All or Nothing Thinking & Overgeneralization episode 107]

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Have you ever wondered about all or nothing thinking or overgeneralization? Do you know what either of those concepts are? Did you know that your brain is sometimes tricking you?

Today is the first of 2 episodes where we’re going to talk all about this- and if you find yourself using the words “always” or “never” frequently, you’ll definitely find this one interesting. We’re diving into these two cognitive distortions: all or nothing thinking and overgeneralization.

What are Cognitive Distortions?

According to the Cambridge dictionary, the term “cognitive” means “relating to or involving the processes of thinking and reasoning” and “distortions” means “a change to the intended or true meaning of something”. Therefore, cognitive distortions are irrational or biased thought patterns that lead to negative emotions and behavior.

There are 11 common cognitive distortions that we will review in this section. Learning these and noticing when they happen can help us more easily identify our unintentional models. WE ALL DO THIS. I’d say nearly every single day. The two concepts that we talk about on today’s episode are all or nothing thinking and overgeneralization.

All or Nothing Thinking:

This is when we see things in an extreme black-or-white mindset with no sort of middle ground. When we are stuck in all-or-nothing thinking we are thinking in absolutes- meaning it must be this way (that we are making up in our minds) or not at all. Oftentimes, we use this against ourselves where we think we must either be a complete success or a total failure.

Overgeneralization- This thinking pattern happens when we draw broad, negative conclusions from an isolated event and apply it to everything. The big clue that lets us know we are overgeneralizing when we use words such as “always”, “never”, “everything”, and “nothing”. It can also be easily identified through global labels (ex: bad mom or terrible person)

Simply put, drawing broad, negative conclusions about yourself and your surroundings based on just a couple of experiences is a result of overgeneralization.

This is just a preview of what we dive into on today’s episode. If you find yourself overgeneralizing situations or thinking words like “never”and/or “always” this episode is full of information that is applicable to you! You don’t want to miss it.

Key points on all or nothing thinking and overgeneralization:

  • The concept that- thoughts create feelings, why thought work is important (when to use it)
  • What “all or nothing thinking” is and how you may be doing it
  • How saying words like “always” and “never” is a sign of all or nothing thinking
  • What overgeneralization is
  • The definition of cognitive distortions and how it may be affecting you
  • What to do when we find ourselves doing either of these things

Resources mentioned:

Related episodes and blog posts:

Connect with Kelsey:

Read the transcript for episode 107, All or Nothing Thinking & Overgeneralization:

Kelsey: [00:00:00] You are listening to episode number 100 and the seven of wife, teacher, mommy, the podcast, all or nothing thinking and overgeneralization. Did you know that your brain is sometimes tricking you today is the first of two episodes where we’re going to be talking all about this. And if you ever find yourself using the words always or never, you’re really going to find this one. 




We are back with weekly content on wife, teacher, mommy, the podcast. And I’m really excited about this. I’m excited that we’re getting the episodes out on YouTube so you can watch them. If that’s what you prefer to do. Of course, there’ll be airing on apple and Spotify, or just the show notes [00:02:00] page on wife, teacher 

If that’s where you prefer to listen, nothing is changing, but we are adding YouTube as well. Super exciting. So for the last six weeks, we had a new episode. Every other week. And then we had a replay for three weeks, each of the other weeks. Now, the reason we did this is because I had a two week trip that I was going on and I had to book deadline. So just to make sure that I could make that deadline and my trip and everything. And I’ll even be telling a story a little bit about that and how it applies to what we’re talking about today. 

But in order to do that, I needed to give myself a little more time. So we did some replays and I honestly think it was perfect timing because. For back to school, that interview with Kimberly lock, I looked and it. Aired over a year ago. And it was one of our top episodes and I’m like, you know what? All the teachers out there. They probably want to hear about flexible seating right now. So we pulled that episode and repaired it. We took another one. We had a lot of people ask when I was like, what topics do you want to hear about on the podcast? We had quite a few responses saying I want to learn how to balance work life and mom. All the things like how [00:03:00] to balance it. And I’m like, you know what? We have an episode all about that. we’ve had some awesome new content come out as well. We talked about, and they were requested topics like being around kids all the time. I did an episode about that applies to the homeschool mamas and the teachers who listen. We had one all about stop comparing yourself to other teachers or other homeschool parents. 

