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Caught up in a cycle of “I must do it all!”? Here’s how to stop all or nothing thinking to achieve the balance your life desperately needs!
Thinking in terms of extremes can be a very painful habit to break. Frequently associated with perfectionism, the all or nothing mindset can hold you back from accepting the in-between and creating balance in your life. If you wish you could finally learn how to stop all or nothing thinking for good, keep reading!
Do you catch yourself running into all or nothing thinking patterns like these?
- “I need to work on this task, but I know I won’t be able to complete it today. Better just start it tomorrow.”
- “I ruined my diet by eating a slice of pizza today. Might as well eat 4 more slices since I already messed up.”
- “I am overwhelmed right now, but will be a nervous wreck if I don’t finish EVERYTHING tonight.”
If any of these ring a bell, I completely empathize. I’ve caught myself falling victim to each of these and more–SO many times!
This type of thinking, this “one extreme or the other” thought process, is called all or nothing thinking. Learning how to stop all or nothing thinking is crucial if you find yourself struggling with perfectionism.
You believe that you need to give something 100% of your effort. And if you’re unable to, you end up doing nothing at all. You tend to evaluate your life in extreme terms–either everything is perfect, or a total disaster.
This can escalate into self blame and self hatred, as you’re setting an expectation of perfection for yourself. You’re putting things into two categories only: success and failure.
This blog post is all about how to stop all or nothing thinking.
Adjust your mindset to validate the idea of a middle ground
In practical terms, this means:
- It’s okay to leave a task in progress. If you can’t manage to finish something today, fine! But it’s better to have started it and worked on it for twenty minutes than to have avoided it completely.
- Eating one slice of pizza doesn’t have to “ruin” your diet. I know, it sucks to go over your calorie budget if you’re being mindful of your diet. But going 300 calories over your budget from eating one slice is better than going 1200 calories over your budget from 4 slices! Besides, it’s okay to enjoy pizza in a healthy way without feeling like you need to go overboard.
- If you’re overwhelmed, and you know avoiding your work will only make you stress about it, the best solution is to just accomplish what you can. Break a task, project, or assignment into steps and take it one step at a time, rather than focusing too much on the big picture.
Remember, the key here is middle ground. A happy medium. This can apply to time management, food, exercise, obligations, work, etc.
Aim to simply do something, instead of everything or nothing.
Identify what triggers your all or nothing thinking
Think back to decisions you’ve made that were based on all or nothing thinking.
For example, thinking back to the pizza slice example, what were you feeling before, during, and after the incident that triggered you to eat more than you normally would?
Was there a bigger picture reason as to why this behavior occurred? Were you under stress from work? Did you feel a loss of control? Or were you simply in need of more food that day?
Each time you fall into the trap of all or nothing thinking, write down:
- What you experienced (your emotions and thought process) before, during, and after the incident
- What you think might have caused this behavior
- What you might be able to do differently next time to stop all or nothing thinking
This will help you recognize what triggers the all or nothing mindset and also evaluate how you can prevent it in the future.
I recommend keeping a journal to record these experiences and refer back to them. A journal is a great key tool to help you work toward improving your thought processes, emotions, AND behavior when it comes to ditching the all-or-nothing mindset.
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Understand the connection between your thoughts, emotions, and actions
Each of these components (thoughts, emotions, and actions) play a role in your mindset and will in turn play a role in overcoming the all-or-nothing mindset.
- Thoughts: the way we think influences how we act and feel
- Actions: the things we do affect how we think and feel
- Emotions: the way we feel affects what we think and do
This relationship between thoughts, actions, and emotions is what Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is based on. This is one of the most effective evidence-based forms of therapy, so this model is extremely important!
At the core of the all-or-nothing mindset is, of course, your thoughts. Your thinking patterns are directly linked to the all-or-nothing mindset.
This thinking also motivates you toward particular actions and emotions. Your actions and emotions are likely to reflect the way you’re thinking.
See the connection? Each of these components influences one another.
If you really want to ditch the all-or-nothing mindset, changes will need to be made not only in your thought patterns, but also in your actions and emotions.
Separate your sense of worth from your performance
We can’t always perform at 100%. We all make mistakes, have our off days, and struggle with different things.
Because our performance can vary, tying your self worth to your performance will lead to an unstable sense of worth, where you will feel negatively about yourself whenever you aren’t at your best.
Instead of focusing on ever-changing factors, pay attention to the aspects of yourself and your life that are constant.
Overall, are you a loyal person? A passionate person? A hardworking person? Global traits like these are more indicative of your character, which matters so much more in the grand scheme of things.
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Seek support from people close to you
Talk to a good friend, family member, or significant other–anyone with an outside perspective. This can really help to make things clear for you.
I consult my boyfriend on even the smallest of issues and he’s given me a quick answer that immediately makes sense, even if I just spent thirty minutes going back and forth in my head!
It’s having that outside perspective that can challenge your initial thoughts. Running your dilemma by others can help you recognize possibilities you may not have otherwise thought about.
For example, my plan for today was to clean the apartment, then go to the library to write a blog post. I felt like I had to rush to clean to make it to the library at a reasonable hour, knowing that it closes at 6.
My boyfriend reminded me that I can clean the house at any hour, so switching my schedule to head to the library first made more sense. This would give me a more balanced schedule, and therefore, achieve that middle ground!
That solution might seem strikingly obvious. But sometimes when you’re under pressure to get things done, you don’t always consider alternative options. You’re simply laser-focused on doing it ALL under the terms you initially set for yourself.
This blog post was all about how to stop all or nothing thinking.
Having an all-or-nothing mindset limits your perspective. If you approach life in terms of only either 0% or 100% and don’t allow for anything in-between, you’re being unfairly rigid and harsh to yourself.
This can impact your self-confidence and even lead to self-sabotaging tendencies, something you absolutely do not deserve!
With the examples here, you can learn how to stop all or nothing thinking and set yourself up for success, healthy moderation, and that ever-so-important middle ground.
As with anything, strive for PROGRESS not PERFECTION!
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