Journey Bravely;The All or Nothing Trap

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By Stephenie Craig, LCSW

Sorry Not Sorry

Are you already over hope for new year possibilities? Maybe 2021 is already draining you and feeling like a punch in the gut. Sometimes you round New Years with ideas, goals, and energy for something new only to be met with resistance, sick season, negative thinking, and more of the same from last year.

You start your new exercise program and miss day 5 and have a hard time getting back on track because you’re telling yourself you blew it. You’ve changed your drinking/smoking/spending/eating habits for 2 weeks and then slip up and tell yourself to forget it because you can never get it right all the time. You’re left discouraged, disempowered, and depressed.

There’s hopeful and empowering news! Perfection is not reality for humans. You aren’t going to get anything right every time. Life is not made of 100% success or failure but of small, consistent steps in a healthier direction over time.

All or nothing thinking is a rigid trap that keeps you from making reasonable progress toward life change. All or nothing thinking invites you to quit and view yourself as a failure any time you behave inconsistently with your goals.  A flexible, gracious mindset will produce obvious, life-giving change over weeks, months and years. Flexible, gracious thinking allows you to notice when you’ve gone off track, to understand resistance to progress, and to repetitively get back on track as needed. Flexible, gracious thinking allows you to celebrate any steps toward change as success even if you haven’t taken those steps 100% of the time.

Don’t worry, you aren’t alone if you’re struggling with all or nothing thinking. The social media saturated culture encourages you to believe that others have it all together with the perfect family, body, mindset, food, parenting, business, home, life and you’re in the minority who just hasn’t found the perfect formula. But, the truth of being human is EVERY person struggles and there is no secret formula.

So, how do you move from the prison of all or nothing thinking to the freedom of flexible, gracious thinking?

5 Ways to Increase Flexible, Gracious Thinking:

  1. Acknowledge your humanity. Expect struggles. Remember your brain is created for growth and change. Knowledge and mastery are learned through experience. Stop expecting yourself to be good at things without having learned and practiced over time.
  2. Set reasonable expectations for change. Your brain requires 1-2 months of consistently doing something a new way to create and sustain change. Continue those practices for months to follow to make them a lifestyle. Expecting massive change in short periods of time creates discouragement and quitting.
  3. Create flexible goals for growth. I want to eat healthier 80% of the time instead of I must eat healthy at every meal, 7 days per week. I want to engage in one personal/spiritual growth discipline 3-5 times per week instead of I want to spend 1 hour per day, 7 days per week on said discipline.
  4. Measure every morsel of success. Every single movement in a healthier direction adds up to sustained change and progress over time. I am proud of myself for eating a healthy breakfast and dinner today instead of I’m quitting healthy eating because I ate cake for lunch. I am proud of myself for reducing compulsive spending from 1-2 times per week to 1-2 times this month instead of I can’t believe I didn’t follow my budget perfectly so I’m giving up on intentional spending.
  5. Use the same kindness you’d offer to a friend when talking to yourself. Judgmental and negative self-talk is self-defeating, unmotivating, and promotes a downward emotional spiral. Change takes time and I’m capable of learning new things instead of I’ll never get this right and I always screw up. Everyone takes steps backward in their journey forward and I’m gaining wisdom in the journey instead of I’m a failure and won’t ever change.

As you try increasing flexibility and grace in your process of change, remember there is no perfection in humanity, not even in being flexible and gracious toward yourself! If you need support along your journey of change, Journey Bravely has coaching and counseling sessions available to help you. Connect with us at journeybravely.com.