I feel like that is very applicable. So we’ve just made sure to tailor this content to exactly what you need. So if there’s something that you want to hear about, but I haven’t done an episode about yet, be sure to email The team will get it to me and, or, or DM us on Instagram at wife, teacher, mommy. 

I would love to hear exactly what you would want to hear about on the podcast as I’m planning, future episodes. So would love, love, love to hear from you as always. But I’m actually really excited because now we are back to having a new episode. Every week I hit my book deadline and I am ready to rock and roll with some new content. I actually got really inspired through that writing and through that vacation for lots of new topics to [00:04:00] talk about. And we have some really exciting interviews coming up as well. 

So you’ll want to make sure you’re subscribed. So you don’t miss the upcoming episodes. Okay. So, you know, on the podcast in general, we talk a lot about our mindset. We talk about the five step framework, the self coaching model that I certified in with my certification through the life coach school, which basically talks about how our thoughts create our feelings, drive our actions and results. 

We’ve gotten really clear on the difference between what our circumstances are and what our thoughts are. So if you’re listening for the first time, actually, I want to review for those. Maybe you’re just tuning in now. So want to make sure you get, up to speed on what we talk about here. Our circumstances are like the facts of what is going on and our thoughts are the meaning that we add behind them. I want to make sure that I explain in a way that everybody understands. So our thoughts. Do drive our feelings, but our thoughts don’t come from nowhere. There is the context behind our thoughts. We all have all been raised in a certain way. We have a certain perspective. We have our own [00:05:00] experiences. We have thought patterns of beliefs that are programmed. Into us. So those impact our thoughts and there’s nothing wrong with this. In fact, that’s what our brains are doing. They’re using the information. They have to help us comprehend what is going on around us. 

So I just want to make that really clear. And then there are also times that we want to look at our feelings before we even start thought work. So if you have tried. At any point to use the model, to like, look at your thoughts and how it drives their feelings, actions, and results. And you’re just having a hard time with it. There’s a chance that maybe you need to look at your feelings first and process through those emotions. I’ve talked about that. On the episode ended about Sunday scaries. If you want to review that content. We’ll also be talking about that a lot in our November episode, mine, I put your I’m really, really excited about. basically the one thing we want to know is if we’re activated, like, if you’re like super, super anxious or super depressed, like you. You either really high or really low than thought work is pony, not what you want to do when we want to look at our [00:06:00] thoughts as when we’re feeling kind of in more of a normal state. So just mark that really clear before we dive into the next couple of episodes, which really are geared. On our thoughts and our, again, like I always say our thoughts are so important, but I just want to make sure that we are doing this from a healthy place. It’s learning awareness about how our thoughts and seeing what’s going on. That is where the beauty of thought work comes into play. We don’t do thought work to just immediately try to fix the problem. We want to just get awareness about, Hey, this is what’s going on for me. Isn’t this interesting. We’re getting to know ourselves and have so much grace for ourselves. Get to know who we really are. The beauty behind our thoughts and the core values and beliefs and experiences that have led us to be who we are today. It works best if we can simply observe and watch what is going on. As we’re learning this concept, but then as we really, a lot of you, who’ve been listening, have been doing this. There are times we’ll realize that those thoughts we’re having, aren’t serving us. And once we get that, self-awareness like, okay, I’m thinking [00:07:00] this is causing this. I actually don’t want it to do that. 

And there are times that that happens. And that is when we do want to work on changing our thought patterns and our beliefs. And that is where understanding cognitive distortions comes into play. So that is what we’re talking about today. Today, we’re talking about two different types of cognitive distortions, which are all or nothing thinking and overgeneralization, and I’ve been diving. Even more into cognitive distortions. As I’ve been writing my book, I’ve been really kind of fascinated by this whole topic. I’ve been diving into tons of research as I’ve been working. On this book and. I did a whole section on cognitive distortions. I’m really excited about it. I’m actually going to be teaching. A workshop about this too. Wife, teacher, mommy club members on November 1st. So if you’re a member, mark your calendar for November 1st, we’re going to be talking all about this. So if you’re in the club, be sure to add that to your calendar, or if you’re listening after November 1st, the replay will be on the members only private podcast and in your member dashboard. 

