“All or Nothing”, “Go Hard or Go Home”, “Don’t Stop When You’re Tired, Stop When You’re Done”. These are the kinds of quotes that I often see pop up on my Instagram feed in gritty typography against a backdrop of an oiled-up muscular bodybuilder, flexing intensely in a dark room dimly lit by downlights.
These quotes sound nice. If I’m already at the gym, reading something like this might get me to increase the incline on the treadmill, load up some extra weights on my bar or keep going past my set number of reps until failure. After all, nothing worth having comes easy, and feeling sore today means being strong tomorrow, right? (Why are there so many of these fitness adages stored in my brain??).
The ‘all or nothing’ approach isn’t just found in fitness discourse, I also see quotes like “hustle and grind 24/7, 365” and “give 110% all the time” thrown around in other contexts like business, career progression and even in relationships.
Again, it all sounds really nice. Who wouldn’t want to hire someone who is self-motivated enough to work 24/7, 365? Who wouldn’t love being in a relationship with someone who puts 110% effort in every single day, not just on Valentine’s Day and anniversaries?
The problem that I have with the ‘all-or-nothing’ approach is that, for me at least, it isn’t sustainable. There might be some people out there who really can show up to the gym every single day, complete their set workout and stick to a certain diet plan perfectly. I am not one of those people.
I’ve had a gym membership for over 5 years now and the longest I’ve ever been able to stick to my ‘ideal’ diet and exercise goals perfectly has been about 2 weeks.
I used to think that maybe if I set myself really ambitious goals, like hitting the gym 7 times a week for at least an hour, then at least if I missed a few days, I’d still be going quite a lot… right? I think the saying goes “Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss it, you’ll land among the stars.”
In practice though, if I missed one day of hitting the gym for whatever reason, my ‘all or nothing’ mindset would kick in and I’d think that there was no point in continuing since I had already failed. “I might as well eat pizza and brownies while watching Netflix shows for now and start again next week…” Or, if I only had 30 mins spare to exercise, rather than a full hour, I thought to myself, “what’s the point? I won’t even work up a sweat or have a chance to get my heart rate up.”
It’s the perfectionist’s fatal flaw- holding oneself to impossibly high standards, inevitably followed by failure, guilt, demotivation (and sometimes a whole tray of Tim-Tams in bed).
Something Is Better Than Nothing
What I’ve found helpful in getting myself out of the “all-or-nothing” mindset, without giving up on my goals altogether, is a “something-is-better-than-nothing” mindset. Small, consistent actions towards fitness, career, business or relationship goals are much more effective than short-lived but intense spikes of activity followed by long periods of doing nothing.
By giving myself permission to go off track a little bit and not allowing myself to use it as an excuse to completely disregard my plans, I feel like I’ve been able to achieve more, increase confidence in myself and get more out of the journey as a whole. After all, hitting the gym 3 times per week for 45 minutes might not be as good as going every day, but it’s better than skipping out altogether (and feeling super guilty about it!)
Finally, in the spirit of including lots of tacky motivational quotes, I find it helpful to remember:
“It does not matter how slowly you go as long as you do not stop.” – Confucius