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Fuel Your Strength 409 - Overcoming All Or Nothing Thinking

Overcoming All or Nothing Thinking in the Gym

Have you ever said to yourself that if you aren’t able to do something perfectly, it’s not worth doing it at all? This is an example of ‘all or nothing’ thinking. All-or-nothing thinking is incredibly common, especially when it comes to fitness. But this mindset can actually limit your ability to reach your goals and get in the way of the progress that you want to see.

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Key Takeaways

If You Struggle with ‘All-or-Nothing’ Thinking, You Can:

  1. Get more aware of the language you use to talk to yourself about your fitness
  2. Shift the binary by brainstorming a third option that is in the middle
  3. Create goals that focus on progress or process, not just the ultimate outcome you want to achieve

Flexibility is Key

All-or-nothing thinking is an example of what I like to call a fixed mindset. Thinking about your fitness goals and gains in a way that is rigid and categorized limits your ability to stay flexible when it comes to how you think about your fitness. 

A flexible mindset is one of the most important things you can have, especially as a woman over 40. Being flexible in the way you think about your fitness and nutrition goals is absolutely essential if you want to keep achieving your goals both in and out of the gym.

Mindset Matters

It may not seem like it, but the mindset in which you approach your fitness and nutrition plays a crucial role in your ability to make behavior changes. Limiting yourself to an all-or-nothing mindset means that you don’t have any wiggle room to make your training work with your lifestyle. 

The good news is that with a few simple mindset shifts, you can break out of this very common mindset pattern, find alternatives that work for you, and not get so hung up in the need to be perfect.

What is one example of ‘All or Nothing’ thinking that you’ve seen in fitness? Let me know in the comments below.

In This Episode

  • Understanding what is ‘All or Nothing’ mindset (3:02)
  • Why rigid mindsets are such a common problem (4:30)
  • Common examples of an ‘All or Nothing’ mindset when it comes to fitness and nutrition (6:11)
  • What you can do to change your mindset for long-term behavior change (10:48)
  • Learn what ‘All or Something’ thinking is and how it could help you shift your mindset (13:00)


“This is very common. It is nothing to feel bad over; it is nothing to feel guilty for; it is just worth noticing and building awareness of.” (3:12)

“When it comes to improving your fitness, whether it is adding strength, building muscle, improving your cardiovascular function, you’re just working on consistency with getting into the gym; mindset is a crucial component of this.”: (8:38)

“Flexibility in thinking, your mental skills, are incredibly important in this time. And I would venture to say, maybe more important at this time of life than any other time in your life.” (9:51)

“If all of it is to do an hour, nothing is to sit on the couch, what is something that you could do?” (13:28)

“With continual practice and awareness over time, you can really start to shift this way of thinking.” (13:49)

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Related Episodes

FYS 408: Growth Mindset in Fitness

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Overcoming All or Nothing Thinking in the Gym Transcript

Steph Gaudreau
You know, I was gonna do an hour-long workout, but I just couldn’t get to it so I skipped the whole thing. And I didn’t do anything because anything less than perfection just doesn’t count. If you have ever thought this to yourself, you are not alone my friend, I promise. And on today’s podcast episode, we’re going to be taking a look at all-or-nothing thinking, particularly when it comes to your fitness goals. Why do you do it? Why is it getting in the way of the progress that you want to see? And what things might you do instead?

Steph Gaudreau
If you’re an athletic 40, something woman who loves lifting weights, challenging yourself, and doing hardship, the Fuel Your Strength podcast is for you. You’ll learn how to eat, train and recover smarter, so you build strength and muscle, have more energy, and perform better in and out of the gym. I’m strength nutrition strategist and weightlifting coach Steph Gaudreau. The Fuel Your Strength podcast dives into evidence-based strategies for nutrition training and recovery, and why once you’re approaching your 40s and beyond, you need to do things a little differently than you did in your 20s. We’re here to challenge the limiting industry narratives about what women can and should do in training and beyond. If that sounds good, hit subscribe on your favorite podcast app. And let’s go.

Steph Gaudreau
Thank you so much for being with me on the podcast. Today. I am really excited to dive into this second in a short series about mindset when it comes to fitness over 40. And in the last episode, we took a look at fixed mindset versus growth mindset and how to use a growth mindset to really reach for your fitness goals. Today we’re looking at another very common mindset, which is all-or-nothing thinking and how it can come up when it comes to fitness and nutrition and why we do it. And then of course, what are some tips that you can use to start shifting this type of thinking? So that’s what we’re going to look at in today’s episode. But before we dive in, just a quick reminder, hit the subscribe button on your favorite podcast app. And if you’re ready to move forward with your goals of building strength, adding muscle, having more energy, and improving your performance both in and out of the gym.

