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The ‘All or Something’ Mum Mindset

As a personal trainer and life coach specialising in working with mums, ‘mindset’ is a topic that comes up a lot!

A mindset is basically a way of thinking and having an unhelpful way of thinking, or mindset, will definitely work against you to derail any attempts that you make to creating positive change or progress in your life.

Many people, and mums are definitely no exception, have what’s called an ‘All or Nothing’ mindset.

An ‘all or nothing’ mindset is a binary way of thinking which can be responsible for a great deal of negative evaluations of yourself and others.

‘All-or-nothing’ thinking is problematic in many ways. It’s very limiting and creates extreme and impossible expectations. It demands perfection within yourself and within others, and leads to disappointment and feelings of failure.

So what exactly is happening here? Well, all-or-nothing thinking is one of many forms of negative thought processes, known as ‘cognitive distortions’, that are common among people with anxiety and depression.

‘All-or-nothing’ thinking refers to thinking in extremes: You are either a success or a failure, your performance was either brilliant or disastrous, you’re either eating really healthily or you’re not.

When thinking in all-or-nothing terms, you split your views into black and white. Everything from your view of yourself to your life experiences is divided, leaving room for little, if any, grey area in between which, in reality, is where almost everything lives.

All-or-nothing thinking often involves using absolute terms, such as ‘never’ or ‘always’. This type of thinking can also include an inability to see the alternatives in a situation or solutions to a problem.

Going to one of these two extremes when evaluating your life is the perfect storm for self-blame and even self-hatred, because what you’re really doing is demanding perfection from yourself, since the only alternative, in your mind, is failure, and no one want to think of themselves, or to be thought of, as a failure.

Some common examples include:

  • Well I’ve eaten this doughnut so I’ve completely ruined my diet, therefore I’m a failure and I’m going to give up.

  • It’s too hard to attend that class, I can’t get up at 7am - I’m not a morning person.

  • I got sick so I stopped the workout program and never went back to it.

How might you be using this ‘all or nothing’ mindset in your life? Is it helping you?

Stop and think about this now and make a list of how this kind of mindset might have affected you in the past.

Now, what can you do if you have a tendency to this ‘All or Nothing’ thinking pattern? Here are my top tips:

1. Don’t believe you have to do everything perfectly

Those with this thinking pattern will often give up or stop doing something because they don’t feel like they are giving it their all, performing to the best of their ability or doing very well. They would rather stop altogether than perform less than perfectly.

This unfair (and uncompassionate) demand that you be anything less than perfect can come across any aspect of your life from your work to your exercise program.

This type of thinking can also derail any attempt to help or improve yourself. For example, say you’re on a meal plan or trying to exercise everyday, if you slip off the diet or skip exercising for just one day, you give yourself an “F” and, in disgust, give up altogether. And then comes the inevitable self blame, self disgust and feelings of failure.

Here we need to learn that something is always better than nothing. For example exercising once a week is obviously better than not exercising at all that week. Or exercising for 5 minutes a day is better than not moving at all.

2. Have compassion for yourself

Self-compassion is vital. Be nice to yourself. Be kind to yourself. Treat yourself like you would your best friend. If your best friend told you that she’d eaten some chocolate when she had promised herself she wouldn’t - I bet you wouldn’t tell her that she’s a failure, that she should just give up on all her health and fitness goals and resolve to never be healthy. That would be a crazy and horrendous thing to say, but we say things just like that to ourselves…..all the time!

You need to realise and accept that set-backs happen. You need to appreciate that you are human, not a robot, and that you can’t control things outside of yourself and sometimes you need a break or to allow yourself to not always be perfect.

But how we treat ourselves, how we speak to ourselves is one of the few things we can control in life.

In my view, there’s never a good reason not to be kind to yourself. Treating yourself with compassion helps you break the habit of ‘All or Nothing’ thinking because, when you’re kind to yourself, it’s easier to see the ways in which you’re not kind to yourself. This allows you to become aware of the emotional harm caused by constantly telling yourself: “It has to be perfect – if it isn’t I’ve failed.”

3. Focus on what you did do well and on what you did accomplish

This is probably my favourite tip because it’s so immediately helpful. When you engage in ‘All or Nothing’ thinking, you discount as unimportant or unworthy all that you did do well and all that you did accomplish.

Think about that for a few moments….. discounting the positive in this way is both unfair to you and self-destructive because it leaves you feeling like a failure.

I often have clients coming to me telling me that they’ve had a terrible week because they didn’t do as many workouts as they’d wanted to and had a pizza. They completely disregard the things that they did really well like getting in their 10k steps per day, having their matcha tea on 5 of the mornings, and doing a meditation as well as all the other positive things that they did do for their mental and physical health.

This tendency of going straight to self-criticism, to focus on what went less than perfectly, is just a habit.

Instead look for what went well, and spend some time thinking about all the things that you did and congratulate yourself for them.

4. Think about the language that you use and try to avoid absolutes

The language you use is so powerful, how you talk to yourself is so powerful. If you find yourself using words like ‘never’, ‘can’t’, ‘impossible’, ‘nothing’ about yourself and your abilities try and find gentler, less judgmental words or phrases.

For example: ‘I can never stick to meal plans’ is an extremely negative and judgmental way of talking to or about yourself.

If you amend your language to something like: ‘I sometimes find it difficult to stick to meal plans’, you’re giving yourself more lee-way, you’re not judging yourself negatively or making your statement a self-fulfilling prophecy and you’re much more likely to jump back up and on that meal plan as and when you slip off.

If all you ever expect from yourself is perfection then all you are really doing is setting yourself up for disappointment and probably failure in your own eyes.

And you’ll get to a stage, at some point, when you may even stop trying in the first place because you won’t want to risk those feelings of disappointment and failure that will inevitably come a calling.

Why make yourself feel worse when you have the ability to make yourself feel better?

Showing up, trying your best -that is all you can ever expect from yourself.

It’s always helpful to have a plan, but give yourself freedom within that plan to have those ‘worth it’ moments when you break the meal plan for a slice of your child’s birthday cake that you spent hours making, or those exhausted times when actually the best, and kindest thing for you is to stay in bed and sleep more rather than get up and exercise.

So which of these techniques do you think might work for you? And why?

Spend a moment now thinking about these 4 options and note down which you’re going to try and why you believe that it’s going to work.

Excellent, now theory is great but I want you to make sure that you use this information.

Therefore now I want you to anticipate something that may happen over the next few weeks that, in the past, would have led you to fall into the ‘all-or-nothing’ mindset. It could be feelings of frustration at the huge pile of laundry waiting to be done, it could be some disappointing news, it could be some amazing news. What, in the past, has led to this mindset and what are you going to do to counter it?

Spend a few minutes now making a plan for yourself to help you to cope when these life challenges come up which, inevitably, they will.

Doing something is always better than doing nothing. So do something, everyday, that takes you a step closer to your goals - and all those ‘somethings’ are going to add up to great health and happiness in your future.


About the author

Rebecca Fredericks, Personal Trainer (CYQ CPT), Nutritionist (CfNRegNutr), Life Coach (BSc, NLP Dip) & Author (Mummahood: The Experts Guide to a Fit, Healthy & Happy Pregnancy’).

If you’d like to work with Bex, you can try her completely free 1 Month Challenge designed exclusively for the unique needs of mums. All you need is 12 minutes per day and you’ll be sent a brand new workout or self care challenge each morning. Sign up today!

1 Comment

Wow - absolutely what I needed to read right now, heading off to journal but wanted to stop and say thank you Rebecca and Nourish xx

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