The All or Nothing Lifestyle, Examined

Finally, after much procrastination, I follow up on my previous post, The All or Nothing Lifestyle, Defined.  Hit that link if you need some backdrop!


So where last we left off I was to go quietly to the top of a mountain and meditate on what perceived benefits I gain from living my life with no balance.  Did not quite get to the mountain, as end-of-school-year events abounded, but dammit, I made a commitment to follow through on this, so I’m following through!  I just re-read back through that post myself, and methinks I need the aid of a therapist to truly work through some of these issues, but what the hell, here we go.  In no particular order, here are some thoughts on why I continue to live the all-or-nothing lifestyle:

1.  The first thought that jumped into my mind as I considered the gains of the all-or-nothing lifestyle is the exhilaration I feel when I am in my “all” state.  Easiest example of this is diet and exercise, and I’m sure everyone can relate to that feeling, when you just had a banner day:  ate healthfully, avoided temptation, and managed a strenuous workout.  It’s such an intense feeling of pride, and it definitely falls into the “plus” column of my current behavior.


2.  The next thought that came almost as quickly to my mind is, for the most part, this mindset allows me to set low expectations for myself, and by low expectations I mean almost no expectations.  Prime example of this concept relates, once again, back to fitness, and this is the God’s honest truth:  every time I fall off the fitness wagon, the thought that motivates me the most in getting back on is the idea that I only have to do a little each day.  If that is seriously motivating, then its no wonder why I habitually fall off the fitness wagon:  I get to the point where exercise takes real time and real effort, so all I have to do is give up, then I can start over at square one. This thought process may make sense to no one in this universe but me, and it’s actually embarrassing to admit, but it’s true, and it’s been a perpetual cycle for me for as long as I can remember.

As I consider it, this mindset is not exclusive to the fitness arena.  If I have been criticized for the way I perform a task, my default is “then you do it.”  Obviously there is some pride thrown in there, but really, isn’t just the all or nothing thinking at work?  If I can’t do a job the best, then I’ll leave it for someone else to do.  The gain in this case is, well, not having to do whatever task it is!  I have been mocked often (and rightfully so) for my lack of navigational sense (I truly don’t know how I left the house before the GPS was invented).  As a result, I make zero effort to cultivate this skill.  If I am with someone who knows better (and, at this point, a 3-year old toddler would count as one who knows better), I leave all directional decisions up to him or her.


3.  Maybe this point should be first, and God knows I have no concrete evidence of this, but this behavior seems ingrained.  There have been numerous tales of my excitable personality from my youth (I was about 6 years old when I was asked to put my tongue on the table so that it would stop talking, and I did it ) that lead me to conclude I have been an “all in” person forever, so it would follow that the benefit to the current behavior is that it is easy, it is what I’m used to doing, and it’s easier to go with the existing groove in the wood than to make a new groove.


4.  There is certainly an ego component to this behavior.  If I’m in the “all” state, then I’m full of pride (see point #1).  If I’m in the “nothing” state, then it’s ego in reverse:  if I can’t play my way, then I’m picking up my ball and going home.  Just writing this very post is unnatural, as I’m venturing into mental territory that is entirely new to me, so my instincts are screaming to back away from this issue, that since I don’t know what I’m talking about, I should leave the topic alone.  Luckily, the idea of leaving that last post unfinished is more distasteful to me than risking sounding foolish, or this post would never get finished.


5.  I suppose that there is some entertainment value to this behavior, and I do enjoy giving people entertainment.  You will only see me dancing at an event when I am all over the dance floor, I won’t be the one half-heartedly shuffling back and forth.  If I’m not doing it for entertainment, then I won’t do it at all.   Conversely, when I am not good at something, I am loudly and boisterously regaling people of how terrible I am at a given task.  So either way, I am enjoying notoriety.


So there you have it.  I have to say it:  this post was the mental equivalent to racing that 5K a few weeks ago, and I’m sure there is more digging to be done.  For anyone that can relate to this mindset, I’d love to hear from you:  what are some gains that you experience?  What have I missed?  I’m guessing that if I understood the motivation than I would be better equipped to change the behavior.  Let me know what you think!


Today’s Miracle:

For sure, hitting publish on this albatross of a post is a miracle!





Posted on June 26, 2014, in Self-Care and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 11 Comments.

  1. Josie, I can go blow-by-blow with you on this one. It wouldn’s serve me or you if I did so, but I can say that I could have easily written this. Word for word almost. Ego certainly is the catalyst in all this, both on the manic side and on the depressive side (not to say you’re bipolar, of course!) I too have no problems sticking myself by announcing how shitty I am at something, telling the world. But really it’s false advertising. I am in it for the pity. Sometimes I don’t even know I am doing it. Like you, it’s a gut reaction.

