Taking an all-or-nothing approach is a common mistake people make when trying to reach their health goals. They may say things such as "I'm only eating vegetables!" or "I'm never having gluten again!" The problem is, this way of thinking isn't realistic. This mentality offers no balance or flexibility, which is essential for long-term success. Plus, it tends to lead to judgmental thoughts. You may label your choices as right or wrong, or good or bad, which can prevent you from achieving your goals.
Research shows that you're more likely to reach your goals when you challenge your all-or-nothing thinking and reverse negative, self-destructive thoughts. Let's take a look at an example.
Michelle has been trying to lose 15 pounds for what feels like months. She yo-yos between losing a few pounds and then gaining them back. She starts off her day with positive self-talk ("I am going to eat healthy food all day!") and sticks to her nutrition plan. But by midafternoon she finds herself snacking on foods that aren't on the plan. She tells herself, "What's the point? I've messed this up, my day is ruined." She ends her night with thoughts such as, "I will never be successful. What's the point of eating healthy food if I can never have sweets again?" She goes to bed feeling like a failure. This cycle repeats itself over and over.
What's wrong with Michelle's way of thinking? To start, it offers very little flexibility. When she deviates from her set plan, she feels that she has already messed up, which triggers negative self-talk. It's almost impossible to be successful when your thinking is completely black and white. So what might help Michelle in this situation?
Allow for gray space. In Michelle's case, she is viewing weight loss as something that has to be done perfectly ("I am going to eat healthy food all day!"). Michelle will have greater success with this lifestyle change if she allows some wiggle room for an occasional dessert or other treat. Her new habits don't have to be perfect; they just have to be manageable for her.
Identify the negative self-talk. Michelle first needs to become aware of her negative thoughts. As she notices them, she can then ask herself, "Is my day really ruined? Am I really a failure because I slipped from my plan?"
Replace the negative self-talk with positive, true statements. Michelle can take three to five minutes after she notices her negative self-talk and think of ways to make the thoughts more positive. She could replace those all-or-nothing thoughts with, "Having one piece of chocolate does not ruin my day or derail all of my efforts up until this point. I can still stay on track the rest of the day. Sticking to my plan is worth it and so am I." Or, "I have been successful in many areas of my life. I am not a failure. I allowed myself some balance in my life, and that is important to me."
Transforming all-or-nothing thinking can be a challenge at first, but keep at it. Easing up on restrictive pressures and negative self-talk will allow you to practice patience and grace on your journey to a healthier you!
- Pay attention to your internal dialogue. Ask yourself: "Am I judging myself or having demeaning thoughts?" See if you notice any patterns.
- Reverse negative thoughts by adopting a positive mindset. Instead of thinking, "Why can't I stick with healthy eating?" try, "One slip isn't a big deal. I will get back on track at my next opportunity."
- Give yourself some flexibility. For instance, if you attend a social gathering where healthy options are limited, allow yourself to enjoy a treat or two guilt-free, and then get back on track at your next meal.