The Black and White Lens: Part 3

The scales of justice used to represent a balanced perspectiveI have already described, in great detail, just how unhelpful and inaccurate it can be for us to view ourselves and our lives (not to mention others and their lives) through the Black and White Lens. As a brief review, here are just some of the specific liabilities inherent in doing so (and I am sure you will be able to think of many others):

  • It leaves no room for the appreciation of nuance, subtlety, possibility, or works in progress, in ourselves, others, or the world around us;
  • It makes it much easier for us to become depressed, anxious or angry;
  • If we are already depressed, anxious or angry, looking through the Black and White Lens only intensifies these painful feelings;
  • Being anxious, angry or depressed easily gives rise to behaviors (avoidance, aggression, self-harm or addiction to drugs, alcohol, food, sex, etc.) that will themselves trigger additional upsetting thoughts, feelings and behaviors;
  • It reinforces the idea of, and drive for, perfection in ourselves and/or others, which is exhausting, unattainable, anxiety-producing, frustrating, depressing, and leads to resentment of others (which harms relationships and often triggers feelings of guilt in us); and
  • It often triggers Level 2 Thoughts; instead of simply dealing with the stress of, say, the need to complete a demanding task, we are much more likely to also end up with the belief that we have failed, or that we somehow shouldn’t be stressed.

So, use of the Black and White Lens really isn’t sounding so terrific, is it? I’m glad you agree. The question then remains, however, of how we can go about cleaning the lens or better yet, removing it altogether from the “camera” that is our perspective? Well, it’s not as difficult as you might think. However, since we have grown so accustomed to looking through this lens, it has become something of a “fixed default” setting on our camera. And, as I will say many times throughout the Mindset program, we get better at whatever we practice and we are always practicing something. That said, here are some of the best methods for practicing something else, regaining balance in our perspective, and “de-black-and-whiting” our Mindset (I hope my liberal manipulation of the English language doesn’t offend you; sometimes new words are needed to describe new ideas or actions!).

Techniques for Removing The Black and White Lens:

  1. Increase our awareness of it’s existence. Yes, very simple, but very powerful. My guess is that, as you have been reading about the Black and White Lens, you have become more aware of instances in which you have been looking through it, at yourself, your life, your future, or at others. And with this additional awareness, perhaps you have begun to question the accuracy of those views. If this has been happening for you, beautiful! Keep it up. A change in awareness (or perception) truly does trigger a change in our experience of “reality.” I put reality in quotes because it has long been believed, by philosophers, Buddhists, and lots of other smart people, that all we know of “reality” is what we see through our own very personalized (and sometimes fuzzy) perspective.
  2. As a means of cultivating and practicing increased awareness, you will want to learn to identify your thinking and feeling reactions to events and experiences in your life. One of the best ways to do this is to begin writing them down. Earlier, I invited you to begin writing down your answers to some questions about the Black and White Lens, and this was my subtle attempt to get you writing (and don’t worry, I’ll keep reminding you!). Indeed, the process of recording our thoughts and feelings in reaction to various challenging situations is literally the cornerstone of cognitive-behavioral therapy, and an important component of The Mindset Method. Writing is different from thinking. We all do a lot of thinking, and it is very easy to get caught in the cognitive spin cycle by keeping it all in our heads. By dumping what is in our heads onto the page, we are accomplishing several things. First, we are unburdening ourselves of these thoughts. Imagine how much less “busy” you are in your head when you go to the grocery store with a list versus when you simply trying to remember “eggs, butter, cat litter, bread, light bulbs, tomatoes.” And think how much more likely you are to get everything you need! Second, by writing our thoughts down, we are engaging many more psychological and neurological processes than we would be if we were simply thinking them. This allows for a deeper and more novel means by which we can process these thoughts. Third, by writing them down, we are now actually able to look at our thoughts on the page, and this automatically cues us to begin to stand back and re-evaluate what we are thinking and saying to ourselves. Needless to say, I am a firm believer in “writing it down” as a way of increasing awareness and beginning to shift perspective. Although I have only mentioned it a few times so far, the art and science of “writing it down” will be a significant focus of further segments in the Mindset program, and I will be guiding you to develop this skill thoroughly and effectively. This technique can help us remove the Black and White Lens, as well as all of the other Mindset Mood Lenses.
  3. Use your newly developing awareness of the Black and White Lens to begin looking for Shades of Gray in your thoughts about yourself, your life, and your future. For example, instead of seeing your world like this:

large black circle with small white dot insideYou would probably be better off seeing it like this:

picture of a gradient that moves subtly from white to black

And how to accomplish this? One effective method is to use a percentile rating or partial credit scoring system versus a pass/fail one. Instead of asking yourself whether or not you achieved a goal or met a criteria, ask yourself about the degree to which either of these concepts is true. For example, I once treated a young mother who was quite depressed and angry with herself. This was because, one morning at home, while she was playing with her baby on the bed, she turned her back for a moment to answer the phone and, you guessed it, the baby fell onto the floor. He was fine, but her immediate thought was “I’m a terrible mother.” You can understand how a self-critical thought such as this would fuel feelings of depression and anger at herself. By discussing the concept of the Black and White Lens with her, and encouraging her to try a percentile or partial credit method of self-evaluation, she was able to come up with several more balanced statements such as:




And, after going through this process, we found that she felt much less depressed and angry with herself, and that she rated the accuracy of the initial “I’m a terrible mother” statement much lower.

And just as a reminder, the goal of this method is not to prove that your thoughts are completely wrong, just as the goal was not to help this young woman go from thinking “I’m a terrible mother” to “I’m the best mother in the world,” or to overlook the fact that an unfortunate accident occurred when she was with her child. The goal was, however, to help her identify the distortion and imbalance in her thought, and to try and make it more balanced, realistic and accurate. By doing so, we were able to help her feel better about herself, her life and her future.

A final thought about the Black and White Lens. There are indeed times in life when we need to utilize an all or nothing judgment in a specific situation, such as whether to purchase a new house, whether to accept a job offer, or whether to get married. And there are also times when the presence of even a small percentage of negative qualities does overwhelm the presence of positive, such as in a relationship where there is physical violence. The habitual use of this lens, however, particularly when we are evaluating ourselves, our lives and our future, will generally hurt more than it helps.

My hope is that learning about the Black and White Lens, and beginning to understand how the Mindset method can help you to neutralize or remove it, when appropriate, has been helpful and enlightening to you. It certainly was for me, when I first learned of it, and I see it be quite useful for the patients with whom I work every day. Of course, there many more additional ways to reduce the negative impact of this lens, along with the other Mindset Mood Lenses, and I will be sharing those with you as you continue to learn the Mindset Method. Thank you for reading. I wish you peace, a pleasant rest of your own day, and I look forward to speaking with you again soon.

Content copyright 2012. The Mindset Group, LLC. All rights reserved.

About Richard E. Schultz, Ph.D.

Hello. I am Richard E. Schultz, Ph.D., and I am a clinical psychologist practicing in Atlanta, Georgia. For consultation and treatment, please visit my practice website:
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