The Problem with Polarity Thinking – Part 1

When you have a problem, where is the first place you look for a solution?

If your answer is that you look for the opposite of the problem, then you’re probably looking in the wrong place.

It’s a popular saying that a problem always contains the seeds of its solution. This is true. However it also contains the opposite of the problem, which is frequently mistaken for the solution.

This ‘polarity thinking’ is flawed. The opposite isn’t often the solution – frequently, it has the same structure as the problem itself.

For example, take someone who is shy – “I’m not going to talk to anyone because I’m scared to“. Compare that to the brash overconfidence created by polarity thinking – “I’m going to make a point of talking to everyone because I’m scared to“.

The problem hasn’t gone away. It’s still there in the “because I’m scared to“, so the solution isn’t in either the problem or its opposite. It is to be found beyond both of those.

Often people can only see beyond the polarities when they collide them and they cancel each other out. This collision of opposites is a mode of though employed by the philosophers of old and is the fundamental mental practice in yoga. (all of the physical stretching in modern yoga is somewhat peripheral to this aim, however)

Additionally, polarity thinking leads to overcompensation – the opposite of ‘not enough’ is actually ‘too much’ and the system in question will swing wildly from one extreme to the other until it eventually balances itself out.

Another example is the way that focus and feedback combine to create a spiral:

If you focus on noticing all of the things that are going wrong, you will notice them and as a result, you’ll feel worse. This will lead you to notice more of those things and will often reduce your performance, creating more negative signs. This is the start of a downward spiral.

If you instead focus on noticing all of the things that are going well, you will notice them and as a result, you’ll feel better. This will lead you to notice more of those things and will often pick up your performance, creating more positive signs. This leads into an upward spiral.

Notice how they’re both structured identically but are fuelled by different content. If you tend to spiral, good state control and a positive focus is a must if you want to stay on the up. This is often easier said than done. We all have bad days occasionally.

There are many things you can do to make it easier (a good NLP training will give you this info) or you can think a bit smarter and ask a better question instead.

Do you have to spiral at all? What if you could find a way to do something different instead? If you think that’s impossible then you’re stuck in the game, just like a gambler who continues to play “in order to win my money back“.

So just pretend you could stop and do something else? What is beyond the polarity?

I know that if you take the time to think this through, the answer you get will be both individual and interesting.

In Part 2, I’ll share an NLP technique that you can use to collapse polarities that are limiting you.

The Problem with Polarity Thinking - Part 1 by

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