Binary Thinking (The Ultimate Guide + Image Quotes)

Unfortunately, we live in an either/or world where everything is either for us or against us, black or white. You fall into one of two camps: conservative or liberal. You either support gay rights or oppose them. For God's sake, you're either for or against wearing a mask on your face. All of this is due to the human proclivity for binary thinking.

What exactly is Binary Thinking?

Binary thinking, also known as dichotomous thinking, occurs when even complex concepts, ideas, and problems are oversimplified into one of two sides. The gray area in the center is either ignored or goes unnoticed.

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Binary thinking provides us with a sense of certainty. Binary thinking can be reassuring in a complex world. The uncertainty of complexity can be frightening and anxiety-inducing, so it's no surprise that people fall into binary thinking, especially during uncertain times like these.

“Categories move us toward certainty, but away from clarity,” says Bob Johansen.

When I'm worried about a global pandemic, racial unrest, or my family's survival, the complexity of the world can be overwhelming.

Nobody knows everything about, well, everything. As a result, in order to make us feel better, our brains oversimplify things into broad categories, resulting in binary thinking.

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The Issue with Binary Thought

The issue with binary thinking is that it is imprecise. There is some gray area. Every time. Thinking in terms of this or that, us or them, him or her, may make us feel better, but it is not how the world works.

When we engage in binary thinking, we are forced to make assumptions. “Being stuck in categorical thought doesn't actually involve much thinking at all—you just assume without thinking that new experiences will fit into your old boxes, buckets, labels, generalizations, and stereotypes,” writes Johansen.

Conflict and detachment are also outcomes of binary thinking. When we make assumptions about others by categorizing them, we are not being curious about them, and we are not attempting to investigate nuance that might actually bring us closer together.

So, how do we stop thinking in binary terms?

7 Ways to Avoid Binomial Thought

1. Experiment with New Things

If we are to break free from the bad habit of binary thinking, we must travel to new places and try new things. Because life is complicated and messy, when we get out there and live it, we at least put ourselves in a position to encounter new ideas and perspectives.

Take a class, learn a new language, develop a new hobby, travel, or simply do things differently than you did yesterday. Switching up our everyday lived experience is part of breaking our old habit of binary thinking.

2. Make New Friends

The same is true when it comes to meeting new people. If everyone in your social media feed looks and thinks like you, you're most likely trapped in a feedback loop. You spout off some binary thinking, and your friends agree with you, and the cycle continues.

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Break free from binary thinking by meeting people from different cultures, races, religions, and backgrounds. But simply meeting them isn't enough. We must also be curious and open to their points of view.

3. Develop Curiosity

Even if you disagree with someone, it is critical to ask a lot of questions and approach each interaction with genuine curiosity in order to break free from your binary thinking.

When I meet new people, I like to play a game called Curious Detective. Instead of talking about myself, I pretend that it is my job to learn everything I can about them. Either that, or I'll play a game called Hard-Hitting Reporter, in which I pretend to be a reporter trying to figure out what makes this person tick. This enables me to be genuinely curious about other people rather than approaching conversations as a chance to brag about myself.

4. Maintain an Open Mind When Listening

It is also necessary to slow down. Our first instincts are frequently examples of binary thinking. We have a tendency to make assumptions and snap judgments before gathering all of the necessary information to truly gain clarity.

Slowing down your reactions will help you break that habit. Pause and reflect before jumping to conclusions, and if you find yourself mentally categorizing things, catch yourself, stop, and try to see the bigger picture.

Also, pay attention. Keep your mind open rather than trying to cram new information into the limited categories you already have. Allow new information to be perplexing and complex rather than neatly fitting into the binary categories you're accustomed to.

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5. Foster Empathy

According to Brene Brown, “perspective taking is listening to the truth as other people experience it and accepting it as the truth.”

This means that when you meet new people and try new things, you should actually listen for the truth in their experience rather than trying to force them to fit into your preconceived notions.

The Black Lives Matter protests taking place around the world are a great example of this. When we lump all Black people together or interpret their experiences through our own lenses, White people are not taking perspective. When we listen to other people's experiences and accept them as true, we are putting ourselves in their shoes.

When we recognize that just because someone's truth differs from ours does not mean it is not true, we invite gray area back into our lives.

This fosters empathy. According to Brown, “empathy is incompatible with shame and judgment.” Staying out of judgment necessitates comprehension. We tend to judge those areas in which we are most vulnerable to feeling ashamed.” Instead of shutting down because we are ashamed or judged, true empathy comes from honoring other people's experiences and truths and being open to a variety of viewpoints.

People do not all think and feel the same way, which is a good thing.

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6. Don't Be Fooled by the Dunning-Kruger Effect

The Dunning-Kruger Effect occurs when you know little about a topic and are thus overconfident in your knowledge of that topic. When people don't know anything about a subject, they have little faith in their abilities. However, as soon as they learn even a little bit, their confidence skyrockets.

Then, as people learn more, they become less confident because they realize it is more complicated than they first thought. When a person begins to become an expert in a field, their confidence begins to gradually return.

If you want to avoid binary thinking, you should be aware of the Dunning-Kruger Effect. Our smartphones provide us with basic information on virtually any subject. This prepares us to be overly confident in our knowledge of far too many things.

Please be aware that if you know a little bit about something, your confidence is probably unjustifiably high. You are not an expert, and you are not yet aware of the complexities of the field.

Stay humble and continue to learn before bragging and boasting about how knowledgeable you are. Furthermore, binary thinking should serve as a warning sign that you are simply making assumptions and generalizations rather than being an expert in the field.

7. Accept Uncertainty

Finally, if we want to break the cycle of binary thinking, we must remind ourselves on a daily basis that the world is complex and that we don't know nearly as much as we think we do. While this may cause anxiety, it is a necessary realization if you want to advance intellectually.

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8. Thinking on the Entire Spectrum

The antidote to binary thinking is what Johansen refers to. thinking on a broad scale Full-spectrum thinking is when we investigate the nuance and explore the gray areas rather than making assumptions and broad generalizations.

If we want to avoid binary thinking, we should strive for this. When we begin to make broad generalizations and assumptions, we must stop and actively seek complexity and gray area. Slow down, learn more, and allow for more truths than you're used to. Instead of being overconfident about your knowledge, sit with complexity and uncertainty and let it motivate you to learn more.

Final Thoughts

While binary thinking is necessary for human survival, it can be harmful because it limits our experiences. We would not live in such a disconnected and divisive world if more people prepared themselves for full-spectrum thinking because more people would be engaged with each other's diverse perspectives rather than lumping each other into preconceived categories. Begin to cultivate full-spectrum thinking to broaden your horizons.

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