Elephants and molehills: dealing with blinkered or extreme thinking

In a changing world it is easy to make assumptions that no longer hold true. One of the commonest ways this happens is called ‘blinkered thinking’ or ‘extreme thinking’.

Blinkered thinking happens when we only see part of the picture. We make mountains out of molehills or we ignore the elephant in the room. We see the world in terms of extreme opposites: either “utter failure” or “success beyond our wildest dreams.” Reality, of course, lies somewhere in between.

To get a better grip on what is really happening, we first need to notice that this blinkered or extreme thinking is happening. So the key sign to look out for is the use of ‘extreme’ words such as “everyone”/“no-one,” “always”/“never,” “impossible”/“inevitable”, and so on. This might be difficult if we are caught in the grip of extreme thinking ourselves. But anyone who is using words like this is likely to be suffering from extreme thinking.

Once you have spotted these words, the next step is to realise that these extreme thoughts are not reality, they are only assumptions — and in a changing world these assumptions might no longer hold true. So identify what would be the opposite of that extreme. And then look for the possibilities that lie between the two. Here is where reality lies and as you look more closely you will find it. You might confirm that, “Yes, the extreme thinking is correct, and these are the specific reasons why it is correct.” This will bring more clarity about what actions to take… Or (more likely) you might realise that the situation is not as bad (or not as rosy) as it is being painted. Once again, your actions become clearer. (Chapter Two describes this in more detail.) 

Spotting our elephants and molehills is a key step to recognising when we or other people are in the grip of extreme thinking. This is the first step to building a more accurate understanding of the situation. And that then enables us to find and take the actions that will make us more likely to create the outcomes we want.

And all of this is another step towards becoming antifragile in this time of change.

Do you know a politician or radio show host who loves to make mountains out of molehills or who is ignoring the elephant in the room? Are you or someone you know doing this? What would be a more balanced assessment of reality?


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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