Ever find yourself saying things like: "That's it, from tomorrow I'm going to the gym every day!", or "This is 100% the last time I drink alcohol!"?

Making an 'all in' decision can sound pretty appealing at the time, especially when you’re trying to get in shape. It sorta makes sense—if you get extreme about things, maybe this time you’ll be able to lose those 20 pounds quicker and finally have chiseled abs in time for the summer. The trouble is, for most of us, an “all or nothing” approach usually becomes another obstacle to overcome, even if it can lead to short term results.

We can see why this is by calling out some of the most common ‘all in’ strategies, all of which usually fail to work. We've all probably tried at least one of these at some point, myself included, but it's worth pointing out how ridiculous all this is, if only because it's always healthy to be able to laugh at ourselves:

1. Six workouts a week or never at all.

What it sounds like:

“I’ve been thinking about getting serious about exercise, but when I start, I want to make sure I can go all in and dedicate myself to it, which I just can’t do right now because I’m going through a really busy phase at work.”

Outcome:

A whole year passes by and you still haven’t found the right time to start—because there never is a 'right time'.

2. Eat ‘perfectly’ or keep the floodgates open.

What it sounds like:

"Damn, I shouldn't have eaten that piece of cake. Well, obviously healthy eating isn't for me, so I might as well eat the whole cake."

Outcome:

Instead of getting a basic understanding how food affects your body so you can fit it into your life with little stress, you simply eat whatever you want, whenever you want, in gluttonous quantities, because you believe that healthy eating doesn’t work for you.

3. Get extremely restrictive with your food

What it sounds like:

“I’m trying to get fit, so I’m only letting myself eat 1,000 calories a day, and I'm only going to eat kale salads. I’m hoping to lose 20 pounds by the end of the month.”

Outcome:

You expose yourself to things like fatigue, low energy levels, low libido, and poor cognitive and physical performance throughout your day. You're grumpy and thinking about burgers all the time. You may also risk messing with your body’s natural cycles and metabolism in the long run.

4. Pushing as hard as you can, every single time

What it sounds like:

“No pain, no gain! I push until I want to throw up at every session, that's how I know I'm working hard! That’s the only way to work out and the only way I’m going to get results! I’m not going to let that little shoulder pain get in my way!”

Outcome:

You put yourself at an unnecessary risk of acute injury in your next workout, and of chronic overuse injuries in the long term. Over time, you might develop an unhelpful relationship with exercise, where you look at it as torture that your body deserves for the donut you ate yesterday.

*****

I could go on, but you get the point. “All or nothing” usually isn’t the best approach for most people. To actually make exercise and healthy eating work for you, you need to put in consistent effort over a pretty long period of time.

A better way to structure your thinking

1. Aim for sustainability of your rituals, not perfection. There's no rule against having a bit of ice cream once or twice a week—you're in control here so don't beat yourself up over a slice of cake, enjoy it! Just make a mental note to go lower carb and lower sugar for the next couple of meals, and you'll be fine.

2. Set sustainable, process-oriented goals, like "I will exercise 3 times per week". This way, you learn to enjoy and derive value from the process, not the destination.

An exercise schedule or eating style that’s ‘good enough’—i.e. something that fits into your lifestyle and is enjoyable and sustainable—is far better than any (theoretically) ‘perfect’ option that you’ll likely end up hating and giving up on after a few weeks. Just start, and gradually add a habit at a time instead of setting ridiculous (and arbitrary) goals.

Tags
MindsetProductivityMotivation
About the author
Ian Tan

Ian Tan is the Co-Founder of Ritual. He’s got an MSc in Strength and Conditioning, a background in psychology, and is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS).