How to Escape From Unproductive Either/Or Thinking Traps

Black and white, up and down, yes and no, right or wrong.

Two choices. Binaries.

If you are driving and you come to a T in the road, either you go left or you go right. Unless you want to turn around, but let’s assume you want to go forward. Going forward means either left or right.

The same is true for when you are given any choice with two options, or when you have to make a call whether to keep some part of your writing or cut it.

It’s either one or the other.

Nothing wrong with either/or thinking.

Except… maybe it’s not always so simple.

And when you are freewriting, you find yourself at a very opportune time to feel into the ways that situations are not always so clear cut. To feel the textures and nuances of experience and be present with language as you use it to symbolize an experience.

Maybe you have had the experience while writing of coming to a place where you felt closed or hemmed in. One way of putting this would be to say that you have written yourself into a corner.

This can happen for a variety of reasons, but what is often true just prior to this is that you have made a few assumptions about how to resolve things. Objects in motion want to stay in motion.

It takes energy to bring things to a halt.

Creativity wants to keep flowing and going.

When you step out of the way and eliminate some of these assumptions that take the form of closures, you can find it easier to continue and progress forward.

An either/or can narrow things down too much so that you fail to see anything but the two choices. You see only the simplified pattern, and not the life and potential strangeness in the particular situation.

Because I said so

One way of doing this can be done very simply. Find a sentence that has concluded, a sentence about which you have some suspicion. Perhaps that sentence contains more, and it is only a matter of being able to access the mysteries it contains. Remove the period at the end of the sentence and write “because….” and continue the sentence. Even more fruitful is to do this several times. You are freewriting, so the act of adding the “because” onto the sentence can be a way of giving yourself additional perspectives about it.

The real idea is to be playful. The addition of the “because” is not necessarily to explain something or boil it down unless that’s what you really want to do. You can also use the “because” to make some claims from the standpoints of different characters or just to emerge out a different rabbit hole someplace completely wild and nonsensical. It can be an easy way to shake things up and unlock some mysteries.

Approaching a but

It can be as simple as making a substitution.

Maybe you have had the experience of listening to someone carefully give you some piece of criticism about your work. They take the sandwich approach. They start out by saying something positive, then they add some point for improvement, and finally conclude with a positive summary.

You might actually not really even here what they say first because you are anticipating what is in the center of that sandwich. Often it takes the form of “I liked X for this reason, but . . . .”

It’s as if the presence of that but negates everything that came before it.

When you feel a “but” coming on, see if you can’t get in front of it and put something different there. The idea is to use language in a way that helps the flow continue.

There’s nothing wrong with negating what you say, and there’s nothing wrong with using buts like this. Generally the best approach is the spontaneous one. People can be very artful with how they are effectively saying “but” except they are saying “and.” Maybe it feels authentic and maybe not. It is a technique for softening the way something critical gets delivered.

Example of a “yes, and”

Yes, it is true that I disagree about the destruction of the old city railroad and I also want to see commuters having more options for how to get across town.”

Your turn

Crafting “yes, ands” can be a fun way to explore things from a more creative and generative standpoint. It brings a more spacious environment, where there can be disagreement without excessive confrontation. Passion and opinion without narrowing of perspective. It is very much a life skill in addition to being a great improvisational and freewriting ability.

Generally, freewriting is about finding “yes, ands.” It’s a path of experiencing yourself through writing where you can move toward a bigger reality where more and more is possible.

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