Break the All-or-Nothing Habit: Find Balance in Work and Life

Clients often tell me they want to have balance in work and life, but then struggle with all-or-nothing habits. It’s a pervasive problem, with more than half of them saying they grapple with it. Can you relate to this familiar tug-of-war?

For instance, have you ever let a single bout of overeating derail your commitment to healthy eating a week, or longer? Do you often feel the need to do everything yourself, believing no one else can meet your standards? (Even at home for mundane tasks like loading the dishwasher?! – I might relate to this slightly.😳)

Or how about spending excessive time perfecting a project or avoiding starting altogether because you fear it will never be just right? Or waiting to start planning meals or exercising until work settles down, but it never really does?

Consider the consequences of all-or-nothing habits on work life balance. A drive for perfectionism can have you working longer hours, leaving little room for relaxation or leisure activities. It can lead to burnout, and people may perceive you as controlling. 

Photo by Brett Jordan

On the other hand, doing nothing yields precisely that—nothing. The fear of not meeting expectations may cause you to avoid work altogether, sacrificing career progress for temporary relief. Worse still, inaction often leads to regression, particularly when it comes to crucial aspects like health and personal development. 

But you can break free from this tendency, as many of my clients have discovered. By embracing a balanced approach and setting small-step goals, they’ve achieved significant improvements in both their professional and personal lives.

Do you detect traces of all-or-nothing in your own daily life? If so, congratulations on recognizing it; that’s the crucial first step. Notice how it shows up in various aspects of your life, from your health, to relationships, to your career. 

Breaking free from the habit of all-or-nothing is key to living a more effective life, but it’s easier said than done. So, where do you start? Zoom in on one area of your life, whether it’s personal or professional. Ask yourself: How can I be a bit more flexible here? How can I achieve my goals while allowing room for both progress and imperfection?

And this is key: take baby steps. Seriously, nothing huge. Start by loosening your grip on control. Practice letting go of those things that don’t really need your constant attention. Trust me, it’s liberating.

This will take time but trust me, it’s worth it. By gradually embracing a more relaxed approach, you’ll find yourself on the path to greater fulfillment and well-being.

Are you bored with what you’re eating?

“A few months ago I was on a roll with healthy eating, and I was feeling so good and losing weight. But I got bored eating the same foods all the time, I couldn’t stick with it. Now I’m trying to get back on track…”

But our brain likes routine and is good at creating habits. It desires efficiency and these habits save us time and energy later. 

So why is this such a problem when it comes to healthy eating?

Consider your everyday routines. Some are so automatic you do them almost without thinking, like brushing your teeth, driving a certain route to work, brewing coffee, or saying grace before a meal. You probably think of these as necessary, not boring.

Other habits require more planning but because you’ve made it part of your routine, you don’t need to exert a lot of effort. This is the case if you exercise regularly. You never ask “should I?” You simply schedule it and do it. Likewise, getting dressed in the morning is automatic, but depending on the degree of pre-planning it may take more or less time. Again, boring isn’t a concern.

Then there are habits we want to stop, but because we’ve been doing them for so long it takes time and effort to undo them.  For some, coming home every night and drinking wine fits that category. You get home from work which triggers the thought “it’s been a busy day and wine relaxes me.” No planning needed. And I’ve never heard someone say “I’m so bored with drinking wine.” 

So why, when implementing a new routine of healthy eating do we use the “boring” excuse? 

healthy eating
Photo by Karolina Grabowska:

Because when you start on the path of planning, preparing and eating healthy food, it takes more time and energy. And maybe you’re not eating many of the foods you used to eat that give you a dopamine high, and you miss that.  

Understand this: your primitive brain will use any means it can to seek pleasure, avoid pain and create ease. A new healthy eating routine is the opposite! It’s  just the thing your toddler brain doesn’t want you to follow through with.

When this thought about the food being boring comes up, pause and sit with it. Remind yourself that your routines are FOR you. They are not punishment. Of course you want your eating plan with healthy foods that you enjoy. When you do that, the adult part of your brain can calm down the toddler and follow through, as planned. I like to think of routines as brilliant, not boring. It’s how I get so much done everyday and achieve my most important goals.

We’re not supposed to call them “bad foods”

If you equate eating bad foods with being “bad,” that’s a problem. Whether or not you eat certain foods has no bearing on you as a moral person. 

But let’s be honest. There are foods that are bad for us!

Why can we call cigarettes bad without thinking someone who smokes is bad, but we can’t do the same with things like ultra-processed foods?

It’s not that one Oreo or one hotdog causes diabetes or heart disease. Just like one cigarette doesn’t lead to lung cancer or emphysema. 

It’s that a steady stream of eating bad foods is wreaking havoc on our health. (Calley Means contends that “11 out of the 12 leading killers of Americans are caused by or worsened by processed food.”) And when we’re told not to demonize foods because it’s the same as demonizing ourselves, we let the bad foods off the hook!

And we say things like, “all foods in moderation.” 

Is anyone promoting cigarettes in moderation?

eating bad foods

Now, whether you use terms like good/bad or healthy/unhealthy to describe foods isn’t important. 

What is important is to decide which foods nourish your body and bring about the health, strength and energy you want. And that you make decisions about food that are deserving of you as a healthy hottie. 

I recommend (just like I do with my clients) that you adopt food standards that you’ll follow, no matter what. And when you go off plan, you do the mindset work to figure out how to get back on plan. Remember that eating bad foods doesn’t mean anything about you. If you struggle with that or you notice a moral tinge to the way you talk about your food decisions, look into coaching with me. It’s the best way I know to achieve the results you want and to feel better faster.

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