The all or nothing mindset enables us as individuals to make sense of our experiences and the world around us. We must be perfect at something, or we’re a failure. We must be sticking to something 100%, or there’s no point to it. Sound familiar?
Thinking of things in black and white terms, prevents us from acknowledging the complexities of life and appreciating the grey area in the middle, which I like to think of as the balanced area. Polarised thinking is a negative thought process which in psychological terms is known as a cognitive distortion. These are thought patterns which perpetuate and affect our perceptions of reality, leading to negative behaviours.
When it comes to our health and wellbeing, it’s so common to either live by a set of rules, or abandon all hope of even trying. I’m a strong believer that this mindset isn’t ‘healthy’ and in fact, it doesn’t surprise me when researching this way of thinking, that it is particularly common in people with low self-esteem and people with mental health issues including anxiety, depression and eating disorders.
I’ve come up with a few reasons why the all or nothing approach won’t work if you want to lead a healthy lifestyle, along with some suggestions as to how you can tackle this mindset below.
“I’m not going to have dessert at the restaurant tonight because i’m eating clean this week.”
I feel like we set ourselves up for failure sometimes. We spend Monday – Friday (more often Thursday), living to a set of food rules that we’ve either been told or have fabricated for ourselves. We deny ourselves of the foods we crave and enjoy and opt out of spontaneous foodie based situations, in order to stick to something 100%. When the weekend hits, bring on the wine, pizza, cake and the entire chicken shop that you fell into on the Saturday night. The bigger and longer the restriction, the more likely you are to feel extreme feelings of guilt, when you’ve ‘fallen off’ your set plan. Binging, is a direct result of restriction and the all or nothing mindset is a big part of why this happens.
If you did have that mid-week dessert that you really wanted and would enjoy as part of a social situation, then you wouldn’t be feeling so deprived later on in the week. This is often a completely subconscious mind game and although you might feel as good as gold for saying ‘no’ to that dessert; your mind is more than likely sending you messages of deprivation, if the feelings of desire were present and not satisfied at the time.
I talked about this more over on my blog post ‘How to ditch the Diet mentality’ but I believe it’s so important to free yourself of food rules and learn to eat based on your intuition. As soon as you do this, the ‘indulgent’ foods won’t become so much of a big deal anymore and you’ll find over time, you can have those foods that hold a lot of nutritional value and also enjoy other foods too, with a balanced and healthy approach.
I know this isn’t easy but letting go of the all or nothing approach with food and giving yourself permission to enjoy all foods, is a big deal and a game changer if you’ve lived by food rules for most of your life. Let’s not waste any more time feeling guilty about food and if you are trying to improve your diet, try simply adding in more of the good nutritious stuff.
“I’m not going to bother going for a run tonight, I haven’t been all week so what’s the point?”
Exercise for many people can easily be an all or nothing thing, which comes and goes based on the time of year, or in relation to particular life events/social occasions. You’re either religiously hitting up the gym 5 times a week or you’re avoiding your now ‘ex’ PT instructor like the plague. You’re either instagramming that one ab you’ve gained over the last 4 weeks of training, or you’re rolling around on the sofa, feeling like a beached whale, confused because you’ve forgotten what a dumbbell even looks like.
Exercise in my opinion, should really be a given in everyones lives (except if you’re ill or injured). By that, I don’t mean going to the gym or lifting weights necessarily, I just mean moving your body regularly and raising your heart rate in some way. If however, you’re going in too hard or pushing yourself to do regular exercise which you’re not enjoying or can’t maintain, then it’s very easy to stop exercising all together and give up. You then put yourself in this all or nothing position, where you’re cycling between doing something and not doing it at all.
Finding the balance with exercise is really quite simple and i’m lucky enough to work with people that inspire me to train and move my body with a balanced and sustainable approach. I no longer exercise as a form of punishment and workout all year. I talk more about staying consistent with exercise over on my blog post ‘How to create a training plan that you stick to’ but in summary:
- Find forms of exercise you enjoy.
- Make sure you have plenty of variety and exercise in different ways. Focus on changing it up if you’re feeling uninspired.
- Keep it flexible and realistic.
- Listen to your body and intuition and rest when you need to.
If you incorporate all of the above then you can start to look at exercise as something that is integral to your lifestyle. Trust me, both your mind and body will thank you for the consistency.
Moving towards a more balanced approach, rather than living with an all or nothing mindset, is the way forward if we want to feel less guilt and feel more empowered and free in our choices. Being ‘healthy’ to me is all about finding that comfortable medium and I think stepping into the many grey zones of life, instead of focusing on the black and white, is a happier position to be in.