The Tyranny of "Or"

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-by Matt Leedham

Last week I heard an expression for the first time:

“Reject the tyranny of ‘or’ and embrace the genius of ‘and.’”

I can’t get this out of my mind lately and as I’ve shared it with a few people, they seem to gravitate and latch onto it too. Why? My guess is that many of us find ourselves limiting our solutions, possibilities, and outcomes with this A or B type thinking, and it feels restrictive.

The concept is similar to something I’ve been saying for the last six months when clients or friends, or anyone really, present a challenge, and then finish with “So, I can either do this, or this…”

My response? “So, you’ve presented me with Option A and Option B. That’s a tough choice.” And they nod in agreement.

And then from me, the punch line: “You know, there are 24 other letters in the alphabet.”

Why just limit yourself to two choices? How about Option C, D, E, F, G, H, etc.? Let’s get creative here. If you’re going to make a choice between options, let’s really get all of the options on the table.

The genius of “and” comes in when you get deeper into the alphabet and Option L is simply a combination of Option D and H. With a combination lock, the choices in the combination of numbers to choose from goes up exponentially every time you add one more possible number. For example, a 2-digit lock with numbers 0-9 has 100 possible combinations. A 3-digit lock has 1,000 possible combinations. And 4-digit lock has 10,000 possible combinations. You can apply the same logic to your options and come with an abundance of choices.

This can come out in a variety of ways:

  1. “To lose weight, I have to stop going out with my friends or exercise for 2 hours a day.”
  2. “To run a business, I can either be nice or make a profit.”
  3. “To buy a new home, I have to save 20% or risk all my assets.”
  4. “To change careers, I have to save 6 months of expenses or find a higher paying job.”
  5. “To train for a marathon/triathlon/race, I have to give up sleep or give up my social life.”

Clearly, these aren’t the only options. There are other ways to procure a home without having to put 20% down or risk everything else you own. There are ways to incorporate nutrition and exercise in your diet without sacrificing your personal/social relationships.

When you read this as an objective 3rd party, this may all seem very clear to you. The challenge is when you are stuck in “the forest” of your life, and can’t see past the trees. In those moments, you sometimes forget that there are more options then “go left” or “go right.”

Tip: Talk to people about your goals, share your ideas and challenges, and get external feedback. Many times, someone else’s perspective is enough to defeat the tyranny of “or” and get you to the genius of “and.”

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