How many times have you leapt into your wellness journey with enthusiasm and started with a bang, only to find yourself backsliding into old habits within weeks?
How many times have you said, “Eff it, I’ve already screwed up,” after one small step off the path and quickly turned the small step into a giant leap?
How many times have you told yourself, “This time it will be different,” and wondered if you really meant it…this time?
The all-or-nothing cycle is all-too-common.
I mean, it makes sense. Once you actually decide to put self-care on your priority list, motivation is usually relatively high, and you’re very interested in seeing results quickly…which you believe will keep your motivation high, so that you’ll keep going and blow your outcome goals out of the water.
You want to feel better ASAP…and yet, time and time again, this approach hasn’t worked.
There are many different reasons you may be falling into this trap.
Do you have a perfectionist mindset and believe that unless you can do everything perfectly, there is no point in trying at all? This all-or-nothing thinking can lead to extreme behavior, such as restricting food intake to an unhealthy level or working out excessively…and these will lead you to low energy and low motivation FAST.
Lack of self-discipline:
Hear me out, because this one is not quite what you might think. Do you trust yourself to make small changes consistently over time? Or under the surface, does part of you feel that you lack the necessary self-discipline…so you attempt to make drastic changes all at once? When you inevitably slip up, do you feel like you have failed, and ditch the whole thing altogether? And so the all-or-nothing cycle continues…
Let’s talk about expectations. Do you set the bar high for yourself? I can hear it now, “No, it’s ok I can do it. I need to push myself.” Turns out the bar was unreasonably high, and chances were very low you’d meet it anyway. But rather than recognizing that you set yourself up this way, you decide that it’s a character flaw and descend into a spiral of guilt and shame, which leaves you nursing your wounds with your good ol’ unhealthy coping mechanisms, which reinforce that you’re now solidly in the “nothing” part of the all-or-nothing cycle. Oof.
Lack of support:
Let’s talk about hyper-independence. This is a biggie in our culture. We love to tell success stories about people who did it all by themselves. But really? Humans thrive in connection to others. Without a support system to encourage and motivate you, you may struggle to maintain healthy habits over the long-term. When you feel like you’re doing it all alone, it can be difficult to stay on track and avoid falling back into old, unhealthy habits. Community makes a difference. Are you leveraging it?
If you struggle with this and judge yourself for it, it’s no wonder. From the outside looking in, it can seem like nobody else struggles like this. Everyone else seems to be able to effectively make the changes they intend to. I’ll let you in on a secret: The ones announcing their success from the rooftop are the outliers. There are so many more people just like you, quietly struggling with this. You are simply human trying to do a thing, and it’s not easy. It’s important to recognize that falling into an all-or-nothing cycle is common, and it’s not a reflection of personal weakness or failure.
What’s the alternative?
Let’s talk about implementing small sustainable changes over time.
It’s a better approach than diving in all at once for many reasons:
- Helps you avoid burnout: When you make drastic changes to your lifestyle all at once, it can be overwhelming, and you may quickly burn out. Starting small and gradually building up over time allows you to develop new habits without feeling overwhelmed.
- Creates lasting change: Small sustainable changes are more likely to stick than drastic changes. When you make small changes, you give yourself time to adjust and form new habits, which makes it easier to maintain these changes over the long-term. I’ve seen this time and time again with my clients. After a while, the new thing becomes normal and they barely even realize that they’re doing something different. Lasting change can feel way more subtle than changing-everthing-about-yourself-in-one-week.
- Builds momentum: Small changes can build momentum and create a positive feedback loop. When you start to see positive changes, you are more likely to feel motivated to continue making progress. No more failure story means increased motivation. Let’s hear it for sustainability!
- Reduces stress: Making drastic changes to your lifestyle can be stressful, both physically and mentally. By implementing small changes, you can reduce stress on your body and mind and avoid the negative consequences that come with drastic changes.
- Increases self-efficacy: Gradual changes can help build confidence and self-efficacy, which is the belief in one’s ability to achieve their goals. As you successfully make small changes, you will begin to believe in yourself and your ability to make further progress.
So, are you feeling curious about how to make this shift? Oh, good. Let’s talk about making it happen.
Here are some ways you might approach it:
- Progress over perfection: Recognize that any effort towards healthy habits, no matter how small, is still progress. It’s not necessary to be perfect all the time, and every healthy choice you make is a step in the right direction. In fact, consistency is more important than acing it every time.
- Set realistic goals: When you set goals that are too lofty or unrealistic, it can set you up for failure. Instead, start with small goals that you know you can achieve and build from there. Alright, stop. I know you think you’re being realistic, but your brain is tricking you. Whatever you’re thinking of committing to? Cut it in half and just get started. Let it grow over time.
- Practice self-compassion: Be kind to yourself when you slip up and don’t beat yourself up over it. Remember that everyone has setbacks, and it’s important to treat yourself with compassion and understanding.
- Find a support system: Whether it’s a friend, family member, a support group, or a coach, having people around you who encourage and support your healthy habits can be incredibly helpful.
Now for the meta-moment: are you thinking of applying all five of these strategies at the same time? Ha! There’s that all-or-nothing tendency, showing up again, eh? By adopting these strategies – one at a time, or maybe just a couple in total – you can break the cycle of all-or-nothing thinking and make sustainable progress towards your goals.
Some small changes you might consider making to get started could be:
- Looking up a new healthy recipe you’d like to try.
- Drinking a glass of water before your first coffee in the morning for the next 3 days.
- Brainstorming what an end-of-day ritual that supports quality sleep might look like for you – without actually doing it yet.
I’d love to hear from you. Do you see yourself in this all-or-nothing cycle? What causes resonate with you? What new approach would you like to experiment with? Let me know in the comments below.
Looking for support? I specialize in helping smart, ambitious women put themselves on the priority list to reclaim their time, energy and peace of mind. Check out Be Well, my sustainable habit change program, here.