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All or Nothing Thinking...1 step forward and 2 steps back!

All or Nothing thinking. Many of us subscribe to this way of living. We either go all out on something or just don’t bother with it at all. There is no in-between.

Examples of what people with this sort of thinking might do are:

  • Follow a strict diet (Vegan, Paleo, gluten-free, carb-free, raw food, point system, etc.) for a period of time, then eat whatever they want until the next strict diet comes along

  • Eat healthy all day and then because of one slip-up they go to other extreme and eat very unhealthy until ‘the next day’ or ‘next week’ or ‘next month’ timeframe resets

  • Exercise hard everyday, following some kind of exercise protocol (Insanity, CrossFit, etc.) or train for a particular race for a period of time, then stop exercising until the next wave comes

  • Miss one workout in the week, so then skip the rest of the week and start again ‘on Monday’

  • Make it home every single night for dinner with the family for a period of time and then fall back into staying late every night at the office to get work done

  • Can you think of other examples of what you have done or seen others do in the past that can be classified as ‘All or Nothing’ thinking?

I recently had a call with a former client who had a heart attack approximately eight months after I told him that if he didn’t change what he was doing, he would likely have a heart attack. It was after the heart attack that he finally discovered how to make changes and sustain them and, luckily for him, he had this second chance. He told me that the most important change he made was changing his mindset from one that relied on the All or Nothing approach to one that was more about small changes that he could be consistent with and that one bad choice did not mean that the whole day or week was shot!

All or Nothing thinking isn’t just about what we do for eating and exercising. It will show up in other areas of our lives, such as relationships, parenting, learning, or even managing our finances. Here are a few things to consider if you tend to be an All or Nothing thinker:

  • The danger in living with this mindset is that doing “all” is a lot more work than doing “nothing”, so we are more likely to spend less time in the ‘All’ and more time in the ‘Nothing’

  • The steps we take forward when doing ‘All’ are shorter than the steps we take backwards when doing ‘Nothing’. Have you noticed that you lose a lot more strength and tone in your muscles when you stop working out much faster than what you gain when you start up again. The amount of weight gain you will see with a few bad weeks of eating is likely to be more than what you see lost with a few weeks of strict dieting. One bad night of insufficient rest will take several days of high quality sleep to compensate. The damage you can do in a relationship in a short period of ‘Nothing’ can exceed the depth you build in longer periods of ‘All’.

  • Your results and outcomes are a result of an accumulation of everything you do and don’t do. We tend to over-celebrate our positive behaviors and downplay our negative ones, so in our minds we believe that the one hard workout we did cancels out the big dinner and dessert we ate. If your results don’t add up right, you may need to check your math!

  • We are what we think and do! All or Nothing thinking in one area of your life can lead to applying this type of thinking in other areas as well. After all, we get better at whatever we practice, including All or Nothing thoughts. You may have started with an extreme diet, but now find yourself in the All or Nothing trap with other things.

What you can do to shift away from All or Nothing thinking:

1. Identify areas of your life in which you tend to engage in All or Nothing thinking or behaviors.

2. Think about or write about the negative consequences that have occurred as a result.

3. Become aware of All or Nothing thoughts you might have throughout the day and challenge them.

4. Identify one particular area that you will practice thoughts and behaviors that are in the middle. Small and consistent.

5. Set realistic goals and expectations about your results.

Remember that practice is key to changing thoughts and behaviors. Don’t get frustrated if you find yourself falling back into the All or Nothing way of life, as this will only lead you to live it! Go back to the small, consistent thoughts and behaviors right away and don’t wait until Monday :)

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