By Leah R., Lifestyle Consultant & Registered Dietitians Rachel D. and Lauren E.
What is All-or-Nothing Thinking?
So many of us can struggle with reaching our goals because we tend to put so much pressure on ourselves to be perfect. When there is one small obstacle in the way we feel that we messed up or we failed! All-or-nothing thinking is a negative thought pattern, where we tell ourselves that we are either perfect or have failed. We think in terms of extremes: perfect or disaster, success, or failure. Thinking this way can be detrimental to your success. It ignores all the very real possibilities in between and ultimately demands perfection (2). If you are using words like always, never, everyone, no one, can’t, should or shouldn’t, you may be demonstrating All-or-Nothing thinking behaviors. These behaviors can affect our mental health and self-esteem. They can also set us up for self-sabotage.
“I always overindulge on the weekends”
“I can never stay on track with my diet”
This negative thinking can make us feel helpless, out of control, and can make us feel like things will never get better (3). In fact, research has found that avoiding these all-or-nothing phrases is associated with improved weight-loss maintenance (1).
How Do I Recalibrate All-or-Nothing Thinking?
One of the most important ways to recalibrate our all-or-nothing mindset is to reframe our statements. Reframing our statements can turn a negative statement that is not supportive to our journey and reframe it to be supportive and help us act in alignment with our goals. Here are some great examples of how to reframe our statements.
Instead of: “I’ve already ruined breakfast with this cinnamon roll; I might as well eat whatever I want the rest of the day.”
Try: “I ate more sugar than I planned at breakfast, and I can still eat healthy the rest of the day.”
Using the word “and” can help us feel better about having both good and not-so-good choices on the same day. This will help us get back on track sooner than later and help us achieve our goals faster.
Choose our adjectives wisely. Intensifying a statement with an exaggeration or swear word can intensify our negative feelings and destructive actions (1). For example:
An all-or-nothing statement like: “Last week was a failure” is a statement that makes us feel pretty bad.
If we intensify this statement by saying: “Last week was a [insert swear word here] Failure, we feel even worse!
Try reframing with: “Last week did not go as I hoped and I’m learning that this week I will have my meals planned ahead of time.