Is an All Or Nothing Attitude Holding You Back?

An all or nothing attitude, AKA the thought that if you don’t give something every single piece of you, then there’s no reason to even start.

Lifestyles are not “all-or-nothing,” rather, they are a fluid work of art with only one artist. 

For instance, I regularly eat frozen pizzas, a fact that I used to feel an immense amount of guilt over because my freezer sits STOCKED with grass-fed beef. But why should I feel guilty for not having the perfect, grass-fed dish every meal? 

Another example is the wishy-washy attitude that often holds me to my house instead of putting on my swimsuit and swimming in the not perfectly clear lake.

I Get Caught Up In “All Or Nothing” Thinking In the Search of a Perfect Lifestyle

In the past, I’ve always wanted to have a lifestyle that obsesses over local, sustainable food. These motivations were so strong that I would cower in shame in the natural food aisle, ditching the dessert items from my shopping cart. 

Following this same line of reasoning produced a litany of inflexible situations: 

  • Only running when training for a half-marathon. 
  • Only hiking on weekends when there was time for a long trail loop.
  • Only dieting on the premo-quality items that I could grow myself.

And numerous other hurdles that I told myself I had to overcome before I could achieve the “perfect lifestyle.”

Annie and Luna hiking on a gravel path.
Zumbro Bottoms hiking in the Richard J. Dorer Memorial Hardwood State Forest.

It’s easy to get caught up in a dichotomous (either-or) way of thinking when so much of our world presents itself in exactly this way.

One might think of polarized politics as asking us to, at a bare minimum, lean “right” or “left.” Followed by marketing telling us to look hot or not. Even the grocery store labeling of organic and regular items turns a simple errand into an exercise of all or nothing.

We Gravitate Towards “All or Nothing” Thinking Because It Leaves Us With Fewer Choices

There is research that shows we are happier when we have fewer choices. 

At some level the “theys” of the world seem to know this. It would explain why so many consumer situations are organized in a “this or that” style. 

In reality, fewer choices actually work in our favor and allow us to pick one of whatever it is we need, then move on with our life.

Imagine my relief when I found only one put-in to the Boundary Waters had permits remaining for our trip this July. I bought a permit and never questioned myself.

Had there been twenty different places available to start, I’d probably still be working on a multi-page pros and cons list. The only silver lining being a new blog post titled “On Choosing Your Next Wilderness Permit”. My gargantuan analysis would likely allow for submission to a scientific journal instead of this humble site. But I digress…

So, What’s Wrong With Breaking Lifestyle Choices Down Into Fewer Choices? 

If the research says less options lead to happiness, what’s stopping you from creating your own this or that lifestyle choices?

Nothing. Except when one of the choices is unattainable or undesirable. This was my trap.

In my quest for success I routinely saw others with perfect accomplishments or lifestyles. This lead me to measure myself against their successes.

From chiseled athletes to clean food cooks and farmers, I sought an ever elusive daily life where I exercised over an hour every day, grew all of my own food, and still found the time to travel the world, float remote rivers, and hike exotic trails… 

Annie holds a burger with ketchup, lettuce, and tomatoes over a paper plate.
Delicious grass-fed beef burger on paper plates.

Finding all of this unattainable (surprise surprise) quickly became wallowing in mediocrity and marginalize my dreams. I essentially gave up to take the easy route.

Learning and Growing Is Important, But You Don’t Have To Stress Yourself Out To Get There

Today, I find myself still striving for a better body, cleaner food, and more exciting adventures. But I live in a gray area of fluctuating choices with fitful starts and stops.

A short weekday bike ride is more the norm than the long overnight trips I used to think were required. Our garden might become a scavenger hunt through the weeds, as opposed to the manicured green rows I envisioned.

Despite this, my best bike rides are getting longer and my favorite meals are getting greener and more sustainable.

There Are Often Multiple Steps and Grey Areas, Don’t Let That Stop From Taking the First Step

Lifestyles are not “all-or-nothing,” rather they are a fluid work of art with only one artist. 

No masterpiece was ever created without a hidden sketchbook that nobody gets to see. The starts and stalls are your pathway to your future. Measure success only against yourself in the past, and you might find that someday you will be more the example of the ideal than you expected. Buy/grow/raise clean food when you can and explore in small or large doses on how to take small steps to get yourself to the idealized goal.

Annie pumps air into her bike tires while Luna stands awaiting to go on a run.
Annie preps for an afternoon bike ride.

To be blunt, you can pour store bought ranch dressing on lettuce you grow yourself. The dressing or the lettuce doesn’t care and it will taste the best after any amount of time you spent outside.

Really, what I’m trying to say is the best geologists have seen a lot of rocks and not every rock is a diamond. Having these goals and high expectations are valiant, but don’t feel guilty or mad at yourself if you don’t achieve them overnight. Give yourself the time to create your ultimate lifestyle, don’t let an “all or nothing” attitude stop you from starting the journey.

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This post was written by Nick Schmitz, August 2020.

Nick sits in canoe and Luna swims in the water

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