Karen's Blogs

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All or Nothing Behavior

Coming in contact with a range of dysregulated eaters on a near daily basis, I can’t help but notice the part that all-or-nothing thinking and behavior plays in dysfunctional patterns. Either you won’t allow yourself to miss a day of exercise (whether you’re sick or over-committed) or can’t get yourself to start or regularly engage in an exercise program. You rationalize why you have to take that run or why you can’t possibly make it over to the health club. The work for both you under-doers and over-doers is to move toward more functional behavior that avoids an all-or-nothing mindset. Basically, you each have to tolerate discomfort in order to become healthier. The goal is to modulate and moderate behavior so that it is healthy and serves your rational goals.

As an over-doer, you need to endure the anxiety of not doing. That means sitting with the distress of wanting to work out without acting on the impulse. You might fear that you’ll gain weight and your clothes won’t fit. You might panic that you’ll lose muscle tone or endurance and won’t be at peak performance. Or you might have an anxious reaction without a discernible reason. As an all-or-nothing thinker, you might fear that if you stop exercising (even for a day), you’ll give up and become an under-doer or, worse (in your mind), a non-doer. Under your persistent drive and motivation is the fear that if you stop, you’ll quit. You won’t know if this is true, however, unless you prove to yourself it isn’t by going through the experience. And, if you do give up, then it’s time to understand your extreme behavior and work on changing it.

As an under-doer, you need to tolerate the discomfort of pushing yourself to do something you don’t want to do or, at best, only half-heartedly wish to do. You have to forgo the short-term gratification of not doing for the long-term pleasure of being proud from accomplishment. For this to happen, you have to remind yourself that success comes from being uncomfortable and that not wanting to do something is not a good enough reason not to do it. Instead, you have to stretch outside your emotional comfort zone, drive yourself a little harder, put a bit more pressure on your psyche. Of course, you might be making decisions based on all-or-nothing thinking, fearing that once you start exercising, you won’t be able to cut yourself slack and take a day off now and then.

You won’t be able to transform all-or-nothing (also called black-and-white) thinking and behaving without oodles of discomfort. In fact, the more uncomfortable you are, the more quickly your mindset and habits will change. The goal is to be able to regulate any and every behavior to ensure that it is in the service of authentic health and well-being.

Helpful Food Rituals
The Big Ds

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