Strengths and Both/And Thinking


November 11, 2015

If we are alive, we know what it is to have indecision.

More than that, it’s common enough to find ourselves in situations in which we can either do this or that, but not both. Understandably, there is no avoiding it sometimes. Take bedtime, for example; we cannot both stay up and go to sleep. But there are plenty of situations that may seem like either/or situations, only because of outside factors, like our own fears, our lack of perspective, and other emotional constructions and constrictions.

It’s easy to get caught in patterns of either/or thinking as “the only way”. Especially when we are busy, overworked, and out-of-touch with our sense of agency in life. In an effort to simplify our lives and streamline decision-making processes, it’s natural enough to adopt an either/or approach. From a totally mathematical standpoint, such a stance minimizes our choices by half when compared to a both/and viewpoint, which has the potential to double them.

Problem is, most of us do not live lives guided by objectivity and mathematics alone. We are emotional creatures who regularly face desires, wants, and needs that are in direct conflict with one another. It can be overwhelming, for sure. That said, the impulse to whittle the world down with eithers and ors can feel like a practical one. We might measure the pros and cons of this or that situation and then make a decision—picking one—which can feel like a reasonable compromise. But is it, really?

That is, is choosing between things with an either/or mentality truly reasonable if we haven’t first truly considered a both/and approach?

No, it’s not. It’s neither fair nor practical to sell ourselves short on a one-or-the-other paradigm. Especially in a world as lush and diverse as ours; a world that, in fact, seems to live by a both/and methodology.

Take rainforests for example. They only cover about 15% of Earth’s land surface, but they contain more than half of the planet’s terrestrial species. It’s a place that has evolved by saying yes to life and incorporating new elements into its space.

The earth doesn’t thrive as a system by saying, “Sorry, we already have trees, we don’t need any more.” No. Instead, it is constantly evolving and adapting its wildlife to create deeper and more defined layers of inclusive diversity.

Such is the case when we incorporate our strengths into the teams we work with, the partnerships we invest in, and the societies we interact with. When we develop a strengths mentality, we are likely developing a both/and mentality. It is a way of understanding others and ourselves and where we fit in the big and little pictures.

When we focus on strengths, it doesn’t take long to notice that very rarely is there only one way to do something. More than that, almost never does it take only one type of thinking to solve any problem. That is, most problems are solved successfully through a blending of ideas and systematic approaches. Individually, the strengths offer 34 specific paths toward solutions, it’s true. In combination, they offer near-infinite methods.

We may not have noticed this outright, but when we look for it, it’s consistently there.

In that way, we are constantly collaborating with others. And, within that collaboration, we are being given a choice: can we let others and ourselves be a part of the solution (both/and) or must we exclude them or ourselves from the process (either/or). The strengths offer a both/and way of moving forward.

Am I a collaborator within my own mind? Do I allow new ideas to percolate, accepting them as a possible both/and scenario? Do I get stuck in either/or ruts? What is a situation in my life that could benefit from a broader view that includes other possibilities?

Be your greatness. Start. Do. Go.

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