    Having said this, when I read this, and knowing that I am exactly the same, it comes down to self-acceptance. I have had to learn (and am still learning, Josie, believe me) that I am not going to save the world. I am not going to be the best at something (or anything). I am also not the worst at everything (even if it is at some things). I am just me where I am at at this moment. Self-acceptance. I’m not there yet, but I am slowly inching towards it. The more I am comfortable with myself, the less all-or-nothing-ness pervades my life and way of thinking.

    Look, I said I would never run, that I got winded going up a flight of stairs, etc. and then I just decided to do it. And it’s been great. I had to break that facade of who I thought I was – a non-runner, a non-joiner, etc. It was just an action. I have done a few things like that too since. And as for running, I am very clear that I am an okay runner. Not fast, but certainly not that slow. And that’s just how it is. And I am okay with that! So you did your 5K, and the other time you walked it. and you seemed thrilled about it…so that is something there.

    Ego, pride and self-reliance fuel our all-or-nothingness. And when I realize that the world (or my world) isn’t going to end because I didn’t do it “all”, well that’s a good start.

    Thanks for this, Josie. I can relate, but we’re works-in-progress 🙂



    • Paul, you truly boil it down to what counts, and Lisa said it in the first post I wrote on this: so you have this type of personality, SO WHAT. Self-acceptance is most certainly a process and not an event for this alcoholic. I have a long way to go, but, then again, I have come a long way.

      I feel repetitive, but I’ll say it anyway: I take your words with me, Paul, all day long. Both your blog posts and your comments. Thank you for taking the time to help me!


  2. Me too Josie and Paul!!!! 🙂


  3. Well, ego for sure! And the high expectations! You know I can relate to all, except I don’t think that this is such a horrible way to be, maybe that’s because I am more of throw myself into all of it all the time, kind of person! Lol!. But, I sure try to be more balanced (you know how well that goes), but then I can see the benefits of the all or nothing approach too and I do acknowledged that I am not terminally unique here either, many people work this way, not just me or, and not just because I am in recovery. I like looking at it more like an asset not a liability. 🙂


    • It’s funny, Maggie, but you say “ego for sure” as if it’s a given, but I mean it, not until I labored through the writing process of this post did that thought ever occur to me. It reminded me of (Big Book or 12 and 12, not sure which), “for this is pride in reverse.”

      Having written this, and read these amazing comments, I am coming around to your more balanced thought process: it’s not the worst thing in life to be, and I can take baby steps to be more balanced, work on the worst of it, etc.

      Thanks for this refreshing viewpoint, it really helps to put thing in perspective!


      • Lol! I have to respond because I meant for me it’s definitely my ego! My ego says that I can do it way better than anyone else, but if I think that I can’t than I don’t do it at all- pride in reverse! So now I have to attempt to do the things that I might not be so good at! And sometimes I find that I am actually good at them too! Lol! Thanks Jose! Hugs.


  4. Oh that hair! She would have been my idol back in the day.

    Yep, sure can relate to this post. When you described the day of eating healthy and working out, well that alone gives me a boost. I love that feeling of being in control and feeling like a “good” person. Unfortunately I’m human, so I’m bound to screw up. How much further I keep slipping depends on what kind of stress is going on in my life, hormones, how much junk is already in the house, etc.

    I do find the one-day-at-a-time philosophy is helpful when I’m actively trying to work on “bad” habits. Instead of waiting for the next day, I start today. Not every time, though. It’s a huge work in progress. Who knew we would keep uncovering stuff to work on after we got sober. I honestly had no idea!


    • She is still my idol, in this day. I am patiently waiting for this hairstyle to come back, as well as shoulder pads. It’ll happen, mark my words.

      Funny you should mention it the “one day at a time” thing, I am currently on the good side of the diet and fitness thing, and that nasty little voice spoke up and said, “Are you really, really, never eating a soft pretzel again?” And for the first time I used that tool, and answered back, “Probably not, but I’m not going to eat one today!” And I felt much better.

      Great minds thing alike! Thanks Kristen!


  5. For me, the all or nothing attitude is all about control. I recognize it better now but when I was in the thick of black/white thinking, I wouldn’t go all out unless I knew I’d be successful. Which means that there wasn’t much “all” and I mostly did “nothing”. Rigidity in my thinking is a control issue too because rules keep me safe. So, control and feeling safe is how all or nothing serves me. It’s fantastic that you’re seeking answers for yourself!


  6. Apparently moving in reverse on my reading today. I love the growth in this post. Naming it for what it is, remembering you are human, and choosing or not choosing something different. Regardless, being okay with who you are—today. The choosing to love me everyday, however that unfolds, is my biggest challenge.


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