All or Nothing Thinking in the Workplace

Have you ever felt that if one thing goes wrong during your day, the entire day is ruined? Do you often use words like, “always,” “never,” should,” and “shouldn’t?” Or do you find yourself harping on small mistakes, finding it hard to receive feedback from fellow co-workers? If so, you may be falling into a pattern of negative thought which can impact your workplace performance. This is known as all or nothing thinking, a common cognitive distortion.

All or nothing thinking is a negative thought pattern where you view situations, people, or events in extreme terms—either good or bad, with no middle ground. In today's workplace environment, this mindset can significantly impact your productivity, morale, and overall job satisfaction, skewing your perception of success and failure and leading to negative consequences.

How does All or Nothing Thinking Manifest in the Workplace?

If you have all or nothing thinking, this can manifest in a multitude of ways:

  • Perfectionism

You strive for perfection and view anything less as failure. This impairs your problem-solving skills, as you struggle to find alternative solutions or compromises, decreasing productivity.

  • Poor Teamwork

You may perceive others' mistakes in extremes, either dismissing them or taking them too seriously. This can lead to conflicts and reduced collaboration.

  • Reduced Motivation

Viewing success only as complete victories and failures as total defeats can diminish your motivation. Overlooking small progress can cause stress, anxiety, burnout, and depression.

Tips to Help with All or Nothing Thinking
  • Recognize and Reward Effort

Find a safe place to organize your thoughts and reflect on a situation that made you

upset. It can help to write it down and visualize the situation to explore it deeper and recognize when you have labeled a situation in terms of “all or nothing” to pull yourself out of the thought pattern. After reflection, reward yourself for the effort you put towards a situation by focusing on the progress you made

  • Promote a Growth Mindset

Encourage yourself to look at perceived failure or mistakes as learning opportunities for growth and reframe negative thoughts if you are able to recognize them. For example, if you are doubting your performance at work, ask yourself what is another perspective you can take instead of thinking in extremes

  • Set Realistic Goals

Establish achievable goals that acknowledge incremental progress, allowing you to focus on manageable tasks and reduce stress.

“Don't use all-or-nothing thinking. Take each day as its own day, and don't worry about it if you mess up one day. The most important thing you can do is just get back up on the horse.”

  • Henry Cloud

All or nothing thinking can profoundly impact workplace dynamics By recognizing and addressing this mindset, you can foster a more productive, innovative, and supportive work environment. Cognitive Behavior Therapy can help you identify and address cognitive distortions, such as all or nothing thinking. If you are experiencing such distortions, try working on understanding your negative thoughts and emotions with a therapist here at Pacific CBT.


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Olsen, S. (2020) Why all-or-nothing thinking can get you in trouble at work, InHerSight. Available at: (Accessed: 19 May 2024).

Peter Grinspoon, M. (2022) How to recognize and Tame your cognitive distortions, Harvard Health. Available at: (Accessed: 19 May 2024).

Spranger, L. (2024) Understand cognitive distortions in the workplace, RethinkCare. Available at: (Accessed: 19 May 2024).

About The Author

Ashley Carreon currently works as a Behavior Therapist in the field of Applied Behavior Analysis. She received a Bachelor’s degree in Neurobiology, Physiology, and Behavior and a minor in Psychology from University of California, Davis. Ashley is interested in understanding intersectionality in mental health, and is planning to pursue a Master’s degree.