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Breaking Through the Window of All-or-Nothing Thinking

Updated: Aug 21, 2023

Something I've talked about and taught about a lot over the years is perfectionism. It took me a long time to realize it, but perfectionism is closely linked to procrastination - or in my case, sometimes not doing things at all. In fact, I often have struggled with what I call all-or-nothing thinking.

On a recent run, I realized this issue probably started when I was a kid. Growing up, I was a dedicated and enthusiastic figure skater. In the summer and on weekends, I was generally at The Ice Chalet from whatever time it opened until closing. During the school year, my mom or grandmother would usually meet me at the bus stop so I could get every minute possible on the ice. On special occasions, perhaps when I had a class or private lesson, I'd get picked up at school and go straight to the rink.

In my young mind, one of the best things in the world was to be the first of my friends on the ice, gleefully spinning and spiraling as they eventually arrived. The delight of that experience was amplified exponentially when I was the first person to put a blade on fresh ice when the rink opened or was newly resurfaced.

I can still feel the internal pressure of needing to be the first to feel my edges crisply slice across the glassy surface. The urgency was almost physically painful and worse if I wasn't the one to do it. And sometimes, if I failed to get out the door in time to paint the first marks on the frosty canvas, that pain would stop me in my tracks, causing me to not want to skate at all. It was as if the ice would somehow be flawed by my delay - and it seemed better to wait for a new day to try again.

The "first on the ice" euphoria was something my mom talked up and got excited by too. A former skater herself, the common goal of getting me to my frozen church on time created a comradery between us. While I fully believe my mother's intentions were to be encouraging and to help me build a sense of urgency for getting my procrastinating self to the rink on time, she unknowingly planted the seed of perfectionism and the all-or-nothing thinking I have struggled my whole life to overcome.

I've noticed this battle in many areas of life and business, including my running. At the moment I'm running regularly, but I can't tell you how many times I've talked myself out of going because I missed what I call my "window."

The "window" is the time in the morning I consider the ideal moment to hit the road. This magical period falls somewhere between waking up and feeling hungry enough to eat a real meal. I'm fully awake, have had just enough to eat, and my energy is good. I've done all those "morning things" I need to do, and have enough time for stretching, cooling down, and showering afterwards. Also, the weather and temperature are not too hot, not too cool, and definitely not raining.

Most weeks I manage to run two or three times, but sometimes I allow life to get in the way and just don't make it. In other words, if I miss my window, I often I won't run at all. Sounds a little familiar, doesn't it? In those moments, I often encounter a self-defeating inner bully who reminds me of the ideal plan I missed and tries to hold me back. "Oh great, you missed your window. No way to run today. Loser."

In the past, I've listened to the bully and skipped the run or whatever workout I'd planned. Then I'd beat myself up for it for the rest of the day and feel like a failure.

Well, not anymore.

As I've committed to healing myself and overcoming my issues, I've learned that I can find or make - other openings in the day. For example, I don't have to run first thing in the morning: I can go at the end of the day instead. I could also go before lunch or run on a break during business hours. I mean, I have a fairly flexible schedule, work at home, AND have a treadmill in my basement. Really I can go anytime.

And the truth is, the only window that's been closed was the one in my mind! Now that I'm aware of it, I'm starting to notice other spaces which I can push through and am making my way through them. I'm also breaking through a few things I thought were sealed forever.

I'm excited to break through the glass of this old block, but I have to wonder how many times have I missed opportunities because "the window" of my mind was closed off and I was unable to see or seize them? How often have I doubted myself because I felt I was too inexperienced, too young, or too old to accomplish something? How often have I decided not to move forward with something because I wasn't the first one to do it?

I'm done with beating myself up and holding myself back because of this all-or-nothing thinking. Whether I look for new windows or burst through the ones that I thought were closed, I AM open. And I know don't have to be the first one on the road or the ice to enjoy the experience of gliding, sliding, or running towards whatever I'm aiming for.

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