All or Nothing

Have you ever been given a perspective that changed your life?  I have, and it’s time to share it with you.  In the past, I often started a new habit with enthusiasm and determination, only to have it fall apart after a few days.  Usually the new habit is two-fold:  lose weight and exercise more.  About three and a half years ago, I tried going for it one more time, and once again found myself off the exercise track within four days.  

In the past, I would have recommitted the next day, and quickly found myself in a pattern of doing well, then missing a day or two of exercise, trying again, then missing even more days until I was right back where I started.  Luckily, it all changed for me in November 2008 when my perspective shifted and a new strategy developed.  The result was a new habit, the habit of exercising every day for at least 30 minutes.  Today is my 772nd day in a row of exercising every day, and it’s all because of one small, powerful piece of insight gained while reading an article on the free fitness website www.sparkpeople.com.  The insight I gained can be applied to a lot more than exercise.   You can apply it to nearly any new behavior you want to put into your life.  It’s simple, reasonable, and most of all effective. 

Here is how it went for me:  I hadn’t really defined “regularly exercising”, but if I had it would be something more than once or twice a week and lasting at least thirty minutes a session.  In my zest to begin exercising regularly, I fell into an All or Nothing attitude of defining exercise by being at least moderately vigorous and for thirty minutes or longer.  I thought exercise and duration were what mattered, when really it was a new lifestyle I sought.   It’s easy to make that mistake, especially since we automatically look for ways to measure progress.  We measure the amount of money saved instead of the habit of saving, the intensity of the workout instead of the daily practice of exercise, or time spent in another’s presence instead of the attention we give that person.  I had made up rules about exercise that weren’t going to work for me, but I didn’t realize it at the time – even though I had experience failing with these rules before.  “All I need,” I thought, “is more discipline and determination.”

I was unmindfully missing the point in my new endeavor, but at least I started on my new path and all was well and good for four days.  Then I was busy and missed a day.  The following day I was perusing the SparkPeople website to stall a bit before deciding what type of sweat inducing, physically demanding and slightly painful exercise I could do that day to make up for missing the day before.  I had set up my SparkPeople account (My account is under user name Skoogygirl if you are on the site.) the week before, and been using the default tracker to keep a record of how often I exercised thirty minutes or more a day.  I saw a tab labeled SparkStreaks, and clicked on it.

It listed my current exercise streak as being “zero” days, with my longest streak ever as four days.  Four days!  Suddenly I felt challenged.  Four days was ridiculous.  I was annoyed and embarrassed by my statistics, even though it had been less than a week since I set up my account.  I immediately went out for a walk, then came back in and entered the time on my tracker.  My SparkStreak statistic now showed a current streak of one day, but the longest streak was still four days.  This gave me an impetus for change, but not the insight or new perspective I needed for making change.  The tip I needed came a few minutes later when I read an article on the website about the “All or Nothing” concept.  The tips and perspective of this article completely changed my ability to stick with an exercise habit. 

I learned that holding onto an All or Nothing belief is a great way to ruin a new habit.  For me, it meant failing to exercise if you don’t have time for a really good workout (whatever that means) or skipping exercise if  there is not enough time to shower afterwards.  It means not bothering on the nights when you’re very busy and just too tired.  All or Nothing means it is a task that must be surmounted, not away of living.

All or Nothing is a limiting belief often resulting in nothing– no new habit, no exercise, no lifestyle change.

What SparkPeople pointed out is exercise is good for you even in smaller, less strenuous doses.  Exercise can be done in ten minute increments instead of a continuous thirty.  Once you rid yourself of the All or Nothing idea, you are free to exercise any way you like.  You can walk fifteen minutes at lunch and weed your garden fifteen minutes after dinner.  You can play ping-pong with your kids.  You can walk ten minutes at each stop on a very long car drive.  You can take a twenty minute bike ride while waiting for your daughter’s soccer practice to finish.  You can walk from the hotel to the convention center instead of taking the shuttle.  You can develop the habit of looking for ways to be more fit.

After I lifted my self-imposed rule that exercise had to be at least thirty strenuous minutes, I found lots of ways to exercise.  Guess what happened?  I began exercising every day, building the habit of fitness into my every day routine.  That’s what made the difference.  It wasn’t how hard I pushed or how long I worked out at one time, but the habit of exercise.

It works with money too.  Instead of thinking there is no point in saving if you can’t put much aside, think of developing the habit of saving, no matter how little at first.  It isn’t how much more you can put against a debt, but how consistently you look for ways to pay it down.   It’s the habit that will take you where you want to go.  Windfalls and emergencies come and go, but habits lay the foundation for everything you want to build.  Exercise and money habits are easy ways to apply this strategy, and there are many more.  Think about the changes you are trying to make, or have tried and failed to make in the past.  How can discarding the All or Nothing belief work for you?

Who can you be through a daily habit of living the change you seek?

My SparkStreak keeps me motivated to continue exercising every day, but it’s the habit of incorporating fitness into my everyday routine that made me successful at changing my lifestyle.  I cannot tell you I’ve lost weight, but I am more fit.  Since putting exercise into my life every day, I built up a fitness habit averaging well over an hour per day – and I never miss having at least thirty total minutes of exercise in my day.  My new habit changed my life for the better and allowed me to set and reach goals I never had considered before.  

It has taken me on trail runs, mountain hikes, and weekend tennis tournaments.  It allowed me to coach my daughter and her friend on our first half-marathon together, took me up Mount Fuji with my son on his 18th birthday, and into the Grand Canyon and back with my husband on our first ever vacation with just the two of us. 

The last three plus years have been full of adventure I wouldn’t have had without a habit of exercise and fitness.  Dropping the All or Nothing belief took nothing and changed everything.  If you are struggling with a new habit, maybe it’s time to change your rules in order to change your life.  You might check out the free site www.sparkpeople.com while you are at it. 

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