Elephants and molehills: dealing with blinkered or extreme thinking

Two men ignoring the elephant in the room

In a changing world it is easy to make mistaken assumptions. One of the most common types is called ‘extreme thinking’ or ‘blinkered thinking’.

Blinkered or extreme thinking happens when we see the world only in terms of extreme opposites: good or bad, black or white, ‘utter failure’ or ‘success beyond our wildest dreams’. We make mountains out of molehills or ignore the elephant in the room.

With blinkered thinking we see only part of a situation but not the whole picture:

  • We might focus only on the positive elements, insisting somehow that the risks either “won’t happen” or “don’t count” — Brexiters do a lot of this
  • We might be over-cautious and see only the risks or downsides of a situation but not the opportunities and the upsides — Remainers have been accused of doing this

Because blinkered thinking involves thinking in terms of extremes, other words that can indicate the presence of blinkered thinking include “always / never,” “everyone / no-one,” and “inevitable / impossible.”

If you spot this kind of thinking in yourself or other people, 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 the possibilities that lie between the two extremes. Ask how likely each one is and you will form a more accurate picture of what is really happening.

In a churning world nothing is ever guaranteed (or impossible!).

Spotting the elephants and ignoring the molehills is a key step towards getting the results you want.

Can you think of someone in your work life, your personal life, or your country’s politics who is making mountains out of molehills or ignoring the elephant in the room?


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

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Photo By David Blackwell via StockPholio.net

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