BPF Blog

All-or-nothing thinking gets you NOTHING

I see this all the time. A client comes to me, excited and ready to go. This is the time they will finally get everything together and get in amazing shape! They will work out for an hour and a half every day (even though they've been a couch potato for the last 3 years), survive on lettuce and cottage cheese (even though they currently have a major fast food addiction) and in no time at all, they will have the Perfect Body (TM). This, by the way, will solve all of their problems and make them Happy (TM). 

I talk to them a little and find out that this is not the first time they've made such a resolution. It's a familiar pattern, because for many years, I lived it. 

Here's what happens. We are dissatisfied with the way things are and decide we need to change it. We want instant gratification, so we decide to take massive action and change all of our habits at once, rabidly pursuing what we think we need to do to get the perfect version of what we want. We write or plan out elaborate schemes and get very excited about the whole prospect. For a short period of time, we are all over it. We work out daily and eat nothing but whole grains, veggies and lean protein. Then, after a few days, or a week or two, it catches up to us. We're too tired or sore to do a workout. The girls are going out for martinis and we just can't stand it anymore. A hiccup occurs in the plan, and we are horrified. We have just blown the whole thing! We will never be able to change, we are just lazy, gross and will be fat and out of shape forevvaaarrr. Our plan is derailed and we feel like absolute failures, so we say "screw it, I may as well eat anything I want, and screw exercise, it's not like I can change anyway." 

This is all-or-nothing thinking. If we could step outside ourselves for a moment and observe the thought and behavior patterns, we would think it came from an overdramatic teenager! We need to grow up a little here and reform our unrealistic expectations. We need to be able to live with imperfection, because it's part of being human. Human beings don't change instantly. It takes time, and patience, and self-forgiveness when we mess things up. 

If you're contemplating a new nutrition or fitness plan, think about sustainability. Is it something you can live with? Are you trying to make everything happen at once? Look at your past behavior. Have you often started a new plan only to wash your hands of it in frustration in a few days or weeks? 

The only way to truly build sustainable health and fitness is to get past all-or-nothing thinking. Don't expect yourself not to make mistakes. When you do make a mistake, let it go and get back to your goals as soon as possible. Recognize that you don't want to live your life without pleasure and that you shouldn't try to deprive yourself of everything you enjoy in the pursuit of some unattainable perfect you. 

Believe me, I've been there, and I don't want to go back anytime soon. Besides being miserable, I was terribly unhealthy.

Eventually, with some patience and support from the people close to me, I got over myself and learned to take small steps to improve over time, working through setbacks without beating myself up. The less all-or-nothing thinking I do, the happier and healthier I am. 

That's not to say I don't still do it sometimes. All-or-nothing thinking is a hard habit to break, and society reinforces it constantly. 

But with patience, self-forgiveness, and small steps, I've managed to banish it from my life most of the time. If you decide to, I know you can too. :)