Elephants and molehills: dealing with blinkered or extreme thinking

Two men ignoring the elephant in the room

In a world that no longer works the way it used to, it is easy to make mistaken assumptions. One of the most common types of these is called extreme or blinkered thinking. This happens when we make mountains out of molehills or when we don’t see the elephant in the room.

Blinkered thinking happens when we only see part of a situation but not the whole picture:

  • We might be over-cautious, seeing only the risks or negative aspects but not the favourable ones
  • Or we might focus only on the positive elements of the situation, insisting somehow that the negative possibilities “don’t count” or “won’t happen”.

Both mistakes are blinkered thinking.

Blinkered or extreme thinking happens when we see the world only in terms of extreme opposites: good or bad, black or white, all or nothing, ‘utter failure’ or ‘success beyond our wildest dreams’. Other words that indicate a person might be suffering from blinkered thinking include “always/never,” “everyone/no-one,” and “impossible/inevitable.”

Because this type of thinking involves such extreme viewpoints it can be extremely difficult to change once we get caught up in it. But it is also relatively easy to spot.

If you identify this kind of thinking in yourself or others, first realise that it is only a mistaken assumption, not reality. Then identify what extreme the person is getting caught up in and ask what is the opposite of that. Finally, look for all the possibilities that exist between these two extremes and ask how likely each one is. This will bring you a more accurate picture.

In a changing, churning world nothing is ever guaranteed — or impossible!

If we want to give ourselves the best chance of creating the outcomes we want, it is important to first learn to see our situation more clearly. Spotting the elephants and ignoring the molehills is one step towards achieving that.

Can you think of anyone who might have been caught up in extreme or blinkered thinking? In your personal life? In your work life? In your country’s politics?


Adapted from Inner Leadership: tools for building inspiration in times of change.

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Photo By David Blackwell. via StockPholio.net

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