Are you struggling to maintain momentum when starting a new goal?
Have you ever wondered if there’s a middle ground between going all in and giving up entirely?
Here are 3 key strategies to break free from the all or nothing mindset for a sustainable and achievable route to your goals.
The first step in escaping the all or nothing mindset is to start small.
It is normal to be excited and perhaps over ambitious when we embark on a new goal or change. However, this excitement may lead you to set goals which are unachievable and actually hindering rather than helping your progress. Building a habit is all about consistency, something that the all or nothing mindset struggles with.
Ask yourself this:
What can I do on my worst day?
Start here. If you can do it on your worst day, you’ll know you’ll manage on better days.
Why? The brain needs time to adapt to new habits. Initially, it takes a lot of energy and brain power to do new things. However, the more often you do it, the more neural connections your brain builds in relation to this habit and the easier it becomes. Over time, you start to do it on autopilot and the habit becomes a natural part of your life. Unfortunately, we can’t skip ahead to the autopilot stage. We must build these brain connections through small, consistent daily actions.
Remember starting small doesn’t mean that you’re limiting yourself. On better days you can always do more, but if you can manage the habit on your bad days, then you’ll know it’s a change that can fit in with your life no matter what comes your way.
The goal: batch cook on Sundays to have home cooked meals to eat on week nights
Small daily action: pre-chop your vegetables after doing your weekly shop on a Sunday
You can then build up to pre-chopping protein, prepping a sauce, cooking a double portion of your evening meal, to batch cooking for the week.
The goal: to walk for 30 minutes on Monday, Wednesday and Fridays
Small daily action: to put on shoes at the start of your lunch break
You can then build up to walking for 5 minutes, 10 minutes, 15 minutes and so on until you reach the goal of 30 minutes.
Allow for Flexibility
When has life ever gone exactly to plan? Not often. So why would you expect the same from your goals?
Life throws unexpected twists and turns and it helps to have a little wiggle room when it comes to our goals. Allowing for flexibility helps to navigate these detours without giving in to the all or nothing mindset which leaves us giving up at the first roadblock.
Some detours are expected, such as birthday celebrations, holidays or busier periods at work.
Other detours come out of the blue, such as losing a loved one, having a stressful day at work or becoming unwell.
We can’t control the natural ups and downs of life, but we can control how we react to these changes.
For expected or planned detours, just like a car journey, you can pre-empt the challenges and plan ahead. Do you need to reconsider your goal for that day? Is there tweaks that you could make?
Unexpected roadblocks can be more difficult to deal with. Hopefully if you started small with your goal, you can fall back to doing this. Other times, it’s about acknowledging that life will get in the way sometimes. Allow yourself periods where you can press pause on your goal, knowing that you can pick it up again when you feel able to.
Pausing your goal for a period of time doesn’t undo all of the work and daily actions you’ve already done. Those brain connections will remain and should make it easier to resume your goal, even if you have to take a few steps back initially.
So how can you make your goals flexible? Adopt a Plan B.
Goal: to eat 3 vegetables each day
Expected detour: on holiday abroad with unpredictable meal options
Plan B: may only manage 1-2 portions of veg over this period, will opt for a side salad or meal with veg when possible but know can get back to managing 3 portions of veg when back home
Goal: to batch cook every Sunday
Unexpected detour: family emergency on Sunday and no time to do a food shop or batch cook
Plan B: use what’s in the freezer or opt for a healthier ready meal with some frozen veg steamed in the microwave for a balanced convenient meal, can revisit schedule to find another day to batch cook or ensure to do the following Sunday
Goal: to walk for 30 minutes every day
Expected detour: Winter weather with icy pavements and heavy rain
Plan B: on days where the weather is bad, aim to do an online workout or walk around the house instead
Goal: to go to the gym with my friend once a week
Unexpected detour: friend is unwell and unable to go to the gym
Plan B: go to the gym alone, go to a class or do a home workout instead
We can’t prepare for everything, however having a Plan B helps to be prepared for the many times that life doesn’t quite go to plan.
The all or nothing mindset loves to put us down. How many times have you said the following:
I’ve eaten that takeaway, I may as well eat what I want this weekend and start fresh on Monday.
I’ve missed my daily walk the past few days, what’s the point I’ll never be able to keep this up.
I ate that biscuit, I’ve blown it. I may as well finish the packet.
I’m such a failure.
The way that we speak to ourselves has a significant impact on how we feel and how we act. Self-talk can influence our motivation and our confidence.
Imagine a friend or family member had an off day or slipped up, would you say any of the above to them? I’d hope not! You’d likely be understanding, kind and supportive. We know that being negative isn’t helpful, so try to go a little easier on yourself and allow yourself to slip up. We’re all human and we’re allowed to have off days or make mistakes.
Speak to yourself like you would a close friend or family member. One way to do this is to actively pay attention to any negative thinking patterns. When you notice any negative self-talk, acknowledge it, and then have a go at reframing it. For example:
I’ve eaten that takeaway. I had a busy day at work and had no energy to cook. I used to have takeaways several times a week and this is my first one in over a month. I enjoyed the takeaway and can make myself a balanced meal tomorrow evening.
I’ve missed my daily walk the past few days. I’ve been finding it difficult to find the time. I’m going to try walking at a different time to see if that fits better with my schedule, and if not I can find another way to build movement into my day. Goals are about trying different strategies to find what’s right for me.
I ate that biscuit. There is no such thing as good or bad food and it doesn’t make me a bad person for eating the biscuit. I enjoyed the taste, but I’m still hungry so I might have a meal or a healthier snack now.
I’ve not achieved my goal. Something’s not quite working. I’m going to have a look at what happened and see if there’s a way I can make this easier or I may need to choose another goal to work on for now. I’m not a failure for trying.
It can take time to break out of the all or nothing mindset. Starting small, allowing for flexibility and being compassionate with ourselves can all help to change the way we think about our goals and ultimately helps us to make changes that last.
Need some help reaching your goals?
I’m Emily, a registered dietitian, fitness instructor and health coach with a passion for empowering people through nutrition, not restriction.
No quick fixes. No crash diets. No wasting your time.
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