The Power of Tiny Shifts: All-or-Nothing Thinking

The Power of Tiny Shifts: All-or-Nothing Thinking

There can be immense power in tiny shifts. If I turn left just slightly and walk forward several feet, I’ll end up in a different spot than if I hadn’t. Okay, that sounds obvious, but I use this visual often when I’m reminding myself of the power that seemingly small actions can have on the bigger picture of our lives and where we are headed.

The Power of Tiny Shifts: All-or-Nothing Thinking

A few years ago, a workout wasn’t good enough unless it was X amount of miles at X pace. Now I’m grateful if I can walk a few miles outside, and it’s AMAZING if I make it to the gym a couple times a week. I like to bring my kindle and leisurely pedal on the stationary bike.

Meditation is also really important for me – I’ve got a case of busy-brain. But in the past, I wouldn’t feel satisfied with my practice unless I was sitting in a certain posture for a certain amount of time a certain number of times each week. I’d get obsessive about whether I was “feeling meditative enough” in my day-to-day life – something I didn’t necessarily realize I was obsessing over in the moment, but our inner critic is amazingly gifted at attacking us even for the things we are doing “right.”

One shift life has guided me toward is letting go of all-or-nothing thinking. All-or-nothing thinking is a cognitive distortion that involves seeing situations in opposite extremes. If I’m not hitting or exceeding my exercise or meditation goals, it’s not good enough, and instead of feeling grateful for what I’ve done, I’m feeling down on myself because I’m thinking in extremes.

We all fall prey to cognitive distortions – all-or-nothing thinking can also involve making statements like “I always mess up” or “you never ask me how I’m feeling” – you can see how this would impact relationships (including your relationship with yourself) and trigger defensiveness.

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Fast forward to today. It’s post-pandemic. I have a toddler and a business and my own mental health challenges to manage. I’m not really in any position to be the perfectionist I once was, and I have a deep gratitude for the softening I’m experiencing in myself.

The Power of Tiny Shifts: All-or-Nothing Thinking

Instead of a rigorous meditation schedule, I feel proud of myself for taking a few moments for conscious breathing. Another new favorite of mine is putting on spa music and lying flat on my back while deep breathing and relaxing my body (a coach in a self-help program I’m in said you can’t listen to spa music and feel anxious at the same time – that’s been accurate for me so far). Honestly, sometimes I’m just listening to spa music while I load the dishwasher and try to pay attention to my breathing, and that is good enough.

Letting go of all-or-nothing thinking means I am more sensitive to the nuance of my experience, and I can live from a place of attunement to myself. This subtle shift has been very profound for me – the shift to seeing the gray area in how I take care of myself. When our goals are based solely on what we think we should be doing, and aren’t informed by attunement to ourselves –  what we feel able to do and what we need – then we will experience dissonance.

Are there areas in your life where you experience all-or-nothing thinking or feel inflexible in your approach to something? Take a few moments to imagine what it would look like if you softened in this situation and opened yourself up to other possibilities. What other possibilities can you imagine?

Sarah Tronco, LCSW, author of Wildly Wise: Trusting the Nature Within provides  online counseling in New Jersey and works to develop a strong therapeutic relationship with her clients, which helps to create a secure place where individuals can achieve meaningful change.

Sarah Tronco, LCSW, now also provides online counseling in Pennsylvania, contact her to learn more.


Photo by Dan Meyers on Unsplash

Photo by Hansjörg Keller on Unsplash

Photo by Heidi Fin on Unsplash