How to Abandon All-or-Nothing Thinking for a Healthy Lifestyle

Image of road signs that say All-or-nothing thinking

All-or-nothing thinking is a negative thinking pattern that views situations as binary, or as black and white. For many people, when they are following a specific plan, they follow it one hundred percent…or not at all.

People with this thinking pattern may start a diet or exercise plan and follow it perfectly for a while, but let’s face it — no one is perfect. When things get tough and don’t go as intended, plans and programs often get tossed out the window. However, the on-and-off-again cycle can negatively impact your health in the long-term. So, how can you change your thinking?

How to Stop All-or-Nothing Thinking

Give yourself credit for your intensions, but lower the bar. 

Of course, everyone would like to be perfect. It sounds wonderful on paper. When real life kicks in such as a job chance, a sick kid or a new schedule, a well-planned routine can go out the window. Change your thinking. Instead of intending to be perfect, intend to be good. Being good long-term can lead to great long-term results. Following the plan most of the time is a win!

Work on flexibility. 

The perfectly laid-out meal and exercise routine is great, but be ready to mix things up if needed. If you forget your perfectly-packed lunch on the kitchen counter, make the best choice you can at the cafeteria. If your workouts come to a halt because you have a foot injury, find a seated activity that is a little easier on your body. The ability to be flexible and make changes to your plan can help keep you on track.

Rethink what you say to yourself. 

If you fall off your plan by eating a couple donuts or pushing snooze to skip your morning workout, give yourself a break. What you say to yourself is very important. Instead of saying to yourself, “I can’t believe you ate those donuts. Now you will never reach your goals. You’re a failure,” say something more positive. Tell yourself, “It’s okay that you had a treat. No one is perfect all the time, and moderation is okay. Time to get back on plan.” These words are powerful, forgiving, and can help you keep reaching for your goals.

Reassess your goals.

Sometimes, all-or-nothing thinkers have big goals. Take a minute to look at yours. Are they realistic and attainable? Make sure you have something to work toward and challenge yourself, but also something that you can accomplish. Setting your goals too high can lead to burnout, frustration, and giving up.

Be kind to yourself. 

Treat yourself kindly, like you would to other people. Take a few extra moments to give yourself time for rest, relaxation, and activities you enjoy. Taking good care of yourself will have a positive impact on your long-term thinking.


All-or-nothing thinking can be challenging to overcome. Small changes in your thinking and habits over time can add up quickly and positively impact your mental health, as well as your long-term health and wellness. Challenge your thoughts if you catch yourself thinking in terms of black and white. You’ll be a lot better for it!

Want to read more about managing all-or-nothing thinking? Psych Central has an excellent article: What Is All-or-Nothing Thinking and Why It’s Important to Manage It.

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