The Thinking in Color Thinking

My Book, The Rainbow Onion, is available for pre-order in eBook and the paperback is coming soon. It’s about the Transformative Power of Color Thinking. This is the second in a series of blog posts that dive into what color thinking actually means, using excerpts from the book. This comes from Chapter 2, Thinking.

Chapter 2 is a long chapter, because (duh!) the brain is complex, and even though we use it all day every day, we still don’t know a lot about HOW it works. I decided to pick out this bite about binary thinking, because I think it is super pertinent to what’s going on in the world today.

In order to be super-efficient and save energy, the brain loves to reduce things to binary thinking. Okay, maybe it doesn’t actually love binary thinking, but when left to its own devices it will default to it.

Binary thinking is the process of reducing a situation down to only two variables, which are almost always mutually exclusive. Good or bad. Right or wrong. Yes or no. Stop or start. A or B. Black or white (Aha! No color!). All very clear-cut, with no overlap and no subtlety.

Binary thinking is great for analyzing danger, dealing with urgent issues, and driving us to action. It’s a helpful starter tool for clarifying complex problems, creating sequences, and writing programming code.

But binary thinking definitely has a downside for us contemporary humans who spend most of our lives not in danger. Binary thinking is not only a result of survival thinking, it also triggers the related chemical reactions in our brains. It triggers a preoccupation with choosing the right answer because the only other option is the wrong answer. It triggers an adrenaline response. We know about the negative impacts of adrenaline and cortisol, the stress hormones.

In binary mode, we aren’t always aware of some of its impacts. When we’re running around on adrenaline, in flight or fight mode, we tend to see people as enemies. We become paranoid and isolated. Our reasoning becomes simplistic. We’re easily exhausted. We don’t have access to our creativity. And, in a social context, binary thinking, black-and-white thinking, is polarizing. I just realized that it would be more accurate to call it black-OR-white thinking.

What really happens with black-or-white thinking is you start from a place of feeling at least slightly threatened. And, honestly, that doesn’t feel great. That’s stress. So, you set out to solve a problem, and you work through the problem by dismissing alternative solutions until you only have two options to decide between—the right one and the wrong one. The consequences of the decision get blown waaaaay out of proportion, because you’ve engaged a suspicious survival mechanism, one that perceives danger lurking behind each wrong choice. I call this microdrama—a state in which every little decision feels like it has momentous importance. It’s overwhelming. It is overwhelm. It’s often paralyzing. Should I or shouldn’t I? I can’t decide…

So, black-or-white thinking starts with stress and adds more. It “helps” you see enemies and risks where they might not even exist. And it literally shuts down your ability to see creative options. You cannot recognize alternatives. You cannot believe there might be more than one right answer… or a better or different approach. Black-or-white thinking is a lazy (energy-saving), primitive (survival-based) way to stay stuck on one side of an either/or equation, to live at one end of a polarized situation.


The bottom line is black-or-white thinking is a huge limiter of our potential. We don’t need more black or white. We need options. We need color!

Next week: color + thinking = color thinking.

In the meantime, remember these things: You are loved. We are all loved. Let’s all be kind. And in all things – progress, not perfection!

Love and light, Maggie


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