‘All or Nothing’: Self-Development Or Self-Sabotage?

How our mindset may be the difference between taking a leap forward or backwards.

This is Joe and Jack. These two fine gentlemen have the aspiration of getting strong and putting on a few pounds of muscle like their inspiration, The Rock. Given the copious amount of free time they’ve been given, they figured right now would be an amazing opportunity to begin their journey onto the swole-train…

Joe decides that he’s going to commit to 20 push-ups and 20 squats a day. Conversely, Jack decides that he’s going to commit to 100 push-ups and 100 squats a day. 4 months go by and the results are quite surprising…

What went wrong…or right (Depending on who you look at)?

Yup that’s right, Joe, who seemingly did far less than Jack, ended up reaching his goal. How so? Well, Joe set a goal that was sustainable whereas Jack set a goal that was unrealistic. Going from never working out a single day in his life to trying to do 100 push-ups and squats a day, Jack eventually gave up after just one week and went back to his old, undesired habits. Jack is a classic example of the “All or Nothing” mindset that prevents many of us from reaching our goals.

“All or Nothing” inhibits self-development

Despite the unforeseen change of events over the past couple of months, numerous individuals, like myself, have been given an abundance of free time. This can be good or bad depending on how you spend it, but chances are that you have considered to take this unprecedented opportunity to finally work on the goals you’ve had in the back of your mind for the longest, such as:

  • Learning a new language
  • Starting your own YouTube channel
  • Getting swole (Like Joe) or losing weight
  • Cooking instead ordering take-out all the time

Don’t let excitement blind you from being realistic

The mere thought alone of being able to begin the journey sparks a fire that motivates us to get started. Thus, we set out pretty outrageous goals that are realistic for our ideal-selves (Who we want to become), but not realistic for the beginner (Who we currently are). Thankfully, developing a habit can be simplified once we scale it down to a level of difficulty where we’re confident enough to stick with it day in and day out:

  • Practice Spanish 1 hour a day (Unsustainable) Practice 5 minutes a day (Sustainable)
  • Upload 2 videos a week (Unsustainable) → Upload 1 video every other week (Sustainable)
  • Running 1 mile daily (Unsustainable) → Walking 1 mile daily
    (Sustainable)
  • Cooking a new recipe everyday (Unsustainable) → New recipe once a week (Sustainable)

Just like a fire, motivation is temporary and doesn’t last forever. So if you work under an “All or Nothing” mindset and have one of those days where you come up with every excuse in the book to not carry out the desired habit, then you’ll be more likely to enter a downward spiral back to square one. Working with the mentality that “If I can’t do it perfectly, then I can’t do it at all” is a sure way to prevent yourself from making progress towards your goals.

Just like a fire, motivation is temporary and doesn’t last forever.

“Something or Nothing” encourages self-development

In contrast, Joe recognized that it would be a lot easier and realistic to commit to 20 push-ups and squats daily as opposed to 100. Sure, it’s quite unlikely that someone would bulk up like The Rock following Joe’s routine in such a short timespan. However, the emphasis here is the consistency that is built through repetition in order to make progress towards any goal.

“But you’re telling me that I only have to do the bare-minimum to reach my goals?”

Definitely not. Doing the bare-minimum won’t get you to your goal. But doing the bare-minimum will help you get started so that you can get to your goal. You can’t improve a habit that hasn’t been established, hence why it’s crucial to create a plan with as least friction as possible. By creating a plan that you’re highly likely to keep up with, whether it be to meditate 3 minutes a day or 1 minute 3 times a day, it’s the frequency of sticking with the habit that will matter in the long run.

Putting “Something or Nothing” into practice

Think about a goal you want to achieve. With that goal in mind, try these simple steps to start taking action right now.

  1. Scale down your desired habit into an actionable step (e.g. Habit: Quit eating junk food. Actionable Step: Completely remove soda from my diet)
  2. Tone down the difficulty of the actionable step to a sustainable level where you’re 99.9% sure you’ll be able to stick with it like it’s nobody’s business (e.g. Actionable Step: Completely remove soda from my diet. Sustainable Actionable Step: Replace soda with it’s sugar-free version)
  3. After the wanted habit has become automatic (harder to not do it than it is to do it), then it might be time to increase the difficulty. (Sustainable Actionable Step Level 1: Replace soda with it’s sugar-free version. Sustainable Actionable Step Level 2: Limit diet-soda consumption to once a week)

If there’s one token of advice to be taken from this, it’s that sometimes less is more. Think “Something or Nothing,” not ‘All or Nothing.” Don’t let perfection deter you from starting your journey. Let confidence inspire discipline, knowing that you will show up on the best and worst of your days, propel you towards becoming your ideal-self, brick by brick.

  1. Goals are achieved through progression.
  2. Progression is made through consistency.
  3. Consistency is established through confidence.

Be like Joe. Create confidence and the rest will follow.

If there’s one token of advice to be taken from this, it’s that sometimes less is more.

writing when the mood’s right. poetry and personal insight.

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