Manage Better During COVID-19 With a "Both And" Outlook | Justin Lioi, LCSW - Brooklyn, NY

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Have you heard of the “Both And” way of thinking? It’s discovering that there is room for multiple truths and not just a single, right answer or way of doing something. It combats the “Either Or” sensibility that many of us have grown up with and find pretty limiting.

Limiting, yes, and when it comes down to it, just pretty damn unhelpful.

I grew up thinking that there is always a right answer to be found. There’s always a way to avoid the negative thing happening. It’s been a cause of much suffering to cling to this—and so much relief to let it go.

And letting it go doesn’t mean letting myself or others off the hook or just becoming a total relativist.

It’s finding space for different ways of getting something done, but also allows for holding myself and others accountable when necessary.

Positive Thinking Can Do More Harm Than Good

The Both And mentality is also a remedy for people who jump to positive thinking way too early (in my opinion.) Things don’t have to be good or bad as both can exist at the same time.

Sound nutty? Let’s see.

While I’ve never been one to subscribe to the belief that “everything happens for a reason” I do believe that we can find meaning in even the most horrible events. I’m in good company here. Victor Frankl wrote extensively about connecting with meaning as a way to survive in the worst of circumstances. His book Man’s Search for Meaning details his time in a concentration camp and how he found that those who had a reason to live were often the people who survived amid all the abuse and neglect.

This reason could be

  • your relationship,
  • your children,
  • even your work, or art projects

anything that you need to continue with and that you’re passionate about.

If we apply it to the Coronavirus Pandemic we can see all the different sides of how this is affecting us without having to edit out the stuff we don’t like or only focus on how horrible and scary this time is.

We don’t have to wear rose colored glasses or be a total negative Nellie.

Both And: Be A Realist Who’s Not a Pessimist During COVID-19

I think the positive thinking movement has forced us to deny a lot of the realism that we are dealing with. A lot of time spent in therapy is just giving people space to have all the shitty feelings they work so hard to not have during the rest of their week. This way those feelings don’t run their lives during their outside of therapy time. And that’s the problem—we work way too hard to avoid feeling bad and that energy could be better spent on other things.

Hence Both And.

During our Shelter-in-Place we have been introduced to a “new normal”.

  • A world where you shouldn’t leave your home unless you’re wearing a mask.
  • A world where going to the grocery store could put you and others’ lives in danger.
  • A world where physical touch is non-existent, especially if you live by yourself.
  • I’m sure you can add to this list. And add, and add, and add.

The world doesn’t need to have optimists and pessimists. We need Both And’ers.

It’s not a glass half full or half empty. It’s a glass with water. Yes I want more than what is here and what is here is going to quench my thirst.

Both And.

So treat this like a homework assignment. Take something that’s been bugging you and apply Both And to it.

I spoke in the past about people who are telling me that their issue isn’t COVID related, it’s [fill in here whatever you started therapy for].

My answer is Both And. Yes, we still have the goal of you becoming more assertive AND the pandemic has made this a more stressful time to work on this goal; progress you made may not seem the same because we have this new lens. But progress HAS been made.

Both And.

You’ll get the hang of it.


Want to talk more about how to apply this to your life? Call for a free phone consultation!


Justin Lioi, LCSW is a men’s mental health and relationship expert. He practices counseling in Brooklyn, NY (and online throughout New York State and internationally.) He received his degree from New York University and has been working with men and their families for over 10 years. Justin is on the Board of the National Association of Social Workers and writes a weekly column for the Good Men Project called Unmasking Masculinity. He can be found on local and national podcasts talking about assertiveness, anger, self-compassion, all with the goal of becoming the man you want to be.