"I'm an all or nothing person." "I like things black and white." We've all heard phrases like this, and perhaps it's you saying this. Other examples of this all or nothing thinking sound like, "I go all the way or don't bother." You're right, or you're wrong. It's either this way or that. And it goes even deeper....successful or worthless. Smart or stupid. Perfect or failing. Skinny or fat. Happy or sad. Life is wonderful, or it is terrible.
Individuals who are apt to thinking in this way struggle with seeing the gray area, and tend to believe things HAVE to be one way or the other. They can be uncomfortable with the in between.
We hear this kind of self-labeling quite frequently at Skyterra when guests talk about their workout consistency or how they stick to or give up eating certain kinds of foods. We hear it when it comes to drinking alcohol every night or how we overwork ourselves with our jobs. Sometimes there's a sense of bravado with this behavior like it's a badge of honor to live in extremes. After all, our society does indeed reward this kind of behavior. Let me also state that I do not think there's anything wrong with this sort of mentality. I do believe it can help us succeed, and at the same time limit us when it comes to our health and our behaviors, so let's discuss ways we can expand black or white thinking. How does believing in this affect your health?
I'm Kate Hannon, the Director of Integrated Wellbeing at Skyterra Wellness and today we will explore how this all or nothing thinking affects our fitness, the way we eat, and how we relate to ourselves. We will also hear from our very own Director of Fitness Jeff Ford and Director of Operations and yoga guru Amber Shadwick on their perspectives on this mindset.
When I hear people express all or nothing attitudes, I think it comes down to one thing: Perfectionism. Once we see how we hold ourselves to very high standards we can understand how this mindset is destructive, it's a limiting and self-sabotaging way to live. If I expect to be perfect from practicing a certain behavior (working out or eating only the best foods) then what happens when I don't achieve that result when I expect to? Or one day I choose to rest or indulge in some sweets? Does this mean I'm a failure? Well if I'm a black or white thinker, yes. Because perfectionism often doesn't allow room for error. It has set us up for failure before we even begin because it implies that we don't make mistakes. However we are human, And sometimes life gets messy. If I'm only focused on perfectly achieving this end goal, my focus is on the result, the end product.
I want to express how important is to learn to become a gray thinker, to concentrate on the process. Diets are a perfect example of perfectionism and ultimately set us up for failure. Think about it: they promise the magical quick fix to losing weight. However, they're full of rigid rules and restrictions. So what happens if you're stressed and eating food is how you choose to soothe yourself one night, or you're tired of all the rules and feel deprived of the stuff you crave,(like sugar, fats, alcohol and carbs) and rebel against the diet, and you end up bingeing on them? You gave up. Now how do you talk to yourself? This precise moment is when we want to expand our thinking.
Diets set us up for failure and on top of that our skinny-obsessed culture embraces the all or nothing mentality too. We're bombarded with images of thin people who appear to have it all, and advertising tells us to work hard, play harder. Starve now, be happy later. We're convinced the solution lies in extreme thinking and living and most of us internalize a poor body self-image as a result of it. We forget that genetics play a huge role in our bodies. We forget our worth does not rely on how we look on the outside, and that not everyone is going to have a small waist, a thigh gap, or perfectly sculpted muscles. So does that mean give up on being healthy? NO.
We want to learn to accept ourselves the way we are. The way you are now won't mean that is the way you will always be. So let's prioritize being healthy. What does being healthy mean? What does it feel like in your body? Health comes at every size, and it's not just something you look like, but something you feel. When we think we should be perfect, it's easy to give up trying.
Here are two practical tips to expanding the all or nothing thinking mindset: First, prioritize the small steps. You don't have to have it all figured out to move forward, just take the next step. Setting straightforward and measurable goals can help us experience success, and motivate us to move forward, which is how we make a new habit stick. So whether you're learning to eat mindfully or move consistently and stick to your plan, you get that replacing the old way of taking time and part of this process includes falling off track, even slipping up, some call it relapse and it's a test to your commitment. So when it happens, you forgive yourself and carry on. You don't need to start over tomorrow, or even next week. You can do it in the next moment. Each moment can be a new beginning.
Which leads us to the second tip. Forgiving ourselves requires shifting your self-talk from negative to positive. We learn to catch ourselves when we're engaging in this harsh, judgmental and self-criticizing voice when it's berating us, and we confront it, we release it, we replace it. We remember that in this challenging thing called life there is room for error. That is how we learn. Mistakes are portals of discovery, not a character defect. Negative self-talk will only lead to more anxiety, depression and lack of confidence.
So when you hear that "forget it, I'm a willpower weakling, I can't stick to anything, or I will always be this way, why bother trying...I'm lazy, fat and will always be, that's too hard, "I cheated on one meal and ate cookies, I'm a failure and my entire day is blown" We start over.
