Things are allowed to be good and bad at the same time

I’ve found it useful to sometimes remind myself that things are allowed to be good and bad at the same time.

Suppose that there was a particular job that I wanted but didn’t get. Afterwards, I find myself thinking:

“Damnit, some of the stuff in that job would have been so cool.”
“But the commute would have killed me, it wouldn’t have been a good fit for me anyway.”
“But some of that stuff would have been so cool!”
“Still, the commute would have killed me.”
“Yeah but…”

It’s as if my mind is trying to decide whether I should be upset at not getting the job, or happy at having dodged a bullet.

And if I pay close attention to what’s happening in my head, I might notice something.

It’s as if my mind is acting in such a way that only one of these options might be true:

Either some of the stuff in the job would been really cool, or the commute would have killed me. When one consideration is brought up, it’s as if it “cancels” the other.

Now if I were trying to decide whether I want the job or not, then this might make some sense: either the work is cool enough to overwhelm the badness of the commute, or the commute is bad enough to overwhelm the coolness.

But I already know that I didn’t get the job, so I don’t need to make a binary decision. And even if I did need to make a binary decision, realistically it’s not that one of the considerations makes the other completely irrelevant. My mind is trying to persuade me that the job is either all good or all bad, and neither of those assumptions is likely to be a healthy basis for a decision.

So there’s a thing where I… let my mind accept that both the good and the bad can be true at the same time, and that that’s all there is to say about it.

Yes, that stuff would have been really cool. And yes, the commute would have killed me. And there doesn’t need to be an “overall goodness” of the job that would be anything else than just the combination of those two facts.

This can feel a bit like there’s an electrifying zap in my mind, the two facts merging together into an overall judgment, and then there’s nothing more to consider. It doesn’t exactly feel good, the way it would have if I’d concluded that I never should have wanted the job anyway. But it also doesn’t feel bad, the way it would if I’d concluded that I actually really would have wanted it.

It just is what it is: a job that would’ve had some really cool aspects, where the commute would have killed me.

And then there’s so obviously nothing else to say about it, and I can move on.

Other uses of the principle:

My friend Marras describes finding relief from chronic pain through a similar dual acceptance: “Yes, my shoulder is in pain. Other parts are not. I can enjoy the other parts while I suffer from the small but upsetting bad aspect. I don’t need to argue for or against either.”

Anders Sandberg notes that this is also a good way for thinking about the state of the world in general: “a lot of things are going really well and a lot of other things are going badly.”


  1. I had a similar experience during a therapy session that really changed my outlook on life. A few months ago, I was talking in therapy about how sometimes I’m scared of moving to a new country because I won’t know anyone and won’t have any cultural or familial or friend-based support networks, and I won’t know the language. And other times I’m excited about it, because I want to be the product of multiple countries and national cultures instead of just one and I think it would be an amazing growth experience to do so.

    My therapist helped me realize that it is both exciting *and* scary, that there are both good *and* bad things that will happen when I go. I will likely be ungrounded and lonely, especially at first. I will certainly learn a ton about myself and grow a lot as a person. These things aren’t in conflict.

    For me, the *zap* was more of a *soft enmeshing like linking two hands together*, and it felt like a relief to stop thinking dualistically.

  2. A quick second thought on this:

    I had an ex-girlfriend who had horribly body dysmorphia, and I always tried to reassure her some variation of “You’re not fat, but also having fat isn’t a bad thing!”

    I did some research on how best to support people with body dysmorphia, and the single best piece of advice I found was: “Don’t say ‘you’re not fat BUT having fat isn’t a bad thing’, instead say ‘you’re not fat AND having fat isn’t a bad thing’.”

    This blew my mind. Saying “but” implies a quasi-contradiction, that one thing you are saying pushed up against the other thing you’re saying. Replacing “but” with “and” shows how nothing you’re saying is colliding with anything else you’re saying. It’s affirming two truths instead of adding a qualifier to one truth.

    I’ve incorporated this into my conversational vocabulary, being way more conscious of when I want to say “but” in a sentence, and “and” is actually a better fit (it usually is!).

    I feel like “and” has a ton of benefits over “but”, the main one being that it makes it clearer that you’re creating a stable foundation of ideas, not one where the ideas are pockmarked with exceptions or opposing statements. To me, the “and””but” duality has a ton of overlap with the thesis/antithesissynthesis duality you’re describing above.

  3. ‘Things’ here very much includes people. I often need to remind myself that somebody’s awful qualities don’t prevent them also having good qualities, and vice vesa

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.