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’.

This blinkered or extreme thinking happens when we see the world in terms of extreme opposites: good or bad, black or white, ‘utter failure’ or ‘complete success beyond our wildest dreams’. With blinkered thinking we see only part of a situation but not the whole picture: we make mountains out of molehills or we ignore the elephant in the room.

Some British politicians are especially fond of leading people into this kind of thinking:

  • Brexiters have been accused of focusing only on the positive elements, insisting somehow that the risks either “won’t happen” or “don’t count”
  • Remainers have been accused of being over-cautious, seeing only the risks or downsides of a situation but not the opportunities and the upsides

But extreme thinking is very rarely true. Which means it is likely to lead to outcomes you don’t want. 

To get a better grip on the reality of the situation, first spot the blinkered thinking. This is usually quite easy (unless we are doing it ourselves), because it involves thinking in terms of extremes. It tends to involve words such as “always / never,” “everyone / no-one,” and “inevitable / impossible.”

Once you have spotted the extreme 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 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 the molehills is a key step towards getting the results you want.

Is someone in your work life, your personal life, or your country’s politics making mountains out of molehills or ignoring the elephant in the room? Are you? What would be a more accurate assessment?


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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