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  • Writer's pictureAmbrose Wilson-Brown

The Benefits of Mindfulness Over “All-or-Nothing” Thinking

Updated: 6 days ago

Text on Graphic with headshot of author, Kate Easton. Headline: "Shining Light on Shadows: When Your Child Struggles with Bipolar, Everyone Struggles" Pull Quote: "“Amidst the chaos and the pain, there was a glimmer of clarity – my son was not himself, he was a prisoner of his own mind, controlled by forces beyond his control.”

Nothing can derail a new habit and stop you from reaching your goal faster than “black-and-white” thinking, also called “all-or-nothing” thinking.

As a practitioner and teacher of mindfulness, I've personally experienced the impact of 'black and white' thinking. The good thing is, unlike other habits and goals, mindfulness is specially designed to help you become aware of this mindset, giving you the power to change.


I will be discussing mindfulness as it relates to mental health on a new show launched by Dawn Helmrich and Neil Parekh, “Shining Light on Shadows: A Candid Conversation About Mental Health.” You can watch the show Thursday, June 27 at 6pm CT / 7pm ET or the recording on Facebook, Twitter*, LinkedIn, YouTube, Instagram* and Neil’s website.

*The links to Twitter and Instagram go to Neil and Dawn's pages respectively. We won't know the exact urls until we go live.


I go by Coach Ambrose because it’s the first and only thing I’ve done as a professional. I simultaneously began coaching youth sports as my college football career ended. While I had great coaches over the years, I knew I left considerable room for growth in exercise and nutrition. At this point, my mindset around mental performance was limited to what we’d call inspiration and motivation, and I had little to no concept of emotional regulation. So, with that in mind, I began as a Personal Trainer focusing on nutrition coaching. 

As a fitness business owner, I hear black-and-white thinking daily.

  • “Well, you’re an athlete, I’m not, so I can’t [insert desired state].”

  • “I’ve always been [insert any undesired state].”

  • “Lifting weights makes you bulky.”

..and the list goes on and on.

The problem with all-or-nothing thinking, also known as dichotomous thinking, is that it makes it difficult to see life as it is. Life is complex, uncertain, and ever-changing, but with this mindset, life is cognitively distorted into two choices, which are always extreme:

  • Good and bad

  • Right and wrong

  • Now or never

Research suggests that dichotomous thinking is a reaction to the need for control, and it can be linked to trauma. People with certain conditions, such as ADHD, autism, anxiety, depression, and bipolar disorder, may be more likely to develop black-and-white thinking. 

On a less severe but challenging level, all-or-nothing thinking can contribute to feeling anxious and lower your mood due to the overly negative and potentially harmful nature of this mindset. 

So what can you do if you’re finding yourself thinking in extremes? 

First, become aware of the feelings and thoughts associated with this mindset. In my experience, they usually boil down to these three:

  • Self-doubt is a lack of confidence in oneself and one's abilities. It involves questioning one's own decisions, actions, and worth.

  • Procrastination is the act of delaying or postponing tasks or decisions. It often involves avoiding tasks that must be completed by focusing on less important or more enjoyable activities.

  • Fear is an emotional response to perceived threats or dangers. It can manifest as anxiety, apprehension, or dread about something that might happen.

Does this sound like you from time to time?

Good. It means you have a healthy, normal-thinking brain. Seriously, fear is a basic human emotion, and it’d be hard to find a normal person who does not experience it.

If you’re reading this blog, Shining Light on Shadows, you either want to:

  • Grow spiritually, reconciling the light and dark within yourself.

  • Learn to positively reframe and look for opportunities for growth and knowledge.

  • Facing things that are difficult to cope with and making the unconscious conscious.

Here’s what I suggest: follow the middle way.

This means avoiding thinking in terms of extremes and instead looking for the gray. It also means discovering a fuller truth when looking at two opposing ideas, feelings, and thoughts. When you recognize extremes, incorporate aspects of both positions and identify the middle path, you’ll feel more at ease and energized.

There are not many better ways to stay on the path of the middle way than mindfulness, which at its core is: present-moment awareness without judgment.

Just as in exercise and nutrition, I find the average person thinking in the extremes about their lack of mindfulness practices with statements like:

  • My mind is very busy; it never stops. (Good! That means you’re living).

  • Meditation doesn’t work because [insert some basic human condition].

  • I pray (or exercise, journal, walk, or some other practice) for mindfulness.

I often play the “yes and” game to help illustrate the nature of the mind.

  • Yes, your mind is very busy, and there are ways to bring it to stillness.

  • Yes, mediation hasn’t worked for you, yet, and there are ways to deepen your practice.

  • Yes, there are many contemplative and healthy practices, and mindfulness is one of them.

So far, we’ve been speaking at the level of cognition, or thinking, which is precisely where we find ourselves stuck, thinning in black-and-white, all-or-nothing, and extremes.

In closing, I invite you to join us on Thursday, June 27, at 6pm CST 7pm EST for more conversation about the challenges of making mindfulness maddening or magical by thinking in extremes. While talking or thinking may be helpful and is a part of mindfulness, there’s also work to be done at the level of feeling. 

The middle way of mindfulness means exploring a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and the surrounding environment through a gentle, nurturing lens.

Title Card for Show. Text and headshots of the co-hosts and guest. Headline: "Shining Light on Shadows: A Candid Conversation About Mental Health" Copy: "Ep. 7 Kate Easton Parenting a Child with Mental Health Challenges Thurs., May 9 7pm ET / 6pm CT / 4pm PT"


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