But for everybody here [00:08:00] today, I will be teaching you two of those cognitive distortions right here on the podcast today. But first, if I like, okay, Kelsey, you keep saying cognitive distortions, what does that mean? Don’t worry. I’m going to break it down for you right now. So according to the Cambridge dictionary, the term cognitive means relating to, or involving the processes of reasoning. 

So that is cognitive, like from the brain, our reasoning and distortions mean a change to. To the intended or true meaning of something. So therefore a cognitive distortions are irrational or biased thinking patterns that lead to negative emotions and behavior. So it’s one of our kind of thinking something that isn’t exactly true. So cognitive, like in the brain distortions, not exactly how it really is kind of like you’re looking in one of those like wavy mirrors, you know, Where you’re think you’re looking at what’s. Right. But it’s, it’s just not quite right., And these concepts, they’re not attributed to any one person. They have been developed and refined over time within the field of cognitive behavioral therapy, which is really the self coaching model we use is based [00:09:00] off of cognitive behavioral therapy and psychology. So when we learn about cognitive distortions, that can help us more easily identify our unintentional models. So the ways that we’re thinking and how it’s causing our feelings, actions, and results that we don’t realize that are just happening. Uh, on their own. And we all do this. I just say nearly every single day, we can find ourselves in some sort of cognitive distortion kind of thinking, and there’s nothing wrong with this, like I said, but it’s when we can get that awareness and make, oh, wait, I realized I’m doing this. And as I explain these two to you, you’ll probably recognize, oh yeah, I totally know what this is because I know that I’ve done it or I’ve seen other people do it. Sometimes we tend to be, oh yeah. As soon as this person is listened to this podcast, if you’re thinking that, I’m going to have done that too, but also like. You might think somebody else needs to hear this, but the chances that we need to hear it too, because we all do these things. It is human nature. Okay. So first let’s talk about all or nothing thinking. [00:10:00] So, this is when we see things in an extreme, like black or white mindset with no sort of middle ground. It’s just like, everything is all this way or all that way. Um, everything is in absolutes. So. And these absolutes we’re making up in our minds. And. So it must be this way or not at all. There’s no in-between and often we use this against ourselves. When we think we must either be a complete success or a total failure, like there’s nothing in between there. And it compares to other areas of life too, such as thinking. A person, a group or an organization, a group of people is all bad or all good. Without being able to see any sort of shades of gray. So this is often also called like black and white thinking. So it’s like, everything’s all bad. Or all good. And all or nothing thinking can make us feel crummy a good portion of the time, because life is rarely all positive or all negative. So it has to be all one or the other. And there is some negative will Ben just say it’s all negative, which isn’t usually [00:11:00] true. 

Okay, so let’s go over some examples for all or nothing thinking kind of will help us understand it a little bit better. So one example might be, if you’re a teacher and you want to do the best you can in your career, you have all this list of all the professional developments. That you want to do and you attend to some of them, but some of them, you aren’t able to make it for whatever reason. And you assume you must be falling behind in your career because you weren’t doing all the trainings you wanted to do. That would be an example of all or nothing thinking, because you’ve done some, you just didn’t do all of it. 

So it’s nothing right. All or nothing. Another one might be that you believe that unless your students score perfectly on every test. That you are an ineffective teacher. So it’s like, again, they have to do well on everything or it’s completely discounted. Appearance might feel the same way. Might have a similar experience. Like if your kiddo is struggling with reading, we might. Be like, oh no. Oh my goodness. I just can’t teach my kid how to read. I just don’t know what I’m doing. I’m a terrible teacher. So. [00:12:00] Another example would be if you have a terrible day of teaching or parenting or both., it just doesn’t go as planned, you think your whole approach, your whole schedule, everything you’re trying to do must just be terrible and you need to throw it out the window. So all of those are examples of all or nothing thinking another example, it doesn’t always have to apply to you personally. 

It could be that there may be some things like maybe some policies you don’t agree with that let’s say like your school. And maybe some people you don’t get along with as well. You don’t like how they think you don’t like what they do. You don’t like how they teach or whatever. And it’s just a bad school because not everything is going exactly how you want it. That is another example of all or nothing thinking because all or nothing thinking can help us miss, like the nuance and beauty of ourselves and people in workplaces and organizations in which we are involved. Those are some examples of all or nothing thinking. Now, the next round we’re going to talk about is overgeneralization. Now there are some similarities between all or nothing thinking and overgeneralization. So I’m going to go over overgeneralization. And [00:13:00] then we’ll talk a little bit about the similarities and differences between the two. So this thinking pattern happens when we draw broad negative conclusions from one isolated incident or event and apply it to everything. So the big clue that lets us know where overgeneralizing would be when we use words, like always never everything and nothing. 

