Break the Cycle of All-or-Nothing Thinking Patterns
Last updated: March 2022
All-or-nothing patterns of thinking often show up with health-related behaviors. That’s because your behaviors follow your thoughts. That’s why keeping your thoughts in check is important.
With this thought pattern, you’re either “all in” or “all out.” A lot of times we see this with eating habits, exercise, taking meds, checking blood sugar, etc.
If you are trying to adopt a healthy lifestyle or you are sitting in an “all-out” place right now, wanting to turn things around, I can assure you that a black-and-white rigid approach is not the way to go. And, if this is you, I'll bet you have been here before, frustrated by your lack of lasting success, like blood sugar inconsistency.
Strategies to change your thinking for better type 2 diabetes management
To overcome the cyclical pattern of all-or-nothing thinking, you'll need to learn to not get shaken when things don’t go according to plan. This requires you to work towards becoming okay with a “slip” or not being “perfect.”
To do this, here are some strategies:
The big problem with all-or-nothing thinking is that it promotes feelings of perfection. And, the moment you slip or sway from being “all in” means that you have failed. Thinking and believing you have failed quickly leads to unhelpful thoughts and negative self-talk, which ushers in the “all-out” behaviors.
You can see where this very rigid view of thinking is not conducive to a healthy, balanced lifestyle. That’s because life is not black-and-white, there are a lot of gray areas!
Life is going to throw you curveballs and things will not always go according to plan. And, no, you’re not going to be perfect or "all in" all the time. You are human, you are not supposed to be perfect.
Shrug off slips
It’s going to happen, at one point or another, you don't follow your plan. Don’t anticipate this, just know that it will.
Usually, slips happen when you are less prepared or there are unexpected events or things outside of your control. When we expect it, we are not so blindsided or frustrated, and we can better avoid the negative self-talk.
Instead of getting frustrated, shrug it off. The moment you realize you had a slip, shrug and say to yourself “oops, but good catch, I’d better stop now.” Or “I’ll have to anticipate this challenge next time.”
The shrug itself is important. Try to exaggerate the gesture of raising your shoulders. It helps create a physical connection to the thought and serves as a boundary in the road to all-or-nothing thinking. This also creates a neurological connection for the thought in your brain.
Block negative self-talk
You will be tempted to start beating yourself up and blaming yourself when slips happen, especially if you have had a pattern of all-or-nothing thinking and behaviors.
Instead of doing this, recognize when these negative and self-defeating thoughts start to creep in. Correct them by using logic to recognize that they are probably not true. Then, intentionally replace it with a positive thought.
For example, you may catch yourself thinking, “I’m such a failure, I can never do anything right!”
Instead of beating yourself up, correct this by recognizing that in fact, you are not a failure, you are human and perfectly imperfect. Plus, you have practiced many healthy behaviors today, this is just one. Replace it with a positive thought, such as, “I am strong enough not to let this small speed bump keep me from moving forward.”
Being rigid and inflexible ultimately sets you up for this line of thinking and the behaviors that follow. Practicing more flexibility will help. I like to think of the 80/20 rule, especially helpful for eating habits.
Using the example of healthy eating, the idea of this rule is that, as long as 80% of my meals are healthy and balanced, I can have some flexibility with 20% of them.
Of course, I always tell folks to exercise this with caution. Also, I encourage you not to plan for the 20% of flexibility, as life will naturally throw those times at you, which is why it helps with flexibility and not beating yourself up when these things happen.
Set realistic goals
If you have goals that are unrealistic, you are already setting yourself up to fail before you even get started. It’s okay to start small! In fact, I encourage it!
You are far more likely to see long-term sustainable changes when you set small, confident, and progressive goals. Set a small goal for this week, then try to increase it next week or the week after when you feel you have a handle on it. And try not to take on too many changes at once.
How often do you find yourself craving sweet snacks?