Personal Development: Are you imprisoned by “Duality Disorder”?

By | June 16, 2007

I was reading a recent posting on John Chow’s Blog that looked at the issue of Getting It Done. I’m not going to rewrite John’s post for him, but I was reading the comments that were attached. I don’t know if it was just me but I saw a lot of posters using Duality Disorder (the sometimes inappropriate habit of putting everything into two categories) to explain away situations without examining the situation further to find out its complexities, intertwinings and range of possible outcomes.

Examples of Duality Disorder

I’ve listed some examples of this: See if you recognize yourself in any of these duality thinking modes.

Good Bad/ success or failure / ugly or beautiful / now or never / Do or Die / to ‘crash and burn’ or succeed / plan or act / nothing ventured, nothing gained / Wisdom vs. planning / Impulse vs. drive.

How many more dualities are we going to trot out here? There are hundreds: is he gay or straight? is she labour or conservative?… the list is endless.

There is surely more than just duality in our world. Yet from the time of “Adam and Eve” (another duality) we’ve sought to divide the world into convenient dualities. This has to be one of the laziest thinking strategies out there. Why?

Complexity in Duality?

Life is far more complex than good or bad. Common sense examples will demonstrate this to you. A husband is a dutiful husband! He provides for his family! Is he good or bad? He does this by robbing a bank? Is he good or bad now? Could it be that he is somewhere between good and bad, depending on the circumstance? Could it be that he is in fact good at the same time as he is bad! He’s providing for his family (good) by robbing a bank (bad).

There are many situations in life where simplifying problems to dualities does NOT work. It can’t. It won’t. No matter how much we strive. AIDS is one of the problems. Starting a business is another. There are countless more.


Success or failure? Which is it going to be? Who knows? If you are starting a business, then you’d like to know the answer to that! But, truthfully there are few situations where success or failure is absolute. Most of the time it is shades between the two. We’re planning a promotional activity for our business tomorrow. Who knows if it will work well or not? It could be a disaster.

But we have success built-in, as we all agreed, that at the very least we’d have fun, a story to tell, and some good pictures for our business blog, whatever happened! So failure isn’t going to happen tomorrow. It’s just we may not be as successful as we would like! There are so many grades or shades of possibility, that simple duality cannot encompass. Moreover, in some cases, the things we get done will be intertwined with the things we did before. And the activity tomorrow will be intertwined with what happens in the future! So, who could say it is a failure in absolute terms?

A Range of Possible Outcomes.

Could it possibly be that we are using these to cover our own excuses? Could it be that there are a myriad of outcomes that are between success and failure or any of the other dualities we’ve written about? Could it be that we may not be a complete failure on day #1, and that is JUST enough for us to go out and build next $1Billion business. Could it be? The results we get from business activities may not be what we expected, true. In fact, they could vary vastly from what we set out to achieve. We may not achieve anything at all that we wanted. Did we fail then? Well, only if we don’t think about what went differently from our expectations? That experience of vastly varying results could lay the solid foundations for success the next time round.

So the next time you are given to duality disorder, catch your thinking for a moment, and just wonder a little at what other outcomes there might be. You might surprise yourself.

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