got resolutions? why all or nothing thinking isn’t helping

It’s the third week of January, which means everyone in the world is healthier than they’ve ever been and are killing their New Year’s Resolutions, right? While that’s the case in my fantasy world where we’re all living the healthiest and happiest lives we can, I know there are people out there who are struggling and even people who have given up on their “get healthy” resolutions by now.

I want to talk about one of the big reasons I see people (and have seen myself) fail when it comes to making our healthy goals into happy realities: all or nothing thinking. 

get out of your own way

While there are lots of things that are black and white in this world (zebras, pandas, Oreos), classifying health, exercise, and nutrition in that way is a recipe for disaster in my world. For perfectionists, black and white thinking when it comes to healthy living can be a big way of setting ourselves up for failure. For example:

  • Your New Year’s Resolution was to save desserts for the weekend and special occasions. Come one Tuesday evening, however, you’re baking cupcakes for your friend’s birthday on Wednesday. You find yourself licking the spatula and the icing spreader before tossing them in the sink and start beating yourself up about it. Thinking you’ve blown your resolution, you figure you might as well go ahead and have a cupcake now. You end up eating the cupcake hovering over the sink and hoping your partner doesn’t see you–he knows about your resolution–and end up not enjoying the cupcake and feeling guilty about it. You, feeling like a failure, go back to your old habit of nightly indulgences and give up on your resolution, eating a cupcake every night that week. If you’d just accepted that one cupcake is still less than five, you’d have ended up moving in a healthier direction than your previous self. Lesson: Don’t compare yourself to perfection if it means you’re going to feel like you don’t measure up. Look at which direction you’re moving in and appreciate the progress, overall, that you’re making on your goals. 
  • Your New Year’s Resolution was to work out for 45 minutes five times a week. When things get busy with a stressful week, you have to miss your regular spin classes. You decide that since you can’t do the full 45 minutes, you might as well not do anything. You end up feeling out of shape and even on the days when you do find yourself with time to hit the gym for the classes you love, you lack motivation. If you’d just recognized that all exercise counts and done what you could, you’d have kept the momentum going and would be reaping the benefits of moving your body on a regular basis. Don’t employ all or nothing thinking when it comes to your workouts: all movement counts and even fifteen minutes is better than zero minutes. 

In either case (and so many other times), it is our own perfectionism that winds up bringing us down. Perfectionism is a cop out, in this case, if you use it as a reason to give up. Remember, what’s important isn’t whether or not you’re perfect (yet), it’s which way you’re moving. Are your actions bringing you to a healthier, happier place? If you start moving in the wrong direction, can you get back on track? 


If you made New Year’s Resolutions, how are they going?
Are you a perfectionist? Does it work for you?


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