Week 04

Week 05

Week 06

The ‘continuum technique’ for all or nothing thinking

As you learned earlier, all or nothing thinking is one of the most common thought distortions amongst perfectionists. It is therefore important to know how to challenge this type of unhelpful thinking. In addition to the skill for examining the evidence, the ‘continuum technique’ can be particularly helpful to overcome all or nothing thinking. 

All or nothing thinking is rigid and inflexible. In contrast, the continuum technique can help you introduce more flexibility in your thinking. In other words, it helps you see that things rarely fall into ‘all’ or ‘nothing’ categories, and that it’s more helpful to view situations on a continuum. Your job here is to identify when you are falling into all or nothing thinking. You must define the all or nothing categories, which will form each extreme of the continuum (e.g., failure vs success). Be as specific as you can here and give examples where appropriate.

Next, you draw a line between the two extremes. Now you have a continuum instead of two distinct categories. You are then required to mark where you fall on the continuum. Often, we find that you are not at the extreme, rather you are somewhere in the middle. This helps to lessen the strength of your negative thoughts and will likely help you feel a little better. Let’s go through an example to demonstrate each of these steps in more depth. 

Example: Ruth believes anything less than perfect is a failure. Whenever she makes a mistake, she concludes “I am a complete failure” and ends up feeling worthless, anxious and depressed. Ruth completes the continuum exercise by following the steps below:

  1. Identify the unhelpful thought you are trying to challenge
    “I am a complete failure”
  2. Identify the all or nothing categories and join the two extremes with a straight line to create a continuum

                            (1) – Failure                                                                       (2) – Perfection

    3. Rate yourself by placing a mark on the continuum

          (1) – Failure                                    (2) – Perfection                                  (3) – Me

    4. Define each extreme of the continuum by setting out the criteria for the worst possible (0%) and best possible (100%) positions.

Failure criteria:

  • Rarely completes tasks
  • When tasks are completed, standard is extremely poor across all areas of performance 
  • Never meets others expectations
  • Never takes on challenges
  • Completely dependent on others to do everything 
  • Has few personal strengths & below average abilities
  • Doesn’t learn from mistakes (repeats them)
  • Unsuccessful according to society’s standards (no work, money, relationships etc.)


Perfection criteria:

    • Always completes tasks perfectly, without error
    • Standard is always exemplary
    • Always exceeds others expectations
    • Always takes on extra challenges and successfully completes them 
    • Never relies on others, completely independent 
    • Has many personal strengths & above average abilities
    • Never makes mistakes
    • Successful according to society’s standards (great job, house, relationships etc.)
  2. 5. Identify some examples of people you know of and place them on the continuum according to your criteria. You can skip this step if it feels judgemental or unhelpful for you.

       (1) – Failure                                                                                         (2) – Perfection

        (A) – Me           (B) – My Neighbour            (C) – My Boss          (D) – Michelle Obama 

       6. Review your position on the continuum relative to the criteria and the position of your example people. Notice if this changes compared          to your original position.


            (1) – Failure                                                                                       (2) – Perfection

         (A) – Me      (B) – My Neighbour       (E) – Me     (C) – My Boss        (D) – Michelle Obama

       7. Come up with an alternative belief that is more balanced and reflects your new understanding of things.
         “I am a person who has some great achievements and generally performs above average. I  sometimes make mistakes, but I am learning and improving all the time”

As you can see, the continuum exercise helped Ruth form a more realistic view of herself and the situation. She still didn’t like making mistakes, but her reaction to them became less extreme over time. Have a think about the all or nothing thoughts that you commonly experience. Then, have a go at applying the continuum technique with these thoughts. If you get stuck, ask someone who you think is generally reasonable in their thinking for some help.