There’s nothing worse than failing at something new and immediately falling into self-defeating thinking.
‘I messed up my gluten-free diet and ate a muffin at lunch, so I might as well eat an entire large pizza and ice cream tonight.’ Or ‘I didn’t reach my goal of four gym sessions this week so maybe I should just forget it.’
Though a completely illogical way of thinking, it’s a common one: we start something new and promptly collapse in defeat when it doesn’t go according to plan.
‘I’m going to be perfect this time,’ we tell ourselves. One week later, we miss a goal and realize we’re not perfect. And then we give up.
Imagine you took that approach each time you forgot to brush your teeth or put on deodorant! I would assume one small hygiene slip-up wouldn’t lead to a week of bad breath or stinky pits. You likely resumed teeth brushing and deodorant application the next day. Guilt-free.
However, when it comes to nutrition and exercise mistakes, we mess up and then marinate in a pool of guilt. Instead of pulling ourselves out of the pool the next day, we sink deeper.
The point? This kind of ‘all-or-nothing’ way of thinking is detrimental to our health.
Before you feel hopeless, take comfort: You’re not alone.
Here are some strategies to help you lose the all-or-nothing attitude and embrace your imperfect self, for the sake of long-term change.
1. Reconsider How You See Failure
Registered Dietician Jennifer Broxterman of London, ON, tells her clients, “Failure is just data points, like a scientist figuring out what works and what doesn’t. Instead of being discouraged, look at failure with curiosity, self-compassion, kindness and radical honesty. And then move forward.”
When you do this, cheating on your diet or skipping boot camp because you were up until 1 a.m. with a sick child doesn’t have to spiral into a major setback. Now you have an opportunity to discover ways to move forward. Empowering, right?
2. Avoid Short-term Diets
Short-term diets or nutrition challenges that promise great results, backfire. Period.
Why? Because you’ll muster so much energy and willpower to be perfect while following the diet, that you’ll be exhausted by the time you reach your goal. And it’s pretty common to forget to develop a plan for afterward so you promptly revert to old ways.
A better approach: Small manageable habit changes!
Pick a new actionable habit, such as removing sugar from your morning coffee, eating protein with each meal or taking a walk at lunch. Focus on this one action for a few weeks. Once it becomes a habit, tackle another. Soon, you won’t even need willpower to avoid sugar, because it’ll be just part of who you are.
Just like brushing your teeth before bed.