As I’ve written about before, our brains are not always our friends. They have various habits that can really get in our way. One is what’s called bifurcating, the tendency to think in either/or: either I am happy or I’m sad; either I am trying hard or I’m giving up; either I am a success or a failure. But human beings—and reality itself—is much more multifaceted than this mind tendency would have us be. We can be in more than one emotional state or hold opposing thoughts at the same time, and our actions can spring from a variety of conflicting motivations. The capacity to hold the paradox of this truth is one of the foundations of wisdom, the ability to make use of all the available knowledge and experience of your life.

I remember first experiencing this when I fell in love six months after the end of my 14-year relationship. If I told myself that either I could mourn the end of the one or start the other, I don’t think I would have moved forward in either. Instead I had to widen my thinking to include both: I’m sad and I’m excited.

As I learned, it is possible when unasked for change hits us, to both feel bad and move on. It requires that we practice both/and thinking, rather than either/or: “Yes I feel terrible about losing my house and I can make where I’m renting as pleasant as possible”; “Yes I made financial mistakes and I’m still a responsible person.” Cultivating the ability to hold both thoughts helps us to experience our feelings and rebound. It helps us get unstuck from the horns of the dilemma—for instance, am I a success or a failure—and embrace how each are true so that we can learn from our history and create even greater success.

Life is just too complex for us to get trapped in either/or. So whenever you catch yourself thinking either this it’s this or it’s that, challenge yourself to think both/and. What opens up as a result?

Author's Bio: 

A member of Professional Thinking Partners who is recognized as a leading expert in change, M.J. Ryan specializes in coaching high performance executives, entrepreneurs, individuals, and leadership teams around the world to maximize performance and fulfillment. Her clients include Microsoft, Royal Dutch Shell, Chevron, Hewitt Associates, and Frito Lay. Her work is based on a combination of positive psychology, strengths-based coaching, the wisdom traditions, and cutting edge brain research. Her new book, titled “AdaptAbility: How to Survive Change You Didn't Ask For” was recently released published by Random House’s Broadway Books. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband and daughter.