It can easily be identified through Global labels such as, oh, these are such lazy students or they’re such a bad mom or, oh, I am such a terrible person. Things like that. So one example of this would be, if you have a friend who is running a bit late to meet you for lunch, you might think, why is everyone always late? Maybe you’ve had like an experience for another friend was late recently. 

You think? Why is everyone always late? But the truth is everyone isn’t always late, right? Or even this person, like she is always late. Has she? Absolutely never been on time. So we can just know that if we say. Always or never. It’s usually not true. Notice, always say usually it didn’t say always or never. Right. Another example might be after one play date goes poorly. Uh, [00:14:00] apparent believes that all play groups are chaotic and unstructured like, oh, that was terrible. I’m never going to try a play group ever again. That’s another example. So simply put drawing a broad, negative conclusion about yourself and your surroundings based on just a couple or even a single experience is a result of overgeneralization. So I’m going to tell you a little story too, about overgeneralizing. So like I mentioned, at the beginning of this episode, I recently went on that two week trip. It was great. It was the first week. It was for a professional development for me as a business owner. And then we extended it a week for some family time. But I also had a book deadline. I had, my first deadline for teacher goes publishing for the book that I’m writing. I mean, for all of you, I was so excited about this book, honestly. And because we were on this trip, we had this extra week. And my deadline was at the end of that second week and I wasn’t completely done. And that’s just a result of like, you know, lots of things that have been going on in my company and my wife and everything. And I just hadn’t intentionally [00:15:00] planned as much time to write because I figured I could just do it closer to the deadline and I could. 

And so I did, it was going exactly according to what I planned, we just happened to also decide to extend that trip. So I’m like, okay, I’ll just write on the trip. It’ll be totally fine. For the most part, it was, I actually love traveling because it, it, it sparks inspiration. I’m kind of not in the day-to-day of the work that I do is able to just, you know, really feel the flow of writing. So the majority of the time I was really, really happy with it, but there was one moment where my family was in the other room, playing games, and I was, you know, in the bedroom writing. And I was just thinking like, why. Do I always put things off. That is what I told myself. And the funny thing about this is I realized I was writing the section about cognitive distortions. I had just like maybe 20 minutes before written about overgeneralization and using the words always and never [00:16:00] being a sign of using the cognitive distortion of overgeneralization. And I caught, I had that. 

It was like, why do I always. Put things off and the truth is I don’t usually don’t put things off. And so that was just an example of an overgeneralization. Like why do I always do this? I always put things off. And I don’t, but it was just like that cognitive distortion of what it was telling myself in that moment. And I had so much grace for myself. I was like, oh, isn’t that interesting? I kind of laughed about it. And I was like, where do I think that thought is coming from? And just, you know, kind of got curious about that and everything, but I realized that it was in that overgeneralization. And. Because I knew that I was able to identify it. Like if I hadn’t have. Had awareness of that cognitive distortion and might not have recognized it as easily, but now I know like the words always never, everything, nothing. A lot of times those are signs that we are thinking in distorted ways. So super fascinating. Okay. So let’s talk about some similarities and differences between the two types. Both cognitive distortions that you [00:17:00] have a tendency to think in those extreme, absolute terms, which lead to overly negative and unrealistic conclusions, but for all or nothing, thinking it reflects the tendency to view situations is either entirely positive or negative with no middle ground. A polarized way of looking at everything. Overgeneralization is just making a sweeping conclusion based on limited incident. So all or nothing is kind of like there are these two extremes for overgeneralization is just taking something and applying it to more than everything. 

So that is kind of like the similarities between the two, but there are also some differences. So the first difference would be kind of like the scope of the application. So the key, this is the key difference. So all or nothing thinking pertains to the way we perceive the overall quality or something like perfect or failure. 

