ALL or NOTHING – Stopping the Cycle of Failure

Share this:

Written by Coach Sue Bush

In this article, we are going to cover why the “ALL or NOTHING” mentality is stopping you from reaching your goals, why you need to pinpoint your thought process, and how it can lead you to success.


When I first started working towards my fitness goals, I think a main reason I wasn’t successful for many years was the battle of things being all or nothing. I either HAD to be in the gym 5-7 days a week, being perfect with food, and killing it in every other aspect or it was time to go out multiple days and week and the gym no longer mattered. I also was constantly resistant because more than anything I was living in scarcity. Afraid that if I committed to this fitness thing, I would never EVER be able to enjoy foods I liked again, never being able to have a drink, and never having a break. It all seemed so daunting and impossible.

It put me in a place where I ended up making fun of people who had it figured out or I would spend time and reaffirm the narrative that it wasn’t possible for ME. Whether I believed others had it easier, or were just wired differently than me – I didn’t think I could go all in. So began the cycle of going all in for a few weeks at a time and then going all off. At this point you’re probably nodding along thinking YES – me too! Now what’s the secret? How’d you stick to it? How’d it become possible for you?

Here’s the answer you’ve been waiting for: I didn’t make an all or nothing choiceI stopped the cycle of starting, stalling, failing, re-starting and turned it into something that was much more maintainable because well – we have this body for our whole lives so why not make something work for the long haul?

All or Nothing Cycle: 1. Super motivated to reach a goal 2. Hit a snag/obstacle 3. Subconscious narrative replays 4. You "failed" 5. Back to square 1, having to repeat the cycle

Of course I found a way of eating that suited me by learning about counting macros, but most of the work wasn’t done in the kitchen or the gym but more within the walls of my head. I had to stop thinking of this as a light switch and start thinking about cars. You heard me – I needed to take the scenario and put it into one that would make me wonder why I ever thought I had to be either on or off – I could just be reasonable.

Slashing Tires

Let’s say you’re driving along in your car and you realize you have a flat tire. Damn, that really sucks. So you pull over and assess the damage and get a plan in place to get your tire fixed. You know what you probably don’t do? You probably don’t get out of the car, see the flat tire, and then slash the other 3 saying, “well I already had one flat and had to get it fixed, why not fix them all!” Not only would that be very expensive, but also it would be an overreaction and quite a silly way to look at the situation. Let’s turn it back

Slashed Tire

 to food. You are doing great and then you eat a cookie, or you have a birthday come up, or maybe a work event. Whatever the situation – you end up eating something that wasn’t planned and our initial thought is, “Well, I already had 1 cookie so why not eat 20 more, I already messed up.” (You’ve probably thought this before, haven’t you?) – Now go back to the car – do you really need to slash your tires because of 1 cookie? Or do you need to assess damage and make a plan?

Strict vs Restricted

We love to be hard on ourselves when we aren’t perfect – but I have found it much more beneficial to be STRICT with my goals, but not RESTRICTED. I am always one bite, one decision, one meal away from being back on track. However, being able to make a plan that’s most suited to your lifestyle and your goals is going to be one of the first steps while also making sure you are gaining knowledge along the way!

I know some of you perfectionists out there might be thinking, “Sue, it’s really not that easy – anything less than perfection is stupid” and you took the words right out of prior Sue’s head. Here’s the thing – Perfection isn’t possible, only daily effort and precision in reaching your goals and once I got that through my head, I recognized that I was holding myself to an unreachable standard that I was constantly falling short of which led to chronic stress which led to my body not performing optimally no matter how “perfect” I tried to be.

ALL or NOTHING keeps you stuck in your life. I was stuck for a long time. I like definitive answers, I like black and white, I don’t like the grey – but life often requires us to assess those grey situations. I use to feel very uncomfortable in the “middle”, but that discomfort was more of a resistance of succeeding.

You know how every scenario in your life has a learning curve? When you have an all or nothing mentality – you’re kind of breaking that curve, but it never allows you to learn – you just go straight back to square 1 and repeat the cycle.


  • Learn to spot the ALL or NOTHING thinking: Before you change your thoughts/repeat your past – you need to learn how to spot them.
  • Outline the situation: When it comes to ALL or NOTHING – I immediately think I’m a failure (yet again), but often if I can realistically describe the situation and take the emotion out of it – things start to clear up.
  • Change your narrative: I recently wrote an Instagram caption about this – but it’s important to capture your initial thought you had when an all or nothing situation comes up – it’s often subconscious but i’m guessing that thought included the words “always”, “never”, or “every-time” – now is that actually true?
  • Pinpoint your emotions: I said in the second step to take the emotion out of your description, but now I want you to circle back to what those emotions are. (I.E. frustration because you failed AGAIN, Overwhelmed by the amount you have to do, or even relief that you don’t have to keep working towards a change that’s going to take time and something came up you can use as an excuse).
  • Find out what would’ve happened next: if this were the last time, would your emotions, narrative, and thoughts caused you to not keep going?
  •  Challenge your initial thought: Instead of letting what would’ve happened, happen – you need to challenge your original thought and replace that with a thought that will lead to you getting out of the cycle.
    • Ask yourself:
      • Is this a true statement?
      • Is it really impossible to do “x”? Or is it just hard?
      • Does success mean you have to dedicate 100% of your time and attention?
      • Do I need to give up or is it easier to give up?
      • Is perfectionism hindering your progress

By asking the right questions, you start to see your actions (and results) are based on a skewed rationale. One that feels right in the moment, but isn’t true.

  • CHOSE A NEW THOUGHT: one that will drive you towards accomplishing your goals.

Recall your car next time you want to say “F IT! I’ve already messed up” and take each training session, meal, social situation, etc. as a learning experience. Learn more about your body, what your thoughts are telling you, how you can be better the next time, what you need to change for things to better suit you and your life – and you will be well on your way to being closer to your goals than if you went ALL or NOTHING when betting on yourself.

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website.