Are you an ALL OR NOTHING person? Here’s How to Change - Goodlife Zen

Are you an ALL OR NOTHING person? Here’s How to Change


Some of us lack a couple of gears; it’s either full power ahead or nothing. Do you suffer from that? I do. My All or Nothing mode was forged a long ago. I come from a family of high achievers and my mother’s way of responding to achievement was — well, see for yourself. Here is an interchange that happened when I was about 11 years old:


I bounced home from school after Sports Day, “Mummy, Mummy – I got second place in the 100 metre sprints today!!”
My mother looked at me in concern, “Second place? Oh, what went wrong?”


You get the picture? No wonder I’m an All or Nothing girl!


I’ve tried hard not to pass it on to my son. But it must have leaked out somehow. I gave a wry smile when I heard Sebastian say recently, after I suggested taking up kite-surfing: “No. I’m not going to take up a new sport. I haven’t got time to devote to a new one. And I’m not interested in being mediocre at things.”
Oh dear. All or Nothing – here we come!


I’ve been trying to modify my All or Nothing pattern recently. With mixed success. I’ll give you an example: I’m focussing on becoming fitter and more flexible in the next 8 weeks. For starters I’m trying an experiment to see what happens to my body if I go to a yoga class each day for 4 weeks. (That’s maybe in the ALL basket??) Today I also resumed some uphill running for cardio-vascular fitness. Instead of jogging right to the top of a hill nearby, I decided to just run to the first bend and then add a bend each day until I get to the top easily. (Maybe that’s a bit more modulated?).


All or Nothing is a mode that creates perfectionists. It has a bad rap. Here is an example from a delightful blog by singer/writer Christine Kane


All or Nothing thinking says, “You either do this perfectly, or you don’t even bother.” It’s one of the biggest blocks to making positive changes in your life. It’s one of the biggest blocks to making your life work at all.


But is it really all bad?


Let’s take a look at the Pro’s and Con’s of the All or Nothing mindset:




  • You tend to achieve more in life
  • You end up highly skilled in variety of areas
  • You are able to focus on one thing and go for it it
  • You have high expectations of yourself
  • You can turn it on in emergencies for extra power and stamina
  • You never suffer from boredom



  • You tend to be a bit highly strung
  • To kick back and relax is difficult
  • You tend to overuse your body
  • You’re still trying to please your parents (even if they’re dead)
  • You find it difficult to just do things for fun without wanting to achieve excellence
  • You are hard on yourself
  • It adds grittiness to one’s character (which isn’t always pleasant)
  • It can paralyse you (“…if I can’t do it perfectly, I’m not even going to try.”)
  • Nothing is ever good enough
  • It can sabotage effort

As you can see there are both pros and cons.


When the mind is in All or Nothing mode, it sees the world in black and white. In order to modify this mindset, we need to train ourselves to focus softly on the inbetween shades. For example, in my yoga practice I have to respond to tiny inflexions of balance, tension, and relaxation. In class today we were standing in Mountain pose and I could feel exactly on which part of the soles my weight was resting. That’s taking note of shades and inflexions.


We could try something together. We could focus for one week on what is betwixt and between: the fading light in the evening, the turning of the tide, the shift between sleeping and waking, or the many other moments when soft change occurs. Maybe we could share our experiences of this in the comments. I would enjoy that.


There is something more I want to add. Take a look at the two beautiful images in this post. They are by my favourite photographer, Manuel Alfonso Arpa. The leaves captured in the photos are perfect. Just as the blue sky is perfect and the raindrops are perfect and Sweetie the cat is perfect.

To be perfect, means to be complete.

When I look at Sweetie – all curled up and purring at my side – that’s complete Sweetieness. And I, sitting on the sofa writing, am complete Maryness. Each thing is complete and that completeness has its own unique beauty.


We need to remember – especially us All or Nothing people – that our stumbles and shambles are also complete.

Each step, each breath, each action is complete.

When we remember that, we can transform this mindset into an energy that encourages us to learn and develop in life – and yet accept our inevitable failures with good cheer and kindness.


Copyright: Mary Jaksch 2008
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Check out my recent guest posts:

7 Steps towards Love and Away from Fear

3 Things You Need to Know About Using Dialogue in Non-Fiction

Zen and the Art of Travel

About the author

Mary Jaksch

Mary is passionate about helping people create a happy, purposeful, and fulfilling life. She is the founder of GoodlifeZEN and also the brains behind, one of the biggest blogs for writers on the Net. Mary is also a Zen Master, a mother, and a 5th Degree Black Belt.

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