All-or-nothing thinking can be disastrous to your habit change efforts. If you get stuck into that kind of thinking pattern you will end up failing with your habit change.
What is all-or-nothing thinking?
All-or-nothing thinking is when you think you have failed when really you have only had a tiny setback. Then your all-or-nothing thinking causes you to really go overboard and to really turn that day (or week) into a failure for your habit change endeavor. Usually this attitude of failure lasts for more than one day, causing you to act in failing ways and it keeps perpetuating the cycle.
For example, you are on a weight loss diet and you have decided not to eat sweets as part of that diet. Then for whatever reason you find yourself eating a cookie. If you have the all-or-nothing mindset then you think like this, “I blew it. I ruined the whole day by eating this cookie. I might as well have 5 (or 10) more.” Instead, a better reaction would have been something like, “I blew it. I had one cookie, but one cookie is not so bad, it’s only one cookie. I’ll stop right here and start again with my diet right now.”
Another example is if you are trying to incorporate more exercise into your life. For whatever reason, you cannot do your 45-60 minute aerobic routine, so in your all-or-nothing thinking you say, “I can’t do my whole workout today. I’ll just do nothing then and give up for today. I failed again.” Instead, a better reaction would have been, “I can’t do my whole workout today. That’s o.k., I’ll try to do something, even if it isn’t my usual whole hour workout. I’ll do whatever I can in little bits and that’s o.k. I’ll try for the hour again tomorrow.”
How To Stop It
In order to get out of that bad thinking pattern, you need to accept that it is o.k. to do something. It is o.k. to do something wrong and it is o.k. to do something right. You do not need to do everything (or all) of your habit change right.
Stop trying to do too much at once. It is better if you set smaller goals that you are sure or almost sure to accomplish than if you set larger goals that are too easy to fail. Give yourself more time. Give yourself more space. Give yourself permission to “fail” in the little things.
Even allow for these little “failures” right at the start. Expect to eat one cookie or piece of cake or miss a workout or two. Expect it. Be ready with an “it’s o.k.” attitude. Even be ready to forgive yourself if you eat a whole box of cookies or miss two weeks of workouts. Forgive yourself, then move forward. Every day is a new day to start over.
Never Give Up
You never truly fail until you give up completely. So get rid of your all-or-nothing attitude which tempts you to give up and adopt the it’s o.k. to do something attitude instead which allows you to keep on trying.