Steph Gaudreau
You’re an athletic woman over the age of 40. If you want to start working with your physiology, instead of banging up against it, then go ahead and check out strength nutrition a lot. This is my group coaching program, where we combine science-based evidence-backed principles in terms of training, nutrition, and recovery. We give you community support and expert guidance. Go ahead and check it out and apply at StephGaudreau.com/apply. Alright, let’s go ahead and take a look here at the all-or-nothing mindset. Now again, as I said in the last episode, this is very, very common. So it’s nothing to feel bad over. It’s nothing to feel guilty for. It’s just worth noticing, and building awareness of so if you want to start trying some new behaviors, you are working with a coach, even maybe you decide to come work with us in strength nutrition a lot, or with me one on one, we are inevitably going to talk about mindset at some point because it is so closely linked to following through with behavior change. So it’s nothing to be ashamed about. But it’s just something to be aware of. And also, I’m not a mental health professional.

Steph Gaudreau
I am a sports nutritionist and strength coach and I happen to work with women over 40. So that is the lens through which I’m presenting this is what might be doing coaching in order to shift to the present and create different future outcomes. Let’s start with the question What is an all-or-nothing mindset? In psychological research? This is oftentimes called dichotomous thinking or binary thinking. And both of those things imply to so what does that mean? It’s a way of thinking where everything fits into rigid categories. It’s either one way or the other way. It’s either this way or that way. It’s either black or white. It’s either healthy or unhealthy. It’s either good or bad. And there is no nuance, no context and no gray area to be found. There’s no flexibility in thinking. So why did we do this to ourselves?

Steph Gaudreau
Ultimately, this kind of all-or-nothing thinking appeals to your brain, it is very attractive, at least on the surface because it makes things seem very simple, very clear cut, and very easy to put into boxes. We’re always trying to make sense of the world. We’re always seeking safety. We’re driving away from pain and toward pleasure. So if we can make sense of the world around us and all the information coming at us, at least on the surface, it seems like things will be easier. However, Over time, this can lead to more rigidity in our ways of thinking instead of a more flexible way of thinking. And if you think about fad diets, and why they are so popular, and they continue to gain in popularity, even though we know they do not work. Why do we do this? Why do we engage in fad dieting? Or why do we engage in crash exercise programs or things that promise quick fixes?

Steph Gaudreau
Again, many of these programs really use the concept of all-or-nothing thinking to create strict and rigid categories that make the diet or the exercise plan seem really simple, at least at first, or in the short term. So eat this food, but not that this is unhealthy. This is healthy, this is good to eat, this is bad to eat. This is the right way to exercise, this is the wrong way to exercise. And so you can see how, in the short term, this could help you just move forward, reduce your decision fatigue and take action. However, in terms of building long-term habits and routines and behavior change, oftentimes, this can get us into some hot water, so to say. So here are some common examples of an all-or-nothing mindset when it comes to fitness. This workout was not long enough to count for anything, right as if like there’s some magical time domain where movement actually starts to count. I didn’t hit a PR, I am such a failure, like the whole workout plan.

Steph Gaudreau
The last 12 Weeks were absolute trash. It didn’t work. I hear that one a lot. The work meeting that I had spilled over into training time. And so the whole, the whole session got ruined. So I’m not going to bother. There’s no point in doing this thing. If I can’t do it perfectly. I had to skip a training session this week, maybe two, and I messed it all up. So now I have to go all the way back to the beginning and start over. So again, if you’ve ever said any of those are super common, those are just some that oftentimes come up in fitness. Now when it comes to nutrition, I’m sure that you can think of some as well. So I ate sugar on this no-sugar diet, I have to go all the way back to day one and restart the program. There are some very popular programs out there, which I will not name names. I’m looking at the camera. And they have this rule. If you mess up, you go back to the first day.

Steph Gaudreau
Very interesting. I ate a cookie and ruined everything, right? This meal wasn’t healthy. Oh, well might as well keep the trend going and start over again on Monday. I’m sure we have all been there. I have personally done this, right? Another one carbs are horrible. Carbs are going to make me gain weight. They’re so bad, they’re so unhealthy. Then you can put whatever other food group or whatever, whatever it is you want in that in that slot, right? It’s not just carbs that were often quite vilified. I didn’t hit my protein goal yesterday. So whatever. I’ll just like to refocus on it next month. And then another one is I ate too much at lunch. So I’ll just skip dinner to make up for it. Very all or nothing, right? Very black or white. Very, this is right, this is wrong. This is good. This is bad. This is healthy. This is unhealthy. So now that we’ve taken a look at what is all or nothing thinking, what are some ways it shows up in fitness? The last question we’re going to tackle today is what what do I do about this? What do I do instead? So let’s take it back just a step and remember that when it comes to improving your fitness, whether it’s adding strength, building muscle, improving your cardiovascular function, you’re just working on consistency with getting in the gym at this point, mindset is a crucial component of this.

