Managing the All or Nothing Mentality


Fall is here, and we know that means we can find ourselves extra busy with events, holidays, and everything that tends to surface as the rest of the year unfolds. But remember that our life and daily efforts do not always have to be viewed as “all or nothing” or in extremes of “good” and “bad.” Parents especially can be hard on themselves for not getting things perfect or for feeling spread thin amongst juggling the many responsibilities. Yet, things are not always meant to be clear cut or black and white; gray areas exist in everything we do and experience, and that is ok! Learning to give yourself some grace will go a long way in abandoning this “all or nothing” mentality.

What is the All or Nothing Mentality?

This way of thinking is a negative thought process where people tend to perceive themselves or others as being a success or a failure with tasks or endeavors. There is usually no in-between. For example, in a professional setting, someone could question their worthiness of receiving a raise or a promotion after making one small mistake or not hitting a particular goal. An “all or nothing” mentality could also be the simple thinking, “Well, I ate two cookies; I might as well finish off the package.” Or, when it pertains to sleep, someone might say, “Well, I stayed up late binging on Netflix last night, so I might as well do it again tonight.”

A parent with “all or nothing” thinking might feel guilty if they were racing to get their kids to the bus stop once again as the bus pulled up instead of getting there a couple of minutes early as they had planned. Our kids will sometimes say, “I always mess this up,” or “I’ll never be able to do that right.”

This is not a healthy way of thinking, but it is common. We can overcome this with a few simple strategies:

Aim for progress, not perfection.

If we get entangled in “all or nothing” thinking, we tell ourselves perfection is the only logical outcome. Yet, that “perfect” vs. “disaster” mentality is dangerous, unrealistic, and hardly attainable. We are destined for failure if we try to be perfect, so rewarding ourselves for progress, and continuing to grow and glow, is much healthier. The bottom line is things will never be perfect, and they don’t have to be. Eating poorly for dinner because you ate poorly for lunch is like slashing a second tire because the first went flat, right? Or skipping out on your daily walk altogether because you only have 10 minutes instead of 20 would deprive you of some self-care time. When you let go of the shackles of perfectionism, you open yourself up for growth.

Reframe your thinking.

If you can find a way to reframe your thinking and expectations and examine your efforts, you might find that things are going better than you had imagined. Celebrate all of your victories, both big and small, and try not to zoom in on your perceived failures. This reframing involves effort, but you can train yourself to pat yourself on the back for the efforts you make every day, the new things you are learning, the impact you have on others, and the simple things that end up being big things that make your life better.

Find value in learning from mistakes.

It’s not ideal to let mistakes define you. Did you blow up at your spouse or kids because you were tired and perhaps overreacted? Did you miss a deadline at work? Did you allow two weeks of laundry to accumulate and stare at you each day and taunt you? Were you not able to volunteer after all, even though you had already signed up? Embrace inevitable mistakes or setbacks, learn from them and move on with more joy about your progress. These are lessons we can also teach and model to our children. It helps to reflect on how you can do things better the next time. How can you learn from these setbacks? Adopting a growth mindset will be much more beneficial than beating yourself up or dwelling on errors. Remember, you are human, and mistakes are unavoidable sometimes; how we handle them and learn from them is truly important.

Avoid negative self-talk

“This always happens” or “Nothing ever goes the way I want it to” is deflating self-talk. Give yourself some grace and look for the chance to excel instead of dwell! Focus on strengths, not failures. Ask yourself, “Am I being too hard on myself?” or “Are my expectations realistic?” or “Is there another way I can think about this?”

Create positive habits

Habits are essential for reaching our goals; when we only focus on a goal, it’s common to stop once we reach it. Focus on building habits that possess staying power and involve changing things for the positive long-term. Prioritize your self-care and well-being, and watch as you thrive in all areas of your life!

When the “in-between” is left out, so is the room for growth. Feel free to welcome more empathy and compassion for yourself and for others into your life, which can ultimately garner stronger self-esteem, reduced stress, increased motivation, and more happiness. You are not empowering yourself when you neglect to show yourself grace or compassion. We all make mistakes. We can all be a success and a failure, and all that is in between because we are human. Some days you will feel like you are crushing life; on others, you might feel deflated or like a hot mess express. The good news is it is all ok. Keep your head up, stay positive, and most of all, keep going.

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Andee Bookmyer
Andee is a Certified Personal Trainer, Certified Health Coach, ACE Fitness Nutrition Specialist, Certified Group Fitness Instructor, Certified Mind Body Fitness Coach and Certified Stress Management Coach. She grew up in Northwest Indiana and attended Ball State University. She taught high school English for several years before becoming a mommy to Preston. She has a passion for writing, CrossFit, laughing and helping others. For more of her writing, you can visit her personal "Bookerella" blog at