We pause, we accept we're having a challenging emotion, we catch ourselves in the moment, and we release it.
"I am human. I am having a hard day and overate because I was feeling tired and lonely. What I ate today does not reflect on who I am as a person. I am sorry to my body for saying those things and acting that way. I am learning to like myself again. I'm thankful for all that my body does for me. I can breathe, and I will make it through this."
Imagine this everyone, you’re up first thing in the morning and complete workouts at least four days per week. You’re spending a couple of days executing strength training routines and alternating with cardio interval sessions. Your body starts to change, you look forward to your workouts, and you don’t beat yourself up if you miss a day.
You recognize that it’s unrealistic to hit every single workout according to your plan. On the day’s that you don’t happen to workout, you still give yourself credit for consistent movement within your day. You’re no longer judging yourself by how many hours you spend at the gym.
The all or nothing mentality can be a huge roadblock for the best of fitness plans. You might catch yourself saying, “If I miss my workout class on Monday, what's the point of even trying the rest of the week?” Or what about that feeling you get that for your plan to be "successful" you have to hit every single workout. If you skip a day, how dare you?
Sadly, how you define what’s a “good day vs. bad day” (in all aspects of your health) will be a big predictor of your ultimate ability to adhere to your plan. The more judgment you place on “missing your workouts” or “doing something aka bad” will lead to your demise.
Additionally, understand that exercise is merely a human invention designed to compensate for the fact that we’re not living the way we’re supposed too. If you’re walking throughout your day and breaking up long periods of sitting with movement and mobility breaks that DOES count towards your overall fitness.
There’s this thinking that when you workout it has always to be intense, no pain no gain; burn a lot of calories otherwise it doesn't count! This is just another black and white judgment that’s far from the truth, completely neglecting the value of what fitness does for our health.
Now it’s time to shift your thinking and realize that missing a workout here and there happens to even the fittest. You don’t have to go at it intensely every day, and there is tons of value low-stress workouts or walks after meals.
Remove the guilt and shame that surrounds your “missed” exercise sessions and keep an 80/20 mindset. Perfection is neither possible nor necessary for success to take place with your fitness routine. You’ll be on 80% of the time and the other 20% brush it off your shoulder.
It's not about how much you do, but "how you do it" that matters most. Accept your imperfection and be able to accommodate your slips. Include days off from exercise, and listen to your body. In this flight-or-fight world, you have to know when scale-back. Saying no and remaining intuitive with your fitness routine will break your all or nothing mentality.
There is so much power in the present moment. Distractions are everywhere we turn. How many times have you driven to work, sat down for lunch with someone, or dinner with your family while your mind has been somewhere else? Our minds are constantly full of worries, fears, doubts and often negative self-talk. We are always worried we didn’t do enough today, and or are fearful of what tomorrow may bring. In our brief moments of hope and realization of how remarkably far we have come, we are continually reminded and plagued with how far yet we have to go.
If we could only be like children, who’s minds and bodies flow seamlessly- moment to moment. Their past has been short, and their future remains unknown. Whereas we age, our past is difficult and extensive and our futures appear somewhat predictable, or so we believe. If we continue to run from every negative experience or judge ourselves from the past, we are allowing our pasts to dictate our futures. Yoga allows us to pause. We can arrive in our minds and bodies. We can open ourselves to our pasts while wholeheartedly accepting the reality of the present moment, not worrying or predicting the future. Yoga allows us to break attachments to particular outcomes. We can solely surrender to the present moment.
So if you are living with the all or nothing mentality/mindset, you are giving yourself permission to remain stuck in a constant state of sympathetic / stress response. Worry and anxiety fill the mind and the body reacts with imbalance. When we do yoga our mind and bodies work together harmoniously
Life is not black and white, there's a lot of unknowns, and what we call the gray area and we learn to get comfortable with that. We tend to chase after peak experiences and cross as many things off the bucket list as possible. But often, when we grow and evolve as a person and truly learn to care for ourselves and our health doesn't happen in this glorious, perfect moment like standing on top of a mountain and the heavens open. It happens slowly, sustainably, in the small everyday experiences. At Skyterra we teach you tools how to expand this all or nothing attitude, how to increase positive self-talk about your food choices, how to be mindful, how to consistently move for your body. Yes, even you can learn how to cultivate self-compassion and be more forgiving to yourself.
All or nothing thinking is rigid and often not a very helpful companion on our wellness journey. Expanding your perspective inspires and encourages you. It understands when you've had a hard day; you give yourself that permission to be human. And furthermore, you cultivate connections with others so you can lead a richer and more vibrant life.