If you’re on a path of personal growth, of living consciously, or studying the law of attraction, or practicing gratitude, you may have experienced days or hours or weeks when you’ve gotten off course. Maybe you fell into an old pattern of despair. Or you let yourself have a bad day. Or some major trigger set you off, and even though you knew exactly what you were doing as you went into anxiety, you chose not to stop the old conditioning. Or maybe you felt like you couldn’t stop it because it was so out of control.
The question is not about whether or not you have these moments, days, or weeks. The question is this: What do you do after that happens? Do you say “Whew! What a ride I just took myself on! Let’s start again!” Or do you say, “God I just suck at this stuff. Forget it. Something must be wrong with me.” If the latter sounds more like you, then you may be prone to All-or-Nothing Thinking.
All-or-Nothing thinking is the platform of the perfectionist. It’s the voice that says, “If I take a risk, I had better be hugely successful.” Or “If I spend a year writing this book, it had better get published.” Or “Well, I sure have screwed up my word of the year this week. I guess that isn’t going to work out now, is it?” All-or-Nothing Thinking can wreak havoc on personal growth work and on attempts to shift old thought patterns.
“The Secret,” “What the Bleep?” and all of the releases stemming from their popularity are bringing some excellent concepts to the general public. No longer is it just corporate sales guys getting to hear it from Tony Robbins. Or new-agey types quoting Louise Hay. Now it’s everyone. Which makes lots of potential for great things to happen. AND (not but!) it also has the potential to provide All-Or-Nothing Thinkers with yet another way to beat themselves up, and not benefit from the deeper work that results from these law of attraction practices.
My belief is that All-or Nothing thinking is the ultimate saboteur. It sets us up from the start to fail. And it is a very naive way to move through our lives.
In fact, often I gauge my own success by how I proceed in spite of my all-or-nothing voices. Do I dust myself off and start again? Do I learn to translate the situation differently? Or will I just give up and say, “I just can’t seem to do this right.” Too often, that’s what happens to people who think they have to do it all perfectly.
Let’s say you’ve spent 36 years of your life building up patterns of negativity and giving up on projects you start, and ridiculing yourself for being so lame. And let’s say you’ve recently made a conscious choice to set new intents, and to be aware of the Law of Attraction and to consciously monitor your thinking. You may even think that it’ll be pretty easy because it looks so easy in the movies you’ve watched! If, however, you are an All-or-Nothing thinker, you might get frustrated because it’s not happening fast enough or because you often find yourself thinking horrible stuff. You disregard the notion that 36 years of negativity might take longer than a few months to shift. It will take persistence, commitment, patience and kindness.
I know All-or-Nothing thinking well. It’s one of the many foundations at the core of eating disorders. It’s also one of the reasons why so many women have issues with dieting. When they fail, they call it “going off their diet.” And boom they’re done. When I was bulimic, I needed to be perfect at everything. Which is why I never succeeded at anything.
Recently, a friend and I were talking about how much I love working out. She was amazed because I genuinely feel good about doing it. She asked how I knew I wasn’t being compulsive or driven with it. (She was referring to my old eating disorder.) My honest answer was this: “I know I am totally healthy about it because I ate a big huge piece of chocolate cake two nights ago, and I still went to the gym the next morning.”
Back when I was bulimic, and even when I was recovering from bulimia, I would have shamed myself for days about that cake. I wouldn’t have gone to the gym because “There’s no point! I completely messed everything up!” And I would slump into feeling awful for days. And then I’d begin yet another pattern of trying to be perfect. When I finally did end up back at the gym, I’d brutalize myself and work out so hard with a forceful punitive energy so that I’d end up aching all over the next day. This pattern was impossible for fostering new habits.
I didn’t get heal those patterns overnight though. I went through all kinds of trials and setbacks. And I’d start over again with kindness. I learned over time how to stick with this work no matter what. The same kind of persistence and starting over again applies to Law of Attraction work.
So here’s the deal: If you’ve never gotten the message that shifting old patterns of thinking takes lots of persistence and work, and if you’ve forgotten that you have to keep choosing and choosing every moment to focus on the positive, then let me be the voice that encourages you not to give up, even if you’ve spent the last week or month in a trash heap of negativity. In fact, if you’ve gone into a rut, here’s your chance to re-commit and remember this truth: The minute you dust yourself off, take a deep breath, and say “Begin again, pal,” then you have succeeded. So, choose to succeed right now. And let me be the first to congratulate you.
My next post will have some simple ideas for how to move forward in spite of these bouts with All-or-Nothing thinking…