Overcoming An All Or Nothing Mindset

Perfection is not a standard, it’s an obstacle.


There is no way to genuinely, powerfully, truly love yourself while crafting a mask of perfection.

Vironika Tugaleva

What Is An All Or Nothing Mindset?

Have you ever been made to feel — either by yourself or by others– that you have to be either this or that?

You’re either an introvert or an extrovert. You’re either smart or dumb. You’re either attractive or ugly. A desirable partner or unworthy of love. You’re either good at something or you’re bad at something. A success, or a failure.

There are only two options, and you can only be one of the two. Both can’t simultaneously exist.

Related: What is holistic wellness? Why you should view your wellbeing holistically

The Dangers of An All Or Nothing Mindset

Sure, its not likely that most of us think this way about all things, all the time. But it can feel quite tempting when we feel down about ourselves, when we’re facing difficult moments, or when we’re feeling discouraged by our progress towards lifestyle changes we want to make.

There are a number of reasons why this is harmful.

  • It creates extreme and impossible expectations or standards for yourself and for others.
  • It keeps you from making progress on any new habit or lifestyle change because any misstep, no matter how small, can cause you to give up entirely.
  • You have a dangerous view of failure –an all or nothing mindset makes you feel like getting it wrong once means you’re a failure at the matter at hand (i.e. I’m a failure as a student, I’m a failure as a manager, I’m a failure as a business owner), when in reality, failure is a crucial part of the growth process.
  • All-or-nothing thinking is a form of perfectionism — if it’s not done perfectly, it’s not worth doing at all. This leaves a lot on the table.
  • Perfection is unattainable – this means that many people who engage in all or nothing thinking will settle on the negative side of the dichotomy. This can lead to anxiety, depression, increased feelings of low self-esteem or self-worth, as well as a lack of motivation. It’s all around tough on your mental health.
  • It misleads you into thinking you have to take these grand gestures with your life–that big steps are necessary to tip the balance from one extreme to the other, when in reality, small consistent actions are key.

3 Ways to Overcome An All Or Nothing Mindset

1. Replace the word ‘or’ with ‘and.’

The first step, to avoiding thinking in extremes is as simple as a one word difference in the way you talk about yourself and others in your life. For any of the examples above, acknowledge that you can be a mix of both extremes at the same time by replacing the word ‘or’ with ‘and’.

2. Don’t use unconditional terms.

Again, language is very powerful here. Try to avoid using words such as always, never, all, every, should, and must. This is one way to acknowledge that things aren’t black and white the way some words make it sound like they are. A slight shift in how you think and talk about yourself and others can help you gravitate away from extreme thinking.

3. Work on moving towards a growth mindset.

Recognize that everything is a growing opportunity. Your characteristics and your life are not fixed unless you choose to believe that they are. An all-or-nothing mindset keeps you from seeing this. But with the knowledge of what a growth vs. a fixed mindset looks like in practice, combined with consistent reflection and effort, you can work past it.

The world is a lot more grey than it is black and white.

Be a little kinder to yourself and to others. Stop judging yourself and others unfairly.

Humans are much more complex than the extremes of all or nothing thinking. It’s okay to be two seemingly contradictory things at the same time. The paradox is what makes us beautifully human.

3 responses to “Overcoming An All Or Nothing Mindset”

  1. I’ve definitely been a perfection for so much of my life. You’re absolutely right that focusing on growth rather than trying to attain some sort of actually unattainable perfection. Thanks so much for writing this 🙂

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