If I accept the job as a teacher, then I will be giving up on my dream as a writer.
When I take time for myself, I am taking away from my family.
if I get married, I won’t be able to make my own decisions anymore.
I have heard each of these statements from clients in my office. They are perfect examples of “either/or” thinking. This thought pattern tricks you into believing that if you choose one thing, then you can’t also have another.
It is a trap that can be easy to fall into, especially since most of us have a file of previous disappointments that we access every time we are faced with a decision. In the past you might have learned that you had to give up things that you cared about in order to survive.
When you believe you have limited options, your dreams seem very unreachable. You fall into a trance that convinces you that if you say “yes” to something that makes you feel alive, you must say “no” to something else that is also important.
The sad fact is that this way of thinking takes away all of your innate resourcefulness. Inside of you is a creative wisdom that can find many more possibilities than just two options. Your inner wisdom is certain that you can make money and express your creativity, that you can have time for yourself and take care of your loved ones, that you can be in an intimate relationship and maintain your autonomy.
Often the voice of fear and limitation speaks so loudly, it can be challenging to hear that inner knowing. One way to create more space for creative thinking is to question your assumptions. If you find yourself in the “either/or” trap, try the following exercise:
- Write out exactly, word for word, the dilemma you are experiencing. Something like this: “If I take the teaching job, I won’t be able to be a writer. “
- Brainstorm all the possible alternatives. For example: I could look for a teaching job more related writing. I could use my experiences as a teacher to gather more ideas for my writing. Since school is out in the summer, I could write full-time in the summer…. And so on.
- Ask the most creative, open-minded person you know for insight about your situation. Often having another perspective can be the key to uncovering a win-win solution. Don’t run your dilemma by anyone who might reinforce the very limitations you are hoping to challenge.
Often the circumstances where you feel most stuck can lead to your biggest self-discoveries. When you approach your conflicts as opportunities to think even more creatively, you are flexing your inner wisdom muscles. The stronger this inner knowing becomes, the easier it will be for you to find win-win solutions to even the most challenging situations.