One of the deadly thought diseases of the middle class mindset is what I call Either/Or syndrome. This is the belief (usually programmed into us as children and reinforced in academia) that says you cannot have your cake and eat it, too. Of course sometimes this is true, which reinforces the global belief that it’s ‘always true’. World class thinkers start with the assumption they can have it all, and it often becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Since mental toughness is about critical thinking, this demands all possibilities be considered in the belief development process. Is it possible to be financially independent and still have a great family life? Is it possible to enjoy the foods you eat and still be thin and healthy? Is it possible to take risks and still have peace of mind? The questions surrounding either/or syndrome are endless, and the results of adopting the habit of questioning yourself can be life changing. The most important critical thinking question to consider when falling into the either/or syndrome trap is; “Am I sure I can’t have both?” I’ll look forward to your comments. Steve Siebold, CSP, CPCS ( 6:51 )

Steve Siebold
Author and Professional Speaker since 1997. Past Chairman of the National Speakers Association's Million Dollar Speakers Group. Author of 11 books with 1.4 million copies in print.

8 thoughts on “The Mental Toughness Cure for Either/Or Syndrome”

  1. Ronnie,

    You make some great points in your comments. I love what you said about democratic and authoritarian leadership. I also agree with what you said about the 3-4 week habit change. Especially when it comes to dieting and exercise. If more people actually believed this, we wouldn’t have an obesity problem in America!

    I always learn from your comments, Ronnie. Thanks for taking time.

    Steve Siebold

  2. Mike,

    Thanks for sharing your example. Thisn is one of the most common traps of middle class thinking. I have to coach myself around it every day!

    The life of a recovering middle class thinker! I’ll keep working on it.

    Thanks for your comment.

    Steve Siebold

  3. Will,

    You and me both! I think you’re right when you compare it to black and white thinking.

    Thanks for your comment!


  4. My goodness you bring up great points Steve.

    I believe that grasping this simple thought process is one of the most important shifts a person can make overall. It’s something I feel I need constant reminding of as well in order not to slip back into the old patterns of thought, so I echo you guys, both Steve and Will on that point. I find myself frequently having blind spots. Especially my initial reactions to certain things tend to be very black or white at times before I settle down and really give things some thought.

    The magic words I try to repeat to myself are AND and HOW. I want this AND this in my life, now HOW can I do that? If it truly is impossible which it sometimes is as you mentioned Steve, then for me it comes down to personal values and knowing oneself enough to choose one over the other.

    This thought process is so deeply rooted in our societies in large, and I’ve found that this way of thinking awakens dislike among people. I’m speculating that it has its roots in our human need to simplify and categorize the world into boxes in order to make sense of it all. And of course, not to challenge the boxes…

    I ran into a classic example of either-or-thinking recently when I participated in a discussion regarding leadership. Some people seriously claimed that the only productive way to lead was through total democracy in every situation, and they utterly refused to see the other side of the coin. What is needed is both democratic AND authoritarian leadership. Democracy is important and beneficial, and at the same time democracy has to give way for a more authoritarian way of leading when fast decisions are required. In addition, the leader’s job is to have the vision and guts to go against the grain at times, something mass decisions probably would omit.

    I’ve encountered this thought process with person’s I’ve worked with as well who want to get into shape in the same way you describe it Steve. Since it necessarily takes a couple of weeks to build new habits which requires focus and energy, many feel discouraged during the first few weeks because they feel the process is costing too much in terms of focus away from the family or the career. So here we stand at the imagined crossroads, I can have a great family OR stay in shape. I can have a great career OR be healthy and trim….

    The simple and in my opinion beautiful truth is that it takes about 3-4 weeks of concentrated focus and effort, after that period has passed the new behavior is becoming automatic. And when that shift has occurred, it’s doesn’t take conscious effort any more and the rewards will be reaped for a life time! It reminds me of the old saying, “the rich get richer and the poor get poorer”, all because of the world class habits. And in many cases, it all starts with this small shift in awareness, from either or to and.

    Thanks Steve for posting another golden point that I need to remind myself of.


  5. I agree with the post. Limiting beliefs always seem to hinder critical thinking. Without the limiting beliefs, critical thinking becomes almost like breathing and nearly as essential. One of the questions I have asked myself recently is, “Can I have it all, without compromise?” I believe that I can and the critical belief is that I must keep balance in my priorities. For me they are, my Creator, my family, my employment and then my house of worship. I really try to keep it simple. Steve can confirm that I have shown that I’m not always able to do so! So, finding the balance so that either/or never enters into the thought process will destroy the limiting belief.


  6. Why not have your cake and eat it too AND stay trim and fit at the same time!

    When I taught in the public schools one of my themes was finding your passion and natural curiosity or drive in a certain direction and paying attention to it. Years later I’d meet and still meet former students living in a middle class mindset and wonder what happened to the passions I saw in them AND they acted on in school.

    When I’ve asked them about what they once did so energetically and enthusiastically and passionately and naturally that “either or” thing you’ve posted, Steve, is always the answer however they phrase it they give.

    “children guessed(but only a few)
    and down they forgot as up they grew” — ee cummings

    Mike Michelozzi

  7. Hey Steve,
    I love your post. I have fallen into this (middle class thinking) either/or syndrome with a couple of things that I think about on a daily base’s. It’s like black and white thinking if I can compare it to what you’re talking about. Thanks for making me aware of it so I can ask myself that critical thinking question you suggested.
    Thanks Will

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