The All-or-Nothing Phenomenon

There’s a song in the musical “Oklahoma” that tends to run through my head at times like these:
“With me, it’s all or nothin’,
Is it all or nothin’ with you?
 . . .
If you can’t give me all, give me nothin’,
And nothin’s what you’ll get from me!”

I do not seem capable of halfway.  I’m an all-or-nothing gal.  I can go to the gym every day or not at all, but 3 times a week?  Nope.  My intention to go 3 times a week will quickly become “not at all,” because there’s always tomorrow.  But every day means EVERY day, so a skipped workout doesn’t get made up.  So I’ll go every day.

A friend once proposed that rather than continue to fight that tendency, I embrace it.  The challenge then becomes learning to deal with my accompanying tendency to go nuts over it: the tendency to get obsessive and compulsive about it.  It’s a different sort of learning curve than I’ve been thinking I needed.  I’ve been thinking that I just needed to learn to go to the gym (since that example is both true and convenient) 3 days a week, but maybe not.  Maybe I need to learn to go to the gym all the time, but not be crazy.  Had a late Tae Kwon Do class last night and don’t want to get up the next morning?  No big deal (because Mondays and Wednesdays I double up on the workouts, anyway: gym in the A.M., TKD in the P.M.).  Cramps?  Skip it.  Just don’t feel like it?  Get the hell up and go, for the love of Pete.

See what I mean?  Normally, if I miss a workout, then the whole thing, FOREVER, is a Fail.  Doesn’t matter if I’ve gone 5 days a week faithfully for the last 6 months, and yesterday my dog died.  If I miss the gym today, I FAILED. 

So I’m thinking that the whole “3-days-a-week” thing might be a red herring.  Maybe my friend is right: it’s not that I need to change what I do.  It’s that I need to change how I THINK about it.  Because rationally I realize that the above scenario wouldn’t constitute a failure.  It would be pretty damn fantastic, actually.  But in PRACTICE, in my HEAD, I would be SO dissappointed in myself.  See what I mean? 

Charlotte’s experiment for the month is perfection.  That’s what got me thinking about this.  I sat down last night and made a list of all the things I would be doing perfectly if I were perfect.  I didn’t really stop to think, just wrote down everything that popped into my head.  And when I got done, I realized that the list I had WASN’T EVEN POSSIBLE.  There were things like, “Do an hour of Pilates or yoga every day after work,” AND things like, “Go out with friends after work at least once a week,” AND things like, “Take TKD lessons 3 nights a week,” ANDANDAND “Schedule one night a week to stay home and paint my nails.”  Not enough hours in the day, there (or days in the week, for that matter).

I’d never done that: write everything I thought I “should” be doing down, all in one place.  All of it, from the fitness to the relaxation, from the mindless to the skill-building, from the meditating to the socializing.  And I realized for the first time that that list is IMPOSSIBLE.  It just is.  It doesn’t matter how “perfect” I am – the MATH doesn’t work.  24 x7 gives me a specific number of hours, and there aren’t enough to do everything on that list.

The other thing I noticed was that some of the things on my list are not good for me.  I mean, things that have entered the general canon as considered “Healthy.”  I do not do well eating only chicken and fish, and avoiding red meat, for instance (even my doctor recommends that I eat red meat).  But “eat only chicken and fish” made it onto the Perfect list.  As did, “eat more fruit,” which my body does NOT like.  Vegetables are good, and I eat a lot of those, but most fruit tends to upset my system.  (Occasionally I’ll eat an apple with some peanut butter or something, but that’s rare.)  It was interesting to see how much info I’ve absorbed and accepted, even when it directly contradicts what I know is best for ME.

So.  Perfection.  And the all-or-nothing mentality.  How can I make that work for me?  Maybe I could practice being Perfectly Sane.  😉  (I’m not sure what it says about my mental state that I think that might be a pretty good idea.  Ha!)

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7 responses to “The All-or-Nothing Phenomenon

  1. Perhaps you need a couple more columns on that list. Like one for Perfect Marste, one for happy Marste, and one for Healthy Marste. Cross reference until you get a happy medium, and that is closer to perfection. Besides, who sets the standard of perfection anyway? I’ve never met one of these imaginary people who I keep benchmarking myself against!!!

    Lola x

  2. Great post, Marste! As you know, I’m trying to fight that all-or-nothing mentality myself. For the record though, I think I should have named my Perfection Experiment something else. The point wasn’t to be a perfect person or to be perfect at everything all the time but rather to pick a few small changes that you could be “perfect” at (like getting 8 hours of sleep or flossing) that would have big results. But yeah, I totally understand about driving myself crazy just to fit some arbitrary ideal. If you can be Perfectly Sane, perhaps I can aim for Perfectly Balanced? 😉

  3. I think most of us struggle and suffer with this perfection thing. I know for me, when the scale starts dropping I start thinking I should become stricter, and go to the gym every day. I can tell in the way I feel that this is no good, and at this point, I will force myself to skip the gym, or I will force myself to eat a slice of pizza, or whatever I have to do to break that spiraling destructive (in my case) thought pattern. It keeps me level.

  4. I adore all musicals. especially oklahoma.

    Im not too much help here as I swing too far the other way.
    which works well with exercise I guess but Im too fast to turn things in for work, to hit PUBLISH at mizfit etc and could use a bit MORE of a need for perfection in my life.

    my point? just that I know I strive to be more vigilant as you strive to be less.

    can any of us find that happy medium? it’s a daily thing for me to watch…

    (frick. was that even helpful? who can say)

  5. LOL, Lola, I kind of like the cross-referencing idea! There might be some merit there . . . plus I LOVE spreadsheets. They make me feel all nice and in control. 😉

    Charlotte, I think Perfectly Balanced is a fantastic goal! I think I knew what you meant about tiny changes – but that always brings up the same voices in my head: the “it’s not enough” voices, you know? Something else to work on, I guess.

    Julie, that’s it EXACTLY. It’s like the better I do the less satisfied with myself I am. I wonder if there’s a term for that specific behavior? I have yet to figure out how to short-circuit that.

    Miz, as far as I can tell, you’re doing pretty damn well already! 😉 Actually maybe it’s the NOT striving for perfection that allows you to move forward, you know? If you (I) wait for the “right” time/amount of sleep/day of the week/whatever, you (I) NEVER move forward. Yanno?

  6. Pingback: Not Dead Yet « Take Up Your Bed and Walk

  7. I got to this post from Charlotte’s and I must say that I have a very similar mindset. I am a very “black or white there is no grey” kind of thinker. I am going to run away now and try to make a list to see what all the “should’s” are and then I think I will burn it because I’ve done all the shoulds before and they didn’t make me happier or more fulfilled, but that’s just me.

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