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.

How to keep consistent with healthy habits when life throws you off track

My dad likes to say that life is what happens when we’re making plans. My clients certainly find this to be true. They want to keep consistent with healthy habits but life always seems to block their best intentions. And the idea of work life balance starts to feel unrealistic.

You know what though? So much of that life is more predictable than we pretend. That is, we know we’ll be disrupted at work. And we’ll sometimes need to work late. We know the weather won’t always “cooperate.” It’s really not a surprise when kids create a mess or need to be picked up from some activity at the last minute. 

So, why not plan for these things?  

The problem isn’t the problem. The problem is thinking there shouldn’t be problems. Planning your calendar while expecting  ideal circumstances sets you up to not keep consistent with healthy habits. It’s one of the biggest reasons I see for people getting stuck in the lose-regain-lose-regain weight cycle. 

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To execute consistently on your plan I recommend having a backup plan. Here are three options to consider as you create yours:

  • If A, then B: This is about alternatives. “If it’s dark when I get home and I don’t feel safe going for my jog, I’ll ride my stationary bike.” Or, “ If I work late and cooking dinner feels like a drag, I’ll grab a Chipotle Wholesome Bowl on the way home.” 
  • Minimum standard: Setting a baseline minimum prevents all-or-nothing from taking over, particularly when you have an extended situation that makes it easy to put your healthy habits on the back burner. “No matter what, I exercise for 5 minutes every day. Whatever’s going on, I have a piece of fruit every morning.” 
  • Have a plethora of options: Have a list of 10 different exercises (e.g. lunges, planks, jumping jacks, even stretches) that you can combine together for a 10-minute workout. Develop a list of go-to meals that you can throw together at a moment’s notice (I talk about this in my Back on Track Challenge that’s coming up again next month – let me know if you want to be first to be notified when it’s starting). Then keep certain foods stocked that you know will fit the bill. 

These are ideas to get you going. Now brainstorm several in each category. (Even come up with your own category and share below!)  If you regularly take action on your healthy habits – or try to – this will be a significant boost to your consistency.  

Work life balance is deciding how to handle the circumstances that come at you in ways that allow you to keep consistent with healthy habits. Ultimately, you want to avoid being “surprised” by things you could readily predict. Be flexible and plan for contingencies. That’s how you create the lifestyle that “gets you there and keeps you there.”

How to stay on track even when you don’t feel like it

You’re going along, following your plan. Your clothes fit better, and you’re feeling great. But then, inevitably, one of those days hits. Or maybe it’s a whole week. And suddenly, you find yourself thinking…

“I’ve been good, I deserve a break.”

“Today, I’m just not feeling it.”

“I’ll get back on track… eventually.”

Sound familiar?

It’s the unpredictability of life we all face. But here’s the thing: to achieve and maintain your goals, consistency is key. It’s about staying committed through those tough days and weeks. Because…

stay on track
Photo by Rachel Claire

What gets you there, keeps you there.

That’s why my first four steps are crucial for staying on track. They establish and then build upon a foundation that’s sustainable for the long haul—your entire life.

If that notion feels daunting, take a moment. Reflect on how every action or inaction, no matter how small, shapes your future. It’s a perspective we often overlook, but one worth embracing. Not in a critical, I-just-ate-a-cookie-and-I’m-a-fat-pig kind of way” but rather in with mindful consideration of what truly matters to you.

This isn’t about becoming hyper-vigilant, obsessive, or perfectionistic. It’s about being deliberate. Otherwise, it’s too easy to slip back into autopilot mode, where progress stalls.

We’re wired to conserve energy, to choose the path of least resistance—a survival strategy ingrained in us for millennia. However, in today’s world, we must recognize that the easy path often leads to greater difficulties down the road.

Really!

A client once shared an adage with me: “You can choose what’s easy now, and life will be hard, or you can choose what’s hard now, and life will be easy.”

Consider the consequences of taking the easy route. Like overspending without a budget or having that extra drink when you’ve already reached your limit. What’s easy in the moment often translates to hardship later on, whether it’s a financial shortfall or struggling with weight years down the line.

The fifth step in my 5-step process—consistent execution—depends on maintaining the other steps. It means regularly identifying and reshaping sabotaging thoughts, keeping your “why” at the forefront, and continuously refining your approach based on what works.

Execution entails crafting a lifestyle that aligns with your goals and keeps you there. Surround yourself with foods you enjoy and activities you love. Make it effortless to stay on track. Keep a watchful eye on your thoughts, recognizing when your mind starts feeding you lies about it being too difficult or your inevitable failure.

And don’t wait for it to feel easier. One day, you’ll realize that it already does.

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