I’m a control freak. This is nothing new or shocking. Even as a two-year-old, I asserted my dominance, refusing any help to get dressed or buckle my car-seat. What I didn’t realize until more recently was that my love for control fueled very concrete thinking. I’m one of those people that has a difficult time seeing gray, at least within my own life. What I mean is that everything is black or white in my eyes–and that’s just the way it is.
For someone who likes control, concrete thinking is a warm, thick security blanket. It is predictable and safe, making it all the more appealing. When faced with a decisions, we black & white thinkers generally view our options as cut and dry. Option one leads to result A, and option two leads to result B–usually the two are opposites. Regardless of which route we choose to take, we feel as though the outcome will be fairly certain. There is no allowance here for “what ifs” that linger in the middle ground, therefore there is little fear or risk.
Throughout my life I have seen myself fall victim to extreme thinking. It happened in 6th grade when I decided to join the cross country team. After several practices I decided that I could not be the best, or even “one of the best.” At least I thought this was the case. So I decided to leave the team and pursue a non-competitive sport because either I was #1, or I didn’t compete at all. (I did join xc again in high school, so I guess that shows some progress!)
Another prime example presented itself a few years later, after becoming vegan. Not long after I made “the switch,” I became entranced by raw foods. The whole idea was so novel that I decided to jump right in, going 100% raw. I soon learned that this didn’t work for me, for a number of reasons. But I was stubborn, as are most black & white thinkers. Yet again, I thought that I either had to go all out or give it up completely. So when I contemplated turning away from raw, my immediate instinct was to make a 180. All vegan junk food, all the time. What would be the point of green juice and sprouts if I were also eating pizza and cookies? I might as well not eat the prior at all.
I’m sure that you see the potential problems that can arise when you limit your options in such a way. It in turn limits your opportunities while adding unnecessary stress to your life. It can lead to a decreased sense of fulfillment and possibly even depression. However, these issues can easily be reversed when you make a decision to open your mind to new ideas.
To do so, don’t fall for the common myths about gray thinking.
Myth: When I think “in the gray,” I have no control. I may not be able to predict the future, but I do what I can to come close. Choosing to see the world in black & white makes me feel as though I can directly influence the way that my life plays out. If I choose to see gray, then something may happen that I have not prepared for, mentally or otherwise.
Truth: When I think “in the gray,” I have freedom. I can live according to intuition. I can embrace spontaneity and fluidity. I am a much more carefree person. Black & white thinking sets me up for disappointment while gray thinking can lead to triumphs I didn’t even know possible. It encourages an out-of-the-box mentality, resulting in decisions that are more all-inclusive.
When I gained some common sense and realized that I could eat both raw and cooked foods, I developed a new sense of liberation, yet I did not feel out of control like I had imagined. If anything, my improved health and happiness that came as a result made me feel more in control- and all because I chose to compromise.
Myth: When I think “in the gray,” my sense of identity is weakened. I am no longer a “raw vegan” if I do not eat 100% raw. I cannot identify with the raw community. I am not a “real runner” if I don’t run X amount of miles per day like these people I read about in Runner’s World. I must fully commit to my passions to get what I want out of them, even at the sake of my (health, loved ones, happiness, etc.)
Truth: When I think “in the gray,” my sense of identity is strengthened. Because I am then my own unique person; a compilation of all my traits, interests, and experiences.
I have always gone through phases, switching from one activity to the next. One identity to the next, really. Why couldn’t I combine these hobbies, these personas? I felt like that would make me fake. But what is truly fake is making my entire being match some mold that I have made up. What I really am is a compilation of all of my experiences and I have learned to embrace that.
The fears that one might have about living life in the gray are just not founded. And in a world full of “grays,” we have to adjust. I use this analogy almost daily to remind myself of that:
A black & white thinker would plan to drive the same exact distance each day, and spend the same exact amount on gas daily. But things fluctuate, and a gray thinker would realize that. They would be comfortable going with the motions, letting things pan out. Some days they may drive their car all over the place, burning through a whole tank of gas. Other days they may not drive at all. But at the end of the month, the average gas expenditure of a gray thinker would probably look something like that of the black & white’s… Because things have a way of balancing out.
As mundane of an example as this is, I’ve found it translates pretty well to life.
Life is not certain, but that’s one of its defining qualities. Some days are highs, some are lows, and some- usually those “gray days”- are somewhere in between. But things find equilibrium over time. Choose to live in the gray and see the beauty that is life.
Also by Quincy: Going on a Cruise as a Vegan
Photo: Harpersbizarre via Flickr