Steph Gaudreau
And this is based on actual psychological research. It is not just a pop culture idea. But that mindset is so key when it comes to long-term behavior change, and how we get there in the short term as well. So particularly for my community, and that tends to be women in their 40s or beyond. Whether you’re just kind of eking into the beginning of perimenopause, it hasn’t started yet, but you’re kind of getting prepared, or you’re in postmenopause at this point, you’re probably starting to experience to some degree that things may be a little bit less predictable for you in terms of for example, how you feel when you show up for a training session, your energy levels, your how your body feels on a particular day. So maybe your joints are a little bit more sore, just a little bit more fatigued because you’re not sleeping quite as well. And that flexibility, not a well certainly has tissues on your body and flexibility, but flexibility and thinking your mental skills are incredibly important at this time. And I would venture to say maybe more important at this time of life than at any other time in your life.

Steph Gaudreau
Because you’re going to be comparing to what you used to be able to do and be faced with accepting the reality of what your life is like now what your training is like now what Your body is like now, and planning for things as you go forward knowing that things are less predictable. So flexibility is an incredibly important skill to practice. I am not saying that this is easy. Quite the contrary, this can be extremely challenging. But it’s also a really exciting and interesting opportunity to learn new mental skills and to practice those new mental skills. Remember, we talked last week about a growth mindset, and how important that is. And believing that you can change that takes effort, it doesn’t just mean that you were born with a disability, right? You can always improve, you can always learn something and practice and that effort is so important. So here are three tips that I wanted to share with you today, knowing this is not the be-all and end-all, there are certainly more, and again, this is just taking a skim off the surface. So I want to share some tips with you today.

Steph Gaudreau
To take away number one, get more aware of the words that you use that may indicate you are displaying all-or-nothing thinking, maybe you’re constantly saying that this is healthy, and this is unhealthy. Or you say it’s pointless to do 10 minutes of exercise, when you really wanted to do an hour, or you see things is very either or so just get really aware of the words that you’re using. And you can even just stop and name what you just said, you repeat it back to yourself, in a sense, so you become more aware of the words that you tell yourself. Number two is to shift the binary by brainstorming a third option. So if this food is healthy, this food is unhealthy. What’s an example of something in the middle? As you know, I do this all the time with my clients, I challenge them to come up with something that is in the middle in the gray area is requiring nuance has context in that right there makes it really hard to put whatever it is we’re talking about into that binary that either or that all or nothing that good or bad, like. The third tip is to create goals that focus on progress or process, not just the ultimate outcome that you want to achieve.

Steph Gaudreau
So let’s say you have a goal, you want to do a 300-pound deadlift, every time you go into the gym and you do not deadlift 300 pounds, you may wind up feeling like you are a failure. Or let’s say that your numbers are increasing, and then you hit a little bit of a plateau. You might think, Oh, I’m failing at this right now I’m not making any progress. So it can be helpful to Yes, envision what the ultimate outcome goal is that you want. But then to also break that up or to focus on what is the process that you are going to engage in? What are those behaviors that are going to help you achieve your end goal, because it’s oftentimes really difficult to control the exact timeline that it takes to achieve the outcome, we can have maybe a guesstimate. But we may not know exactly for sure. However, what we can more directly impact and control is what happens in the middle. Right. And then the last one I have for you is to use the mindset tip of all or something thinking. And I love this. I first heard of this through Jen’s comas of girls gone strong. So all or something thinking instead of all or nothing thinking so if I can’t do the whole thing, and I think my other choice is to do nothing.

Steph Gaudreau
Well, what is something that I could do, this is kind of related to the idea of inserting a third option into the binary. So if all of it is to do an hour, nothing is to sit on the couch, what is something that I could do? Oh, a 10-minute walk around the block, or maybe I do some bodyweight exercises in my living room or something of that nature. Right. So those are the tips that I have for you. Again, they may sound simple, but they are not always easy. They may take time in practice, but with continual awareness and practice over time, you can really start to shift this way of thinking. Alright, let’s recap this episode. So in this episode, we looked a little bit more at what is all or nothing thinking. Why is it so important that we break out of all-or-nothing thinking, especially when it comes to our long-term goals in fitness? What are some examples of how all or nothing shows up in fitness? And then finally, for tips for practicing other alternatives and more flexible thinking, instead of all-or-nothing thinking?

Steph Gaudreau
I hope you found this really helpful. I would love to know, over on YouTube, leave me a comment. What’s one example of all-or-nothing thinking you’ve heard of in the fitness or nutrition space, so leave me a comment or send me a DM on Instagram. Make sure you subscribe to the podcast as well. And while you’re on YouTube, hit the subscribe button and ring the bell for more notifications. Thanks so much for joining me on this episode. Stay tuned for the third in the series. This is really going to be interesting because this one isn’t one that gets talked about quite as much in terms of fitness, but it can be so powerful and help you stay motivated for long-term goals. All right. I will see you then. And until then stay strong.

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Steph Gaudreau

Hi, I'm Steph Gaudreau (CISSN, NASM-CPT)!

Nutrition and fitness coach for women, Lord of the Rings nerd, and depending on who you ask, crazy cat lady. My mission is to help you fuel for more: bigger muscles, strength, energy, and possibilities. We’ll do it with my signature blend of science, strategy…and a little bit of sass.


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