Wednesday, July 21, 2010

All-or-Nothing Thinking

Recently I had the opportunity to address the support group for bariatric surgery patients at the Brigham and Women's Hospital here in Boston. One of the topics we discussed is familiar to many people who have engaged in almost any kind of treatment for obesity: all-or-nothing thinking.

You know what this is. It's the idea that you have to stick to a diet and exercise program perfectly, daily, and indefinitely, starting on a Monday, or else you are a failure and might as well shove any old junk into your mouth and live on the sofa. I have been making the point to patients for years that this is the only area of life in which we think this way!

Let's take a look at a few examples of important parts of our lives and test this idea. First, your job. Give this a reality test:  "Starting Monday, I'm going to arrive on time, finish all the tasks on my to-do list, return all phone calls within 24 hours, be prepared for every meeting, and smile while doing it all! And I'm going to do this every day for the rest of my career!" And then, on Tuesday, you arrive 5 minutes late for work:  "Well, that's it! I'm going to the beach and I'll come back when I'm ready to re-commit!"

Next, consider your marriage. Is this you? "I'm going to be the best spouse on the planet! Starting Monday, I'm going to put my spouse's needs first, tell my spouse how wonderful he/she is, prepare his/her favorite meals, and have sex every night! Forever!" Then on Tuesday, when you argue over whose turn it is to take out the trash:  "Enough! I tried to be the perfect spouse! I knew it wouldn't work! I'm outta here and I'll come back when I'm ready to be the perfect spouse again!"

One more example and I think I will demonstrate my point. Let's talk about your kids. Is this you? Careful how you answer! "Starting Monday, I'm going to be the perfect parent. I'm not going to lose it when my kids misbehave, I'm going to help them with their homework, drive them to school, soothe the baby when she cries, and never ever complain. Every day and every night!" Then on Tuesday when the baby simply can't be soothed and you feel frustrated and defeated:  "That's it! You kids are on your own! I'm going away and I'll come back when I can be the perfect parent again!"

I'm betting you could not identify with these examples. So perhaps it's worth reconsidering the all-or-nothing approach to eating and exercise. Remember:
  • You don't have to wait until Monday to make a self-respecting choice.
  • Every moment is an opportunity to choose health.
  • The steps you take create the path of your life.
  • Everything you do matters. What you do is a demonstration of who you are.
Have a mindful day!

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