How Binary Thinking Is Ruining Your Life
Gandhi is good. Sadam Hussein is bad.
But didn’t Gandhi run an Epstein-esque ring of naked child masseuses?
And didn’t Hussein promote free education for Iraqi women?
So perhaps some of Gandhi’s actions were good, and some were bad. And the same for Hus.
But what’s good and bad?
Child marriage is still the norm in Nepal.
Selling your underage daughter to a wealthier family is inhuman to us, but to many Nepalese, it’s a smart way to reduce family food shortages and gift your daughter a brighter future.
Perhaps we’re right and they’re wrong. Or perhaps we’re wrong and they’re right…?
Or perhaps right and wrong are words we just made up to simplify much more complicated, nuanced topics society doesn’t want to talk about 🤫
Here’s how binary thinking — right/wrong, black/white, good/bad etc. — is ruining your life…
Binary thinking makes for easy decisions and a difficult life.
It forces you down a road of unnecessary compromises, perpetual imbalance and limited fulfilment.
As an executive coach, 90% of my work is helping founders/CEOs realise it’s not just Option A vs Option B.
There’s also Option C, D and f*cking Z if you just opened your eyes a bit.
Some of the most common examples of binary “this-or-that” thinking 👇
I’m gonna work hard till I’m 40, then retire and go travelling!
Or you could do both now…work while travelling.
I spent February horse-riding and camping in the Sahara desert, working 4–6 hours every morning.
I spent 2 years travelling the world working fortnightly Fridays as a startup coach & private tutor, to cover my living costs.
And this summer I’m chilling in a coworking castle in France ✌️
Full-time work vs full-time travel are two very extreme lifestyles. They work for some — corporate no-lifes and hippy backpackers — but what about everyone else?
The binary idea of work hard vs have fun (retire, travel etc.) creates a false dichotomy.
You can do both, at the same time.
Should I start my own business or get a job?
What about a part-time job to pay the bills while you get your business off the ground?
Or a freelance profession (like videography, tutoring, web design) — all the entrepreneurial freedom minus the risk and ball ache of actually starting a business...
My brother works ~5 days a month as a freelance videographer and spends the rest of it training MMA.
I missed a couple workouts so I’ve gone back to kebabs and masturbation.
You don’t need to be perfect to make progress.
Missing a bloody workout is fine, just get back on the horse tomorrow. You don’t need to give up completely, that’s just self-sabotage.
And if you’re missing repeated workouts, it’s (probably) because you’re not enjoying it…
My co-founder, Olivier Ruthersfield IV*, recently started a 400-pushups-a-day workout routine. When the rigorous chest-pumping inevitably wore down his motivation, he abandoned ship completely.
Now he’s back on but with less overwhelming standards — a 20 pushup minimum with the goal of 200 overall pushups.
A little exercise is much better than no exercise at all.
[*in exchange for Ollie’s consent in posting his anecdote, I admit that he is officially better than me at pushups]
Should I go vegan or keep eating meat?
I’ve been wrestling with this one for a while.
There’s no escaping the moral terror of eating animals raised in torture farms…
But I’m a lazy hypocrite and the full switch isn’t something I wanna commit to just yet — especially living with my carnivore brother who adds chicken to any dish without chicken.
So for months I’ve delayed and told myself: “I’ll go full vegan soon, but I’ll keep eating dead cows in the meantime.”
But again, it’s not a binary vegan vs. meat-eater bifurcation.
There’s a full spectrum of continuous choice: even ditching meat just one day per week would be a moral improvement.
For now, I only eating meat when it’s absolutely f*cking delicious and it’s already been cooked.
If my brother comes home with a bucket of KFC, I’m doing the colonel proud…but overall, my meat consumption has dropped by 90%.
A Binary World
But it goes way deeper…
Binary thinking is at the root of so much human suffering.
Politics is f*cked: left wing extremists vs right wing loonies with no hope for compromise.
Dieting is f*cked: 6 months of spinach followed by 3 months of guilt-ridden binge-eating.
Mental health is f*cked: if I get this job I’m successful; if not I’m an abject failure.
If we could just shuffle away from extremes and start exploring the nuances in between! 😩
Easier said than done.
Interviewing Dr Gabija (Neuroscience PhD) this week on our podcast, turns out binary thinking is part-powered by the amygdala (i.e. negative emotions)
Becoming more conscious of binary thoughts is step 1 — journalling has helped me a lot here. But to be effective, it needs pairing with meditation, exercise, and an overall journey to deeper self-awareness.
You’re not a 0 or a 1.
You’re somewhere in between — instead of following sheep off the cliff edge, find your personal balance in the middle of the valley.