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Speech of the Week: All or Nothing Syndrome

We have discussed in previous blog posts the importance of challenging yourself. Meeting and overcoming challenges is the only way we make progress. It is absolutely essential to be challenged, really in every area of your life, but especially at the gym. Going to the gym won’t do much for you if everything you do is comfortable for you. 


On the flip side, don’t discount the workout that didn’t make you sore. Sounds like mixed messaging?


Let me explain. 


When someone jumps into phase one of the motivation-guilt cycle, they very often make a whole bunch of rules for themselves. They decide that they must exercise until their arms are so tired they can no longer lift even their water bottle at least 5 times per week, set strict diet rules, and jump in and decide they are 110% committed to the cause! That is, until they hit phase 2 and find out they can’t sustain this regimen. They can’t recover, they are hungry all the time, and they begin to feel a bit low about how things are going so far. Then one day, they break the rules. They eat a chip, which they have strictly sworn off!


And that is when it happens; they get All or Nothing Syndrome. 


“If I ate one chip, I ruined it for today. Might as well finish the bag.” “I can’t curl for 35 reps today because my arms are still sore, so I just won’t go at all.” “I missed the gym once already this week, guess this week is shot.” 


Just like we need to break the motivation-guilt cycle with appropriate habits and goals, we have to apply strategies to defeat All or Nothing Syndrome. Both are traps because they rely on a fixed mindset. Fixed mindsets stagnate. We instead need to cultivate a growth mindset.


One strategy to use is the 50% rule. If you can’t talk yourself into a whole workout, talk yourself into doing 50%. Start by just showing up. Then do 50% of the warm up. Chances are good, once you have started, you’ll have an easier time doing more than just 50%. But even if you do just 50%, it’s 50% more than you would have done sitting on your couch. 


If you sit on the couch, you will lose any progress you may have made, and will in fact start to decline. You come in and do 50%, you might not make amazing progress, but you certainly won’t lose ground. Which sounds better to you?


Then you have the people who will quote to you all day, “no pain, no gain!” And there is some truth in that statement. However, the stronger you get, the denser your muscles, the less consistently sore you will be. We prefer to say, “If it doesn’t challenge you, it won’t change you.” You can read more about that in one of our previous posts.


That doesn’t mean you should discount the workouts that don’t make you sore. 


Not every workout is going to make you sore, and some are designed to avoid soreness. Sometimes, we work on corrective exercises or mobility, or even stretch and recovery. Just because it doesn’t make you sore doesn’t mean it is not helping you, nor does it mean it’s not worth doing. 


I have a lot of people who want to jump straight into lifting heavy, look down on mobility and correctives, then honestly cannot squat a barbell. Newsflash: You have to have form and foundation before you can start to lift heavy, no matter how silly you think the exercises are. 


All or Nothing Syndrome is debilitating, and it will wreck you, in all areas of your life. Cultivate a growth mindset.

Focus on a little more, a little better.

Notice and name what is happening in your mind and body.

Do 50%.


Before long, you will find out that you are well beyond where you started. 


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