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Is an all-or-nothing mindset holding you back?

Do you ever find yourself labeling your day as “bad” because someone made one negative comment to you? Do you hold yourself to high expectations, equating your worth with your performance? If so, you may have an all-or-nothing mindset – and it may be holding you back from mental and physical well-being.

“An all-or-nothing mindset is a negative thinking pattern and a form of cognitive distortion,” says Lauren Garvey, LPC, CRC, NCC, a counselor and facilitator at Cancer Wellness at Piedmont. “It creates extreme expectations and impossible standards, leaving zero room for error. All-or-nothing thinking is often associated with depression, panic disorder and other anxiety-related concerns.”

Signs you may have an all-or-nothing mindset

“Extreme, polarizing thoughts highly stimulate our emotions and can wear us down, leading to overwhelm, anxiety and depression,” explains Garvey. “When we are drained, it eliminates the potential for us to enjoy a lot of the moments we could enjoy.”

When you think in extremes – success or failure, good or bad – you don’t leave much room for gray area.

“You may get 20 pieces of positive feedback and one negative comment, and hyper-focus on the negative comment,” says Garvey. “These thinking patterns often equate our value with our performance or a specific outcome. It can lead to self-esteem issues over time.”

She says frequently using the following words may indicate an extreme mindset:

  • Always

  • Never

  • Terrible

  • Impossible

  • Ruined

Reset an all-or-nothing mindset

The key to regaining a more balanced mindset is focusing on self-love and self-care, says Garvey. This includes:

  • Recognizing growth. “It’s important to focus on growth and effort rather than a specific outcome,” she says. You make more progress with little-by-little growth than by quitting when you don’t perform perfectly.

  • Celebrate effort, not outcome. For example, if you want to lose weight, track the healthy choices you make, rather than just the numbers on the scale. When you are encouraged, you’ll have better results long-term.

  • Practice gratitude. “At the end of the day, write down three things that went well that day and the positive quality you possess that made them possible,” suggests Garvey.

  • Realize you can hold multiple thoughts at once. Sometimes, you just have to change your mind. You can love and accept yourself as you are while also acknowledging you are working on new habits and behaviors.

  • Learn to separate fact from assumptions. Not everything we think is true. When you have an extreme thought about a person, circumstance or behavior, Garvey suggests asking yourself, “Is this true? How can I know it’s true?”

  • Practice accepting the gray area. Your brain is more powerful than you realize. Accepting the gray area in life – that something isn’t all good or all bad – can decrease emotionally draining thoughts.

“It takes practice to learn a new way of thinking,” she says. “Be patient and compassionate with yourself.”

Note: If you have symptoms of anxiety or depression, talk to your doctor or seek professional counseling for support.

Learn more ways to boost your mental and emotional well-being.

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