How to prep and recognize all or nothing thinking

In my ten year journey to learn to manage PTSD symptoms, I encountered some terrific therapists.

Mary Ellen was a warm, caring person capable of the most deadpan delivery of practical and common sense advice.

I was stuck in a forty year old memory. A person had attempted to murder me three different ways in one night. We were trying to work through the fear and nightmares I still had of that incident.

One session, Mary Ellen asked me “How old were you when it happened?” 

I answered “Around nineteen or twenty-years old.”

“How old was he?”

“He was thirty-eight years old?”I answered.

“Okay, so today, that makes him, what, seventy-eight years old, right?”

“Well, yeah,” I answered.

“Do you think you could take him today?” Mary Ellen asked.

The light bulb went off, or should I say “on” in my head.

“Hell, yeah!” I shouted. “You bet I could take him now.”

Mary Ellen showed me that I was stuck in the past, while the years had rolled by. The man who terrorized my sleep and had caused me so much fear of ever encountering him again, had aged, as had I.

My thoughts and thinking had kept me trapped in time.

Some effects of the trauma still remains, but the image of him as he attacked me that night is gone.

I tell you this because it is an example of how our thinking can change everything.

This is very important in prepping and when were are coping with a crisis. It is also important in the aftermath of a crisis.

How we think and what we think can keep us “stuck.”

Mary Ellen used to call me out on “all or nothing” thinking. It is also referred to as thinking in “black and white” terms. “You’re doing it again,” she would tell me.

She taught me to catch and correct thinking that considers only two options, one or the other, and doesn’t see the shades of grey in situations. It is a very limiting way to think.

All or nothing thinking involves thinking in absolute terms: never, ever, always.

It can also happen when we place “either or” limits on our thinking. For example, my bug out shelter will be either here or there.

If we limit ourselves to those two choices, then we might miss a better option.

When we are stressed it becomes easy to panic and begin to limit our options through all or nothing thinking.

We may think I can or I can’t do something instead of  I can try to do it or I can succeed if I do it this way. All or nothing thinking doesn’t allow for that and focuses on the negative.

If we think in terms of options, rather than “either or,” we can overcome all or nothing thinking. We can substitute “and” for “either or”. I can do this and I can try this as well. 

Our preparedness and reactions can be shaped by decisions made upon a wider spectrum of choices.

There will be many times in our prepping lives where the ability to see and evaluate a wider scope of options will be important, if not, crucial to our plans.

In a crisis, our ability to recognize the limitations of all or nothing thinking may help us survive by alerting us to change this type of self-limiting thinking, expand our options and make a better choice.


  • Comments (14)

    • 8

      Screenshot from 2021-03-22 16-35-57

      I like to think of going through a challenge/disaster as a scale from 1(Dead) to 10(Safety). There are many numbers and colors in between and while you can get in that tunnel vision or be overwhelmed with the situation where you think you are heading to death and there’s nothing else you can do, that isn’t always true.

      While I don’t know everything, I am trying to learn as much as I can to make my chances of survival go more to the right on that scale. The more I learn and the more I prep, the further I’ll get away from the red zone. 

      • 4


        I really like that 1-10 scale. The colours are a good way to visualize where you are at and target where you would like to be.

        Your reply was also a good reminder to keep learning and improve our skills sets.

        Really great idea and thank you for sharing it, Essie.

      • 7

        You’re welcome. Some people are just born with that invincible ‘I can get through anything’ mentality and then there are others, like me, who have to work on it over a period of years or their entire lifetime. Taking a moment to visualize your situation and your attitude towards it is key.

        For example— How likely am I to get through this trial of having a bum foot? In the moment I’m sick of this thing and it feels like a 3 or a 4, but in reality if I really think about it, it’s most definitely a 9 or 10 because of the great medical knowledge available today and physical therapy. Taking a minute to think of your situation and what reality is can give you so much hope to keep moving on.

      • 4


        You bring up a good point about the “invincible” mentality. That can be rooted in false beliefs about one’s abilities. 

        I think for people like you and me who have to work toward thinking in a positive, healthy way versus an over-confident way, “I can get through anything”, we stay more grounded in the reality of our situation(s) and abilities.

        Your foot example, (which I hope is healing well), and how you are coping with it is a very realistic acknowledgement of where one could be expected to be at. However as you said, if you think differently about it, it goes to a 9 or 10 because of the medical supports present today.

        I think you present the idea of living in a balanced and healthy reality by how we think, very well.

        There was a saying, I can’t recall the author but it went:

        “Your thoughts are powerful, use them wisely.”

        Essie, you have given a fine example of that, thank you very much.

      • 6

        Essie, Appreciated seeing the scale. Graphic with narrative presentations are my favorite.

        Ref the infirmities of life such as foot/mobility, eyes/vision, blood chemistry/food consumption:

        “If you think you can or think you can’t, you’re right.” Anon

      • 3


        Like the quote. Oslers Web from other thread worth read. Hilary Johnston did a very good job of outlining cdc issues.

      • 4

        Ubique, On list to glance at is Oslens. Were it not for matters of ophthalmology, would have already surfed around it.

        CDC is America’s People Magazine subject matter equivalent.  There are better, more sophisticated orgs, both public sector and private sector, than CDC. WHO, having not relocated from Switzerland to Goma, Congo, explains my thought process.


      • 4


        Couldn’t have described them better myself. It’s an organization for people who like the pictures in magazines, but don’t read the articles.

        After the description of their behaviour in Osler’s Web, I would have fired everyone involved in that mess. The photos they used for ridicule in their cubicles were real people who were suffering.

      • 4

        Ubique, Only an hour ago, I learned where I knew about the works of Hillary Johnson.  My notes on her were with my Thomas Szasz notes “There is no such thing as mental illness”). 

        I’m not a scientist but have formally studied forensic psychiatry (for foreign business negotiations).  One principle I learned was that different people assign different meaning to the same words, terms and phrases.

        Had once been a “Service Officer” an accredited volunteer at a Veterans Center assisting in the processing of claims. It was in this place that I learned about chronic fatigue … originally “blamed” on mental matters…. and Dr Szasz, M.D., and his thesis that illnesses have a physical type of background to them: not “MENTAL illness”. Veterans centers, the Regional Offices, where claims are processed and a little overlap at the medical centers, are national de facto clearing houses to much of the national scene. As an aside, to get treatment, one must consent to participating in basic experimental treatments.  It’s a well-worded statement … I signed it … but the statement also gives insight into the health care environment. Since VA runs / used to run – being closed down – the world’s largest hospital system – , much can be learned just by looking at the environment. For the prepper, this is ideal because much of what is treated involves field work, eg ground combat and machinery work in confined areas – Navy, to include asbestos matters.

        The Soviets had their “hooliganism” and the counterpart here was “Anti-Social Personality Disorder”.

        It all distills down to my theme of lowest common denominators: Spend time on health matters, both physical, like immunization updates, mask wearing, add’l PPE and also psychological health matters like tranquil rest, relaxing events, AM radio, shortwave radio, some foods, looking at favorite artwork, …


      • 6

        Bob, Had longer post and lost it, too many interruptions today.

        Chronic fatigue or as some of us who live with it prefer to call it what it is (and want the name changed) Chronic Fatigue Immune Dysfunction.

        Got the virus that caused it in mid 80’s. Not diagnosed till much later and by then damage done from heavy work hours and lack of rest. I now have 4 anomalies in my immune system. Mprotein positive for myeloma. Cells aren’t ever going away. Hello: The sword of Damacles.

        CFIDS has a higher rate of people with leukemia and lymphoma. No rates for myeloma, but I believe it is connected, although multiple traumas over time probably cooked my immune system – too much adrenaline.

        At one time, 40-50 years ago Multiple Sclerosis was taught in medical schools to be a “wastebasket syndrome usually acquired by histrionic middle-aged Caucasaian females.” Everyone should be offended by that one.

        Today Multiple Sclerosis is view differently because they understand the disease mechanism of it. That is the dividing line between disease and syndrome. But that line changes nothing for the people who have to live with debilitating and difficult symptoms.

        There was no treatment allowed for veterans unless a consent for experimental treatment? Is there no end to the indignity of how veterans have been treated?

        Re Soviet – A very good example of how conditions can be made to look like psych issues – just apply label.

        Last paragraph, good advice. I use wave sounds and art large canvas in bedroom of seas and shore scape, soft waves landing – mostly soft blues and greys, somewhat moody, but incredibly calming for me.

        Have a Swiss mountain scene in my writing den – huge enough that it gives the feel of looking out a window at mountains in the distance and alpine meadow foreground and valley with lake in between. Great perspective and I get lost there some days to alleviate stress.

      • 5

        Sorry to hear about the chronic fatigue. That just sounds so awful! Is  there anything you can do to heal from that and get better?

