If “Everything in Moderation” is the slogan of a healthy lifestyle, then “All-or-Nothing” is the four letter word of wellness. This mindset can throw the best of us off track, and often catches us by surprise as almost a knee jerk reaction. Here are a few examples:
- You order a glass of wine at dinner and decide you may as well order dessert, too.
- You only have time for a 30 minute workout instead of your usual 45-60, so you decide to do it tomorrow.
- You broke your streak of bringing lunch from home one day, and order out the rest of the week.
- You had one cookie after saying you’d skip sweets, and figure since you already broke your “rule” you may as well have 4 more.
Any of these ring a bell? You’re not alone! I have the same sneaking thoughts creep in from time to time. This post isn’t going to make them stop, because that’s impossible. What this post will do is help you recognize when you’re triggered by all-or-nothing thinking, and give you actionable solutions to redirect your next steps.
Trigger #1: I don’t have time for my usual workout
Scenario: You usually go to a strength training class Tuesday and Thursday mornings before work, but this week you have to attend a conference Tuesday-Thursday which not only is farther from the office, but starts with a networking breakfast at 8am. You can’t make either class that week which triggers…
All-or Nothing Thought: “I can’t get to my regular class, I just won’t do strength training this week.”
How to Reframe: It’s awesome that you are dedicated to your routine, but when you’re completely dedicated to one way of doing things, it’s easy to feel there’s no other way when you’re roadblocked. It’s time to get creative. Focus on how you can fit some form of strength training into your week, as opposed to convincing yourself this class is the only thing that counts as strength training.
- Check the schedule for similar classes at alternate times
- Follow along to an online video you can do at home (like this, this, this, or this)
- Go to the gym at your usual time but do your own workout for 20-30 instead of 60 minutes. You can push harder when going shorter!
Trigger #2: I already messed up
Scenario: You have ingredients ready at home for a quick healthy dinner, but get roped into happy hour for a coworker’s birthday. You decided to go and will get one drink, but no food so you can still eat at home. (Great plan, and something I suggest in this post on Navigating the Work Event Minefield!) Immediately someone orders nachos which you hold off on while you sip your wine, then decide to have just one, which turns into a small meal (because they’re nachos!). You let yourself down which triggers…
All-or-Nothing Thought: “I already ate something bad, I may as well have another glass of wine, and an order of spinach dip, and…”
How to Reframe: With an all-or-nothing mindset, we very quickly let one unhealthy choice become a landslide into anything and everything we’ve labeled off limits. Instead of thinking that you’ve already messed up so the rest doesn’t matter, try seeing each choice as a stand alone action. Your body doesn’t react differently to a burger that was preceded by water and a salad than it would if it followed 2 beers and cheese fries.
Also, let’s stop labeling food as good and bad! Food is food is food. Yes, some is better for you than others, but eating something unhealthy does not make you bad, and does not determine your other choices. A take out pizza for dinner doesn’t erase the protein packed salad you had at lunch, and an extra beer at happy hour doesn’t mean you may as well eat fried everything.
Keep in mind that each choice counts, and it’s never too late to get back on track.
Trigger #3: I’ll start on Monday
Scenario: You find a workout program that consists of 2 strength training workouts and 3 cardio workouts a week. It’s affordable, you can do it at home, and get in in before work so you buy it immediately. But, it arrives on a Tuesday which doesn’t give you the full week so you’ll start next week, but next week you’re traveling Tuesday and won’t be back until Wednesday night so that’s not good either…you get the picture.
All-or-Nothing Thought: “I’ll start on Monday”, or, “It’s almost the end of the year, I’ll wait until January”, or, “I’ll start when the kids start school”.
How to Reframe: This mindset takes many forms, but all revolve around the same concept of waiting for things to be perfect before you start. The truth – as you likely have discovered again and again – is that it’s never going to be perfect. Instead of waiting – for that perfect time, a clean slate, a relaxed schedule – think of one small thing you can do towards your goal today.
Exercising and eating healthier doesn’t make a bigger impact on a Monday at 6am than it does on a Thursday evening. Focus on making the very next choice – walking the dog after dinner, ordering a side salad instead of mashed potatoes, getting up 30 minutes earlier to do yoga – one that’s on the path to your goal, instead of waiting for when you can do everything perfectly.
All-or-nothing thoughts are nearly our default, with triggers popping up in some form daily. While you likely won’t get rid of them completely, you can bring attention to them and reframe your mindset to stop the all-or nothing train from derailing you.
Here are my favorite quotes to keep in mind when you recognize one of these triggering thoughts.