How to Overcome Perfectionism, Part 2: Get Rid of All or Nothing Thinking

How to Overcome Perfectionism, Part 2: Get Rid of All or Nothing Thinking

I’ll never be skinny. I just like sweets too much.”

I just saw this statement from a friend on facebook not too long ago. How many of us think things like this? This is a classic perfectionist statement. And if we generalize it to include just about anything, it would sound more like this:

“If I can’t do it perfectly, I might as well not do it at all.”

What if we could eat sweets and still be skinny? What would that look like? Well, it wouldn’t look like eating sweets all the time.  But never eating sweets ever again? Who does that?! Okay, so some people do, but I can’t imagine living that way.  But it doesn’t mean I’m destined for a life of being overweight because I can’t ditch the sweets for forever.

In the last post in this series, I talked about re-thinking failure as a tool we can use to overcome perfectionism. Today, I’d like to introduce another tool that has been incredibly helpful for me on my journey toward becoming a little less perfectionist and a little more good enough-ist: letting go of “all or nothing” thinking.

Let’s think of practicing healthy habits as a ratio. So if I were to practice every healthy habit with perfection every single day, and never slip up (or even choose something less healthy—an option not really available to perfectionists), my ratio would be 100:0. Perfectionism tells us that if we can’t do 100:0, then we might as well do 0:100. I like to call this way of thinking ALL OR NOTHING, and I have definitely been guilty of thinking this way.

For years, I had it in my head that the only exercise worth my time was running, and that a minimum of 30 minutes was required. And so if I couldn’t run for 30 minutes, due to different life circumstances, then I just wouldn’t exercise at all. 100:0 or 0:100. The only options. I have started the day with intentions to eat perfectly, and then after one slip-up, binged my way through the rest of the day.  100:0 or 0:100. If I don’t do it perfectly, why do it at all? And this way of thinking isn’t just manifest in our actions. It haunts our thoughts as well. If I’m not at my ideal weight, then I’m fat. If I’m not race ready, then I’m out of shape.  Have you had thoughts like these? And can you see how unproductive they are?

But what if we changed the ratio? What if we allowed ourselves to do things 80:20? Could we stick to that? I feel like I can eat great 80% of the time, and eat some less-than healthy foods as well, and STILL be healthy. I can get a great workout in 80% of the time, and then sometimes, I might not push as hard when I’m tired, or I might have to take a day off when life gets super busy. Or maybe I only have 15 minutes to exercise today, so I do 15 rather than 0.  And I will STILL be healthy. I can be healthy without being perfect. And this thought is so freeing!

Without this change of thinking for me, this blog would not exist. I have wanted to start a blog for years, but I wanted to do it perfectly. If there was such a thing as a grade for my blog, then I wanted to get an A+. And my A+ blog never got started because I didn’t know enough, I didn’t have enough time, I wasn’t a good enough writer, and a myriad of other reasons why I couldn’t do an A+ blog. And then I heard something on a podcast that really helped me rethink this. Brooke Castillo said, “Be willing to do B- work, and refine it later.” At first, I prickled. B- work?!  No. I was always an A student. Anything less than that was unacceptable. Me? Do B- work? And then I realized that if I was waiting do get an A+ on my blog, I would never begin. And that is the same as an F. So I decided to do it. B- work. Then, as I go, I will refine it. And so I’m getting a B-, but I’m doing something I have always dreamed of. And that’s what this shift in thinking can do for you—help you try, do, and accomplish things that you haven’t been able to before.

But this shift in thinking has not been easy for me. It has been said that GOOD is the enemy of GREAT. I preached this to my volleyball team when I coached. By always being okay with GOOD, we may limit ourselves from becoming GREAT. While this is true, for perfectionists, we may also benefit from another way of thinking. Jody Moore says, “PERFECT is the enemy of GOOD.” If you have succumbed to all or nothing thinking, this quote is for you! To do 0:100 because you can’t do 100:0 is keeping you from doing GOOD. If we can’t be PERFECT, let’s still be GOOD! Your best is always enough. And if your best looks like 80:20, or 60:40, or 90:10, or even 20:80, do THAT!

Love your body. You don’t have to do it perfectly. Do it at a B- level right now, and then work toward that A. And guess what? Your body will love you for it. 

In case you missed it:

If you want to know why Perfectionism is such a problem, click HERE.

For Part 1 of how to overcome perfectionism, click HERE.

And don’t miss Part 3: Stop Worrying What Other People Think.

3 thoughts on “How to Overcome Perfectionism, Part 2: Get Rid of All or Nothing Thinking

  1. I am so this way with my eating! I just feel like I’m always all or nothing! I’m going to work on feeling good with 80:20. Thanks!

  2. Thanks Taffy! I am a recovering perfectionist:). I didn’t start relaxing my standards until I had my second child. It’s a hard thing to do! But I read a quote once, I think by President Hinckley, that said something to the effect that you can never be 100% at everything 100% of the time. I’m learning especially with my kids, that letting go of my perfectionism makes things MORE fun, less stressful and quicker for me and my kids. I do more and get more GOOD things done when I don’t worry about doing things perfectly! The mind set is slowly flowing into other areas of my life which is a really good thing for me!

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