        I like your idea of having nice artwork and sounds to boost your mood. I may download some nice nature pictures to have as my computer wallpaper. Thanks for the idea.

      • 5

        Hi Liz,  Thank you for the kind words. So far, and I am always hopeful, there is no cure, however, as with other chronic conditions (and I have a pile of others), it is a matter of learning to manage them.

        It takes time, trial and error and understanding each condition. For many chronic conditions pain and fatigue are major and common components.

        I use a bit of medication as required, but mainly rely upon non-medication management techniques: distraction, visualization and breathing, etc.

        I also don’t expect to be pain free. Even before the arrival of these conditions, I experience pain for various reasons and it was considered normal. For example, did some heavy housework and had a sore back later. That would be expected. So I would rest or take a hot shower to ease my muscles and feel better.

        The expectation of the absence of pain is where some folks get into trouble. Chronic pain management is not the same as Palliative pain management. I also learned that the chronic pain I was experiencing wasn’t going to kill me. The first few bad episodes scared me because it was pretty high level pain. But, after the first couple of times, I wasn’t afraid of the pain anymore. I knew I could get through it. I think that was the beginning of learning to manage it.

        I am grateful I had a very good family doctor at the onset of the tougher conditons who could guide me with pain management and my thinking about it.

        Our environment can play such an important role in how we feel. It can ease stress, help us sleep, alleviate pain by distracting us.

        Liz, your idea to download some nature pictures and use them as wallpaper is a really good one. Nature is so healing. Luckily we can use nature sounds and images so that no matter where we live, we can immerse ourselves in a beautiful environment and relax.

        Another thing I did years ago was to use a bird feeder placed by a window. There was a comfy chair there where I could curl up on my tough days. It was wonderful to watch the little sparrows feeding. I actually began to recognize some of them after a while. It was such a wonderful way to practice distraction from the discomfort and boost my mood.

        Liz, Glad I could help out. Your ideas have also helped me, and I thank you for it.

      • 4

        Ubique, You’re managing well as per the perspective I use. If vital signs and mobility, all about OK – not an aspect of happiness; just “OK”.  This is how I live. I believe in contentment and never happiness.

        Had thought I was alone in long posts getting whittled down from an array of matters to include loss of sat connection, interruptions, scrips notes immediately needed to be recorded, … much et cetra.

        Much of my analysis for much of everything starts off by noting revenue streams. Thus, I look at “middle-aged Caucasian females” and “medical schools”. The proof is in the bank accou …… er … the pudding.

        There were different levels of treatment for vets not agreeing to participate in certain programs.  The politics rule stops me from explaining and providing basic subject-matter examples. It really is heavy  with politics.

        We Westerners collectively like to view ourselves as part of state-of-the art institutions. When Dr Anton Chevkov wrote his short book “A Journey to the End of the Russian Empire”, he wrote that his inventory of sissors in the public clinics on Sakhalin Island, amounted to 9 (nine). Have we changed that much ?

      • 4

        Bob, Yeah, that is the way I see it too – non-attachment to the concept of happiness. Happiness is too contingent on externals for me. Happiness is the fleeting joy of a carnival ride.

        OK means OK in this moment and is not dependent upon externals. It is the emotional BOB I carry inside me. It goes everywhere I go, so I’m always OK no matter what is going on around me.

        Contentment is much nicer than the fickle flush of happiness.

        Contentment is constructed over time through experience and growth. It happens when we can look inside and be satisfied with what we see.

        Contentment happens when we know and accept who we are, without reservation, and love ourselves unconditionally. It is the underlying strength that keeps me OK, no matter what.

        Soros said follow the money, I believe. Do you know what the most misquoted quotation is? I looked it up out of curiousity. It is

        “Money is the root of all evil.”

        The actual quotation is part of a longer passage and is actually worded:

        “…for the love of money is the root of all evil.”

        Totally changes the meaning doesn’t it? From that point I looked at every hurtful thing and traced it back, every time, to the love of money – greed.

        Greed affects prepping. Have you noticed how many food and prep items are increased in price in this last year? 

        The vet’s need better treatment. I wish you could elaborate. It isn’t right. They need advocacy and justice. Politics should never preclude that from happening. 

        I don’t think we have gone past the 9 scissors. Today at the local lab the health care workers had very poor quality ppe’s.

        “Anyway, no drug, not even alcohol, causes the fundamental ills of society. If we’re looking for the source of our troubles, we shouldn’t test people for drugs, we should test them for stupidity, ignorance, greed and love of power.” – P. J. O’Rourke