I know I've talked about this before, but it has become a common thread in my discussions with many people at work. American culture supports the "all or nothing" attitude at about the same level as we support eating at McDonalds and drinking diet soda (read: a lot). We work too much, put too much value on "stuff," and we really beat ourselves up when we don't meet our self-imposed standards.
Here's a typical convo for me with a client:
Me: Tell me about your wellness.
Client: Well, I'd like to work out more. I used to be in really good shape when I was 37. I went to the gym 4 times a week and ran a 10K, and it was really great. I ate healthy and just felt really good about myself. But now I don't have time---I have kids and work full time and coach basketball. So I don't know how to fit the gym into my schedule.
Do you see what I see in that?
The person has an image in his/her head regarding the definition of what it means to be well (exercise 4 times a week, be able to run a 10k, and eat healthy). Because she/he can't do exactly that right now, she/he does nothing. Saying I wish, I wish, I wish or I should, I should, I should.....doesn't do anything. It just sets the image of "what you are not" more into stone.
It's the "If I can't have what I want then I don't want anything" attitude, and that goes right along with the all or nothing mindset and desire for instant gratification. I'm not saying we do this on purpose. I believe it's generally subconscious. This week, I've talked 6 people through the process of understanding that just because an option (going to the gym once a week) does not fit your ultimate definition of what being well requires (going to the gym 4 times a week), doesn't mean it doesn't count. In fact, it counts more than if you jumped right into working out 4 times a week. If your lifestyle doesn't support having the time to be at the gym that much, you won't be able to maintain the habit. But if you can fit in once a week, you are better able to stick with it. Over time, you can add little bits of health here or there and make it a cumulative progression.
Sure, it might take longer to lose 40 pounds if you're focusing on small pieces at a time instead of going all out on a diet. But if all those healthy changes are strategically fit into your life little by little, it doesn't feel so much like work and you have the potential to make a real lifetime-lasting change.