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The Summer Of Killing “All Or Nothing” Thinking

Note: This post is the third post of a year-long series that you can read more about at the end of this post.

When I decide I want to do something, my first instinct is always: all in, right now. An idea or a thought or a goal plants itself in my brain and roots itself in there in a way that feels like I have to address it immediately with full force, or it will simply go away forever. For a long time I felt like unless I was all the way committed to something — anything — I was already giving up on it.

All or nothing thinking has latched itself on to most parts of my life, but most notably when it comes to my relationship with food, exercise, and my body. In the past, when I would look in the mirror and dislike what I saw or see a photo of myself I didn’t like or weigh myself and see the number go up, I would spring into action. I would create a workout plan, sign up for a half-marathon, put my email down for a new diet program. I would order weights on Amazon. I would buy a SoulCycle package I couldn’t really afford. I would write out exactly what I should eat for the next month. I would download MyFitnessPal again and track calories. I would record everything I ate. I have a memory of being in middle school, feeling like I needed to lose weight, and writing in my journal exactly what I would eat when I got home from school (“one large carrot stick”) and when I would use the treadmill in our extra room (“one hour, while watching Oprah”). I was probably 13.

I would carefully craft these all-in plans as a way to assert control over the situation, to remind myself that it was ultimately in my hands to make myself “better.” It was my responsibility to wake myself up, like a punch in the gut, and make it very clear that it was solely my fault I didn’t like the way I looked now. That it was my fault I was a size 10 and not a 8, or 12 and not a 10, or a 14 and not a 12. And, so, it’s ironic that when I would inevitably fail at all of these diets and programs and plans that I created for myself, that I would feel like I failed then, too. Even on the rare times that I completed something (take the half marathon, for example), unless I felt like lost a certain amount of weight, I still felt like I had failed.

New Years Resolutions have always been this way for me, too. I would come up with a goal and formulate the most extreme plan to carry out the goal. In my mind, I simply thought it was efficient, not extreme. After all, why write once a week when I can write every day? Why run every now and then when I could run one mile, before work, every single morning? Why read one book a month when I could cut out TV and read every single night after work? Why run a 5K when I can do a half marathon? Why weigh myself once a month when I could weigh myself every single morning at the same time and then live my life in response to a gain or loss? Why do anything at all if I wasn’t contorting my entire life around this one goal?

As some of you might know, I decided that this year would be different. No more New Year’s Resolutions, no more numerical goals, just focusing on little things. This was the year I have been determined to destroy the things that make me unhappy. Committed to taking a hard look at the things that I’ve done forever that aren’t working and changing them. And this pattern of all or nothing thinking, this endless cycle of my solution for thinking I failed to be setting myself up for failure again, had to stop.

So for June, July, and August I found myself slowly, but surely actively registering each time I made these tiny (yet huge) agreements and plans in my head. I made a note of every time I made these intricate negotiations with myself, and I tried to stop the thought pattern right then and there. When I would do something and then immediately tell myself that I am not doing enough of it, or I am not doing it all the time so it doesn’t count, I would catch myself. Instead, I focused on balance, intuitive eating, and moving my body when I can and in ways that I enjoy. When I read a book, it was because it made me feel relaxed. When I ate a salad, it was because I was craving a salad. When I went on a run or a walk, it was because I felt like it or I wanted to de-stress. But still, the thoughts came.

“If I just keep running every day, I will be one size smaller by vacation.”

“If I cook every single meal at home from now until January, I can save a ton of money.”

“If I do my perfect skin care routine morning and night — no exceptions — I’ll stop breaking out.”

“If I start weighing myself again, I’ll know what the damage is and be able to start fixing it.”

Still, these thoughts come in and out of my brain daily, and maybe that’s how I’ll always be to a degree. Maybe I’m just hardwired that way. I don’t know. But I do know this now: for me, balance will always feel better than throwing myself into another plan of action. So when I have these thoughts now —  moments when all I really want to do is go back to being that 13-year-old who’s scheduling out carrot stick and treadmill times, what makes it all easier is the revelation that I am fine as I am. Because, it’s a funny thing, when you accept yourself just as you are, the idea of punishing yourself into becoming better starts to seem more of exactly what it is: destructive, unnecessary, painful.

I guess, in a way, I replaced all-or-nothing exercise, eating, dieting, writing, reading, existing with all-or-nothing self-acceptance. Now I don’t only give myself permission to be confident or love myself when I am exercising every single day or when I am eating the healthiest or when I am reading and writing the most or when I’m my most productive or when my clothes fit me the best. I gave my permission to like myself regardless of anything else this year — no exceptions, no caveats, no requirements. So I guess I chose to go all in when it comes to that, too. And I’m so much better for it.

This year, I’m spending each month focusing on one small thing. No numerical goals. No specific bench-markers or numbers to hit. Just one small thing each month. This is the June, July, and August recap.

Read about why I’m doing this for 2018 here (January).

Read my February recap here.

Read my March recap here

Read my April recap here.

Read my May recap here.

  1. Kelsey

    August 27th, 2018 at 6:28 pm

    This is so inspiring, Olivia! I also have an all-or-nothing tendency, especially with food. I tend to eat the worst I possibly can all the time or I end up on a psycho diet. But this summer I decided to try and eat well, while still allowing myself the freedom to indulge. It’s definitely been a challenge to not beat myself up over a bad meal or to go the complete opposite and binge all the time. But I’m working on actually having a healthy relationship with food. Thanks for sharing your experience!

    Xx, Kelsey


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