Physical Fitness - How to Quit the “All or Nothing” Mindset

For much of our society, the ambition to get fit and lose weight can rapidly deteriorate from exciting anticipation to loathsome slog on account of the strict and demanding regimens that we impose on ourselves. Ask any personal trainer (PT) and they’re likely to tell you that the single biggest obstacle to their client’s success is the adoption of the “all or nothing” mindset.

Frankly, ours is a society that has come to look at life in terms of absolutes - black or white, yes or no…us and them. Fitness and weight loss programs are no different. All too often, we tend to see ourselves as either fit (perfect) or not fit (imperfect), and it’s sabotaging our efforts to live a healthy lifestyle.

What is an “All or Nothing” mindset?

First, let’s understand the problem. The “all or nothing” mindset is when we approach our goals using binary terms. It’s either right or it’s wrong, allowed or not allowed - a fine line that allows us no room for compromise, and it’s totally unrealistic.

The enormous pressure alone from adopting this mindset is enough to derail your fitness plan. We tell ourselves at the first minor misstep that we’ve “blown it” and we’re better off starting all over again. It’s a mindset that can lead to a nasty cycle of returning to square one each time we eat the wrong thing or miss a workout session.

When people set up goals to lose weight or simply “get in shape,” many of us (myself included) convince ourselves that the only way to succeed is to adopt an extreme plan that completely eliminates all unsuitable foods and leisurely activities.

Here’s a little secret - with all the temptation in our society, that plan won’t work.

Here’s one example to illustrate: A personal trainer shared a story with me about one of her clients who was planning to travel to Canary Wharf (London) for her birthday. The client had already convinced herself that she wouldn’t be able to eat sensibly while traveling and had essentially resigned to “starting over” with her routine once she returned from her trip…in 2 weeks. Rather than apply prudent judgement in what she would eat while traveling, the client essentially abandoned those effort before she had even left and planned to start at square one once she returned.

That’s an “all or nothing” mindset.

The fact is that such an extreme mindset can be harmful to your emotional well-being and health as well. It can lead to very harsh levels self-criticism which can lead to anxiety and depression – both of which have been linked to eating disorders, including obesity.

Overcoming the “All or Nothing” Mindset

Remember, incremental positives changes to your lifestyle and diet can yield remarkable benefits over time, so, when putting together a plan to lose weight or get fit, an “all or nothing” approach isn’t required for success.

Taking small steps to integrate more physical activity into your day and eating less of the foods that you know you should be avoiding can yield steady progress as well.

Here are a few effective methods that we found to help you get past an “all or nothing” mindset:

Be Compassionate with Yourself

First, don’t forget why you’re trying to lose weight or get more fit. It’s likely because you want to feel healthier. If you miss a workout or have a misstep in your diet, stressing out over that one small incident causes an unnecessary release of the stress hormone cortisol in your body, so practice showing a bit of compassion towards yourself.

One way to suppress your stress is to promise yourself that you’ll “up the intensity” during your next workout to make up for the lost day. Making this one small commitment to yourself can assuage your mental anguish a bit and put a cork in producing too much cortisol.

In simpler terms, it means going easy on yourself.

Remember, how we treat ourselves is one of the very few things in our lives that we can control. Treating yourself with just a little bit of compassion when you deviate off your course is a good way to take a moment to reflect on the emotional harm that we can afflict on ourselves by thinking “if I’m not at 100%, then I’m at 0%.”

Stare Down your Initial Thoughts

Here’s another approach – confront your initial thoughts. I’m referring to those “knee jerk” reactions that immediately run through our minds and threaten to derail all our progress when we’ve only lost 2 lbs. instead of that desired 5 lbs. in any given week, and we tell ourselves “I can never lose weight!” or “I can never stick to a workout!”

Stop. Ask yourself, is that really a factual statement? Have you really never been able to lose weight? Have you honestly never been able to stick to a workout?

The bottom line is that such a strict approach to weight loss and fitness can lead to burnout and, while achieving fitness goals are important and they can be huge morale boosters, they can’t come at the expense of your happiness and well-being.

Don’t expect to totally give up the things you love in a quest to achieve results you don’t yet have. It doesn’t often work.

Connect with a Physical Trainer (PT)

Society has had to suffer through the Covid-19 pandemic, prolonged by its Omicron and Delta variants, but we are now being ushered into a post-pandemic society where fitness clubs and health spas are once again open for business. That means the treasure trove of resources, information and support from PTs is more abundantly available, and ought to be considered for anyone who’s gotten knocked off course by adopting an “all or nothing” mindset.

If you continue to struggle with long term fitness goals, the support and guidance you can get by working with a PT can lead to remarkable results. They’re trained professionals with the skills to help you achieve specific goals, they can enhance your level of accountability to yourself, and they know how to motivate you to keep going, even if you’ve fallen off course.

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