Again, there’s those two absolutes where overgeneralization is, just generalizations we make over isolated incidents. Also the degree of extremist all or nothing thinking is usually. A bit more extreme and polarized because of those two opposites, like perfect versus failure where overgeneralization is [00:18:00] generally still negative, but it’s more of drawing a broad conclusion, sweeping conclusion that don’t necessarily have to be those polar opposites. And they can both lead to perfectionism, but all or nothing thinking generally does a lot more because we feel like we must achieve perfection in all areas because it’s all or nothing. Over generalization, it can involve perfectionism, but it doesn’t necessarily, it’s more than misapplication of experiences in a broader context than we should, should apply it. And then the final thing is that all or nothing thinking is more focused on the overall quality of something for overgeneralization is more focused on the implications of something that has happened. So. Those are the first two cognitive distortions that we are going over on the podcast, overgeneralization and all or nothing thinking now, what do we do when we find ourselves doing either of these things? First, we give ourself tons of grace. Like I mentioned that I did when I caught myself. Thinking that about myself when I was writing my book just, last week, um, we give [00:19:00] ourselves grace, but we notice it, like, we get proud of ourselves for noticing it in the first place, because they mean we’ve gone so much of our lives. Not noticing mum are doing it. So we celebrate, give ourselves grace and then we can just make them, I wonder, why was I thinking that. And. How was I feeling? We kind of do some models. We can kind of get curious about what is going on and just kind of have that awareness. Most of it. So maybe next time you might be like, oh wait, no, that is overgeneralization. Or that is all or nothing thinking this doesn’t have to be all good. Or all bad. So. Let’s recap a little bit. At the beginning, we talked about the model about how our thoughts create our feelings, how thought work is such a powerful way for us to gain awareness about what is going on around us. We talked about that the first step with it is awareness. We’re not necessarily trying to change ourselves, but when we notice these things, and if we realize that it’s not serving us, like a lot of these cognitive distortions are, this can be a way to identify the thoughts that maybe we will want to change. And. The other thing we briefly mentioned is that if you’re really heightened [00:20:00] emotions, high or low, you might want to focus on processing your feelings first. So I have some other episodes I would recommend for that. Um, because start with the Sunday scaries one, we have even more coming out in the coming weeks about that. Um, we also talked about what cognitive distortions are. So it’s basically when you’re thinking in ways that aren’t quite right cognitive in the brain distortions, like, you know, it’s distorted, it’s like you’re looking in one of those wavy mirrors. We talked about all or nothing thinking, which is when we take something and it has to be all good or all bad. 

There’s no, in between we talked about overgeneralization. When we take something from a distant one isolated incident or a few isolated instance and apply it to everything. And we talked about what we do when we find ourselves doing either of these things. We just celebrate that. We even noticed it, give ourselves a lot of grease, get curious about it and what I didn’t mention before. But if we want to, we can make some changes using the model and thought work and. Bridge thoughts, ladder thoughts, but what do I want to think instead? Create intentional models. All the things that we generally talk about on this podcast and inside wife, teacher, mommy [00:21:00] clubs. So again, if you are a member of wife, teach mommy club. Be sure to attend the call on November 1st. If you’re listening to this before then November 1st, 2023, where we’re going to go over all of the cognitive distortions I’ve been researching, we just went over two of them. Today is going to be a great time. If you’re not a member yet you can totally join us. We are decided to leave the doors open right now because they don’t want to prevent any money. From getting this coaching support that I would love for you to have. So you can go to wipe, teach mommy dot. Com. And join us or the link in the show notes to learn more about the club. Now stay tuned because next week we’re going to be talking all about another cognitive distortion called jumping to conclusions. So we will talk then.

[00:22:00] [00:23:00] 

More about Wife Teacher Mommy: The Podcast

Being an educator is beyond a full-time job. Whether you’re a teacher or a homeschool parent, the everyday to-do list is endless. Between lesson planning, grading, meetings, and actually teaching, it probably feels impossible to show up for your students without dropping the ball in other areas of your life.

Wife Teacher Mommy: The Podcast is the show that will bring you the teacher tips, practical strategies, and inspiration that you need to relieve the stress and overwhelm of your day-to-day. Your host, Kelsey Sorenson, is a former teacher and substitute turned homeschool mom. Tune in weekly to hear Kelsey and her guests cheer you on and help you thrive as a wife, teacher, and mommy. Because with a little support and community, you can do it all. For access to every single Wife Teacher Mommy resource, join the club at

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