirt to remove everything, and she said no. So I stayed in the room with her. When the nurse arrived, she asked who I was, which I thought was a little odd, but I told her I was the dad. She then proceeded to very politely and courteously tell me that she would have to lift my daughter’s shirt to take the monitor connections off and that I might want to wait out in the hallway.

I want to stress that this was a totally valid request on the nurse’s part, and I also want to make clear that she was not rude to me in any way at all. That being said, it only took a split second from the time she asked me to leave the room for me to begin feeling the familiar rush of embarrassment. I shouldn’t have gone in the room in the first place. The nurse probably thinks I was weird for being in there. I should have known what was going to happen. What does this person think of me?

To be honest, I get that feeling of embarrassment a lot. When someone has to ask me to repeat something I said. When I don’t know how to do something I feel I ought to know how to do. When someone has to correct me during a task of some kind. The list of circumstances I could list here could stretch on for miles. In every one of them, though, there is a common denominator: I am embarrassed, and I wish I wasn’t even there.

I’m not sure when I developed this view of myself, but it definitely happened at some point: I should be able to perform every task perfectly, DoubleFacePalmdiscern the best course of action in every situation, and always know exactly what to say in every conversation. When I fall short in any of these areas, I take it extremely hard and personally. Of course, there’s nothing logical in this approach at all. How would I know how to do things no one has ever shown me how to do or make the perfect judgment under any circumstance or use the exact words another person is expecting to hear. No human being alive can do that … and yet, for some reason, I seem to think I can. Or should be able to, anyway.

I suppose this self-realization can be added to the list that seems to be growing exponentially every day for me. Why I’m suddenly seeing all these things is as mysterious to me as whatever is ailing my daughter. Hopefully, we’ll both receive our answers sooner than later.

Tuneful Tuesday: A Lot Of Things Different

People say they wouldn’t change a thing, even if they could
Oh, but I would

Much to my wife’s chagrin, one of my favorite movies of all time is 12 Monkeys. I’m a sucker for time travel, “Does it necessarily have to be that way or could the future be changed?” films. In 12 Monkeys, the theory appears to be that no matter who you do the future is always going to wind up the same way. In this case, Bruce Willis (SPOILER ALERT!!!) is always going to die at the airport, no matter what he does to avoid that. Or that’s how I interpreted the ending, anyway.

If someone offered me the chance to travel back in time, I would jump on it in a heartbeat. For someone with so many imperfections, I am a rabid perfectionist, and the opportunity to erase my mistakes is highly appealing to me. I am also dogged with regrets, and there are some days I would do anything to blot those out as well. “But what about the ‘butterfly effect’? You might change the future!” Yep, I don’t care; I’m goin’ back. Now.

I honestly wouldn’t know another Kenny Chesney song if you played it for me right now, but I caught this one under the absolute perfect conditions on a drive home several years ago. Late night, lonely roads, mind wandering… I can’t say I’m overwhelmed by the vocal, but the atmosphere and the lyrics immediately caught my attention. I didn’t even know the name of the song or the artist for several years; I just remembered there was a song about a guy who would go back and change everything.

Go ahead and scold me for living with regrets, but I’ve never been a “I regret nothing!!!” kind of person. So when I hear Chesney sing “I’d do a lot of things different…”, I know exactly what he’s talking about. Exactly.