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Thinking patterns

The last session introduced some thinking patterns which are commonly used when pursuing goals. Click here if you want to download the handout on what these thinking styles are.

All or Nothing

'Should' statements

A common 'should' statement would be "I should exercise every day". A should statement turns a goal into a rule. 

Selective attention

Focusing on the small mistakes, minor flaws, or weaknesses in yourself or your performance, and not factoring in your strengths or better moments.

Double standards

Applying standards to yourself which do not hold for others.


Broad sweeping conclusions which become extensively applied, but are based on one or a few experiences. An overgeneralisation might be "I failed at my goal last time so I'm always going to be a failure".


Not all thought types or thinking patterns are mentioned in this program, but this session will introduce one more which is often linked with perfectionism.


Introducing, the All or Nothing mentality.


Other names for this style of thinking include 'black and white' or 'dichotomous' thinking. All or nothing thinking involves judging standards in two categories and viewing things in extremes, for example: 

Good or Bad

Failed or Succeeded

Always or Never

Totally or Not at all

People with perfectionism set themselves very rigid and demanding standards by which they measure their success. The problem with this is that by setting rigid rules (e.g. I must have over 80% on all my grades or else I am a failure) a person can become trapped in a cycle of evaluating their goals in this All or Nothing way.

This creates one of two outcomes:

This creates a no-win situation. 

Not reaching a certain standard, no matter how close it was to being met, is counted as a complete failure

A certain standard is reached, but then discounted as having set the bar too low.

All or nothing thinking is an important factor that distinguishes healthy goal attainment from unhelpful perfectionism.


If you judge your successes based on All or Nothing thinking it leaves no room for the middle ground. It means that an 'average' performance can only fall into one of two categories: Success or Failure, with no shades of grey.


Example of All or Nothing Thinking


If I do not come first in my competition, I'm not a real athlete. 


If I do not look stylish and put together people will think I am lazy and have let myself go


If I do not write an excellent report, then I am a bad employee

Home life

If I do not clean everyday, the house will always look dirty


If my child does not excel at school I am a useless parent


If I eat one piece of chocolate my diet is ruined

All or nothing thinking is particularly relevant to perfectionism because much of what keeps perfectionism going involves setting rigid rules and high standards, All or Nothing thinking is then used to evaluate how well these rules are complied with. 

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