Beware the Dangers of Extreme Thinking

Jordan Brown

This is never going to work.

I can’t do anything.

I’ll never be good enough for him.

Do any of these sound familiar?

They sound familiar to me.

Probably because I’ve said or thought these statements at one point — OK, at several points — in my life.

These are examples of extreme thinking.

And they’re not helpful.

But what’s a struggling human to do?

Let’s discuss how to escape the extreme thinking trap.

The Extreme Thinking Trap

Consider a common scenario.

You’ve been working on something for a while. It’s a project that means a lot to you. You’ve been working on it so much that it’s starting to feel like you and the project are becoming one, an amorphous blob of a magical entity. Suddenly, somebody tells you something about your pet project that is not very nice. It cuts deep. And even though you try to shake it from you mind, the comment lingers.

Cue the extreme thinking trap.

You’re ensnared, and the thoughts start to pile up in your mind. I’m terrible. What was I thinking? I always have stupid thoughts. My projects don’t work.

Extreme thinking at its finest.

But is it really true? Can you honestly believe these statements with 100 percent certainty? Can you be 100 percent certain about anything? I know I can’t. Well maybe I can be certain that I can take my next breath, but even that’s not guaranteed. What if a bat swoops in front of my face, and I’m so shocked that I forget to breathe?

I joke.

But you’re starting to see something. Life is variable. It’s unexpected. We never know anything with 100 percent certainty. Add to that the fact that we give others the benefit of the doubt but fail to extend it to ourselves. It’s ridiculous.

Why do we do this?

We Try to Protect Ourselves From Being Hurt

I think this is at the heart of it. Here’s how to change that typical reaction.

When we get bad news, when someone doesn’t like what we’re doing, when a rude person hurls a negative remark, the tendency is to retreat and fall into the extreme thinking trap. It’s your brain’s rudimentary way of trying to protect you.

But it’s not helpful. It certainly won’t help you grow into the beautiful flower you and I know you can become.

The first step is to be aware of your brain’s tendency to protect you.

Your extreme thinking is really just a disguise. It’s not actually what you’re capable of. Because your capabilities are on the other side of your fear.

Next time you catch yourself uttering an extreme statement, I want you to stop. I want you to not do what you normally do, what I used to do.

Do not make your situation worse by being mean to yourself. You’ve known yourself the longest, and you deserve love. If you can’t get it from yourself, who can you expect it from?

Once you’ve paused to get awareness, do this.

Do a mental review of similar situations to the one that you’re currently in. Did everything fail miserably? Absolutely everything? Or did you learn something and keep going? You’re here right now, so I assume you kept going.

A mental review is helpful because it takes you out of your extreme state. It gets you thinking about your life from a new perspective. And that’s often all you need to get going again.

But if that’s not enough, try this.

Reach out for help. You are biased. You think a certain way about your life, and it’s hard to get an honest perspective. Ask two people in two completely different areas of your life for feedback about what you’re going through. The odds are EXTREMELY small that they will say the exact same thing. Use their words to broaden your perspective.

Remember extreme thinking is your brain’s thing — not yours.

You can learn to break free from the trap and live a happier, more productive life.

It requires doing something new. It requires being flexible.

We humans are not always very good at that.

But we can learn to be better.

Anyone can learn anything.

Wait, did I just make an extreme statement?

It’s a positive one, though.

So I think I’m going to let it slide.