Betsy Talbot

Betsy Talbot
Chiang Mai, Thailand
December 09
Betsy Talbot and her husband Warren quit their jobs and sold everything they owned to travel the world in 2010. You can learn more about living the good life at their blog, Married with Luggage.

JANUARY 23, 2012 6:52AM

The Sound of Fear: Black and White

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Editor’s Note: This is the third in a series of essays about the voices in our heads. Click here to read the earlier entries, the bitchy little voice and the drama queen.

How do I start with this voice? There is no middle ground, no soft introduction. It isn’t even a voice you can categorize with a masculine or feminine personality. The Black & White voice contains no gradations, no variations, no personality. It just IS.

Overcoming fear in Black and White thinkingHe wears black mostly, and his black hair hangs in his face so you can’t see his eyes. He is easily frustrated and his signature move is to turn on his heel and walk away. If there is a door to slam for emphasis, he’ll find it. If the voice were a celebrity, it would look like Marilyn Manson and act like Rush Limbaugh.

This voice is the one that encourages you to make snap judgements about a situation. It is all or nothing, completely perfect or a total failure, absolutely achievable or mission impossible, and since most things aren’t perfect, the voice usually comes down on the negative side.

The voice would rather have you stay still and do nothing than dip your toe into an imperfect situation. Trying to make it better without a perfect success record just paints you as a loser whose standards weren’t high enough to begin with.

This voice can be deadly for your work and social relationships because it paints you as an extremist. People are a little taken aback at your intense reactions to the most mundane situations, and when you are in the grips of this voice you might get the feedback that you are too wound up or need to chill out. If people don’t flee your presence first.

Examples of Black and White Thinking:

  • You throw a dinner party for close friends and burn the bread you meant to use with the selection of dips for the appetizer course. You agonize over your “ruined” dinner party even though your friends are happily milling around, talking and drinking, oblivious to your catastrophe. Instead of just pulling some crackers from the cabinet and making do, you dramatically pour all your homemade dips down the drain and cast a dark cloud over the rest of the evening.
  • You go to give a presentation at work, one that you have slaved over for weeks. You know it by heart, and your Power Point presentation is a work of art. As you get ready to present, there is a technical problem and the Power Point presentation will not load. Instead of going through your otherwise perfectly prepared presentation and landing all the points – it is about the information and not the method of delivery, after all – you scrap it and tell the client you’ll have to do it later when you’ve fixed the problem. Your client is confused and pissed that you wasted her time.
  • You go on a trip to a sunny locale in the middle of winter. You have an itinerary, but something happens to disrupt it on day one – a late flight, an illness, lost luggage, a misplaced reservation – and you think your trip is ruined. Instead of working out a quick detour, you focus on all the ways the trip has gone wrong and how you cannot recover it. You get through it and go home, complaining to everyone about how awful a visit to a sunny locale in winter actually is. Not so surprisingly, people think you are a jackass for moaning about a “ruined” trip to Hawaii while they freeze their buns off in North Dakota.

In all three scenarios, fear springs up to tell you that if something doesn’t go exactly as planned, it is a failure. If your endeavor can’t be fool-proofed from the start, there is no reason to attempt it. 100% success is the only option, and anything less is complete failure. There is no middle ground.

Black and White is tough, and if truth be told it is mostly Black. People who rely on this voice like to think of themselves as realists, possibly even cynics who are asking all the hard questions no one else has to guts to ask, but in reality they are backsliding into childhood responses, using basic words to describe complex situations and leaning heavily on the words always, never, nothing, and everything.

Trying something always means the risk of failure, and the voice hates that chance. He views failure as a failure, not a means to an end, a path to success. He doesn’t understand that failure is part of the process, a necessary step to help us do better going forward, learn the things we cannot grasp by theory alone, and possibly even point us in a new direction we can’t find without sometimes blindly feeling our way and messing up.

His exact opposite is the Rainbow voice (not so coincidentally the voice of the gay rights movement, where acceptance of diversityOvercome fear by focusing on the rainbow of choices is the norm.)

Perfection is the only option for this voice, which means you’ll never make it happy. Perfection is the killer of every great idea under the sun, and until you learn to silence or ignore this voice, he will keep you stuck in place, scared to make a move and unhappy every time you do.

How to silence the Black and White voice

  • I just told you it sounds like Rush Limbaugh and looks like Marilyn Manson. Do you seriously need more than that? Seriously, though, eliminate the words always, never, nothing, and everything from your vocabulary and learn to accurately describe the situation.
  • It’s a numbers game. If this voice is a problem for you, begin assigning percentages to every situation. Nothing is ever 100% bad or 100% good. As you train your brain to evaluate the events around you, you’ll be more realistic in judging your own events and decisions.
  • Verify your opinion with the people around you. “Am I overreacting to this, or do you think the burned bread has ruined the evening?” “If you were me, would you say screw it at the messed up reservation and fly back to snowy North Dakota or take the smaller room at this hotel in Hawaii?” Sometimes just saying it out loud will alert you to the ridiculousness of your reaction.

Now if someone could just forward this post to Rush Limbaugh our work would be done.




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