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October 6, 2021

How to Overcome the “All or Nothing” Approach—& Mindfully get Ahead.

 

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I walked to my front door, coffee in hand, ready to start a new day.

A snail slowly crept across the pavers, and it stopped me in my tracks. His movement, ever so slight, delighted me.

I used to view steadiness and a lack of speed as an indication of laziness or not going anywhere. But in his slowness, millimeter by millimeter—his own pace—he was gradually moving from one place to another.

He was going somewhere—being fast didn’t matter.

I was thinking about this “all or nothing” approach to life. We dive deep into our ambitions, our goals, and we relentlessly drive ourselves to achieve something specific.

But along the way, we start to lose our joy, happiness, and presence. This moment becomes “too slow” for us. We don’t have time to be here in the moment and notice the snail—we have work to do. So, frustration rises, anxiety pulls us, and we clash with present moment. 

Who has the time to stop and notice the incredibly slow snail slithering across the pavers?

Our focus becomes predominantly about where we want to end up and who we want to be at the end of it all. It becomes about what we have, what we’re known for, or a sense of security.

I have known of this drive—the allure to focus intensely on “success” and forfeit what is right in front of me. I’ve been the person who would sweat blood and tears to achieve goals while at the same time becoming moody, withdrawn, and frustrated by anyone or anything which stood in my way. But I justified it in the name of “hard work”—and determination.

I think we start with good intentions. We want to become better people. Perhaps we want to be healthier, make more money, or do something meaningful in this lifetime. I truly believe having an appetite for life and wanting to cherish every day is incredible—and it is important.

But we need to be mindful that we cultivate this appetite and lead with self-control.

When I was a personal trainer, the most significant part was encouraging clients to slow down and focus on each training session—on the journey, on their breath. Far too often, women concentrated primarily on the end goal—they wanted to be a certain weight for their wedding or be a specific size by summer.

When we dove into their health history, they had years and years without exercising, eating wholesome, or being conscious about their health. Yet, they wanted to achieve a complete transformation in a few months. If they didn’t see results fast enough, they would question my ability as a trainer or quit shortly after starting. 

Then there were clients who trusted in the process and the journey. We would focus on breathing and the importance of each and every session without worrying too much about the future. Of course, we kept the goalposts. But we didn’t make that the ultimate reason for exercising, eating wholesomely, and creating healthier habits.

Those who trusted the process looked forward to training and developed a love for exercise. Some of them hated exercising before. But, after time and commitment to the present moment, to the choices within their control, they would report how they felt more energized every day, how their careers improved, and how they felt stronger daily. It was exciting for them when they achieved their goal weight, but it wasn’t everything anymore. 

They found something more than they anticipated along the way. 

They noticed things they otherwise may not have if their entire focus was on the future. They appreciated the smaller victories, the daily wins, and developed new passions as they went along. Women who had never bench-pressed or lifted weights were excited to see their improvements—weight-loss became part of the journey, not the be-all, end-all. 

I used to be like this, too, which is why I took this approach in training clients. Before being a trainer, I went on a weight loss journey of my own. But when I reached my goal weight and became the size I wanted, I was still unhappy with myself. So, I wanted to lose more, train harder, become skinnier. My body image and weight became my entire life. I became so lean that I made myself sick. People would encourage me to slow down, take days off training, and be careful. I disregarded everyone’s guidance completely. 

I thought they were trying to hold me back. I also believed they were lazy and didn’t know a thing about “hard work.” 

Until I was forced to stop due to chronic illness, and I realized how wrong I was. They had a sound and wholesome approach. They were patient and diligent. They were also happier and kinder people. 

They were determined, but not at the cost of everything in their lives.

 

 

There is nothing innately wrong with being determined. But we need to redefine what determination is. 

Determination is not a lack of wisdom. It is not greedy, selfish, and self-absorbed. Determination is not about losing track of what matters to achieve something that satisfies ourselves.

Determination is not “all or nothing.”

When we are mindfully determined, we practice self-control.

This includes the things we are passionate about. Perhaps we have a new business, idea, or fitness goal, and it excites us. Maybe we’re in the new stages, or things are taking off. 

We may feel we have to put more effort and time in because we see evidence of growth, the fruits of our labor, and we want more. Perhaps, we think we will be more accepted, validated, or taken seriously by achieving something. There’s an array of reasons for which we pursue our goals.

But if our ultimate goal becomes the destination more than the journey itself, this is where we can start to neglect or “put off” things that matter. Or keep us balanced and whole.

We may tell ourselves “one day” or tomorrow.

The problem is, if we do this enough, those things we put off can end up being left behind entirely; habits are formed by repetition.

We end up creating the habit of “putting off,” too.

I think this is how we wake up with regrets. In our pursuit of the future, we miss the present. 

Many years ago, I would have seen that snail and thought nothing of him. I don’t think I would have noticed the snail at all, to be honest. Instead, I would have hurriedly walked past him in the pursuit of myself, my day, my goals. 

There was no time for noticing the intricate details of the day: I never saw the importance.

Today, I see the snail and smile.

When we pace ourselves, we enjoy the journey, and our thirst for life and success becomes fulfilled by the daily beauties. The allure of “having everything” at the cost of what truly nourishes our being no longer feels appealing.

The speediness, the fast-paced, the acquisition of stuff feels heavy, messy, and tiring.

The lightness of traveling the journey and soaking it up along the way feels full while chipping away at our goals.

It feels like life.

~

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