Fitness Culture – Fighting Against an All or Nothing Mindset


The all or nothing mindset is running rampant throughout our fitness culture. It’s deceptive with its promises of effective strategies towards what you want, however it often leads you down dark paths.

The all or nothing mindset is simple to recognize. Its most common characteristic, is a lack of flexibility and willingness to adapt to changing circumstances in life. During the holidays, the all or nothing mindset can become much more of a burden and can derail weeks, if not months, of healthy lifestyle habits.

The lure of the all-or-nothing mindset is the promise of a safety net through strict structure and discipline. The world of fitness can be uncertain and scary with so many various diet and exercise ideas floating out there. When we take a black and white mentality towards diet and exercise we can fool ourselves into a false sense of security that we’ll stay lean, healthy and strong as long as we stay on a clear and defined path. While a strict structured regimen does offer some results, the lack of flexibility not only can greatly impede quality of life but can also highly limit your potential in the long run.

The limitation of potential is due to the fact that such a mindset typically paints behaviors in a clear black and white perspective. There is no gray area and everything seems to be the right or wrong way to do things. It’s this right or wrong approach is incredibly limiting towards your potential. This is due to the fact that progress never happens by doing something 100% correctly when it comes to diet and exercise, but rather doing things progressively better over time. For the individual who sees things in black and white, there is no room to progress and make strides forward towards higher levels of achievement. Instead, they either do something right by achieving a very limited set of rules or they see things as being entirely wrong without recognizing any potential benefit. In either case, the individual is turning their back on learning and growing their fitness skills. The all-or-nothing mindset also sets you up to either break even or move backwards. It’s not something that is conducive towards always onwards and upwards. You either stay where you are or slide backwards.


Like everything else in life, fitness is made up of many gray areas. Even though you do need some structure with your diet and exercise plan, flexibility is important towards making changes as your lifestyle requires.

Take for example the idea that a workout is only effective if it lasts 60 minutes. This was a belief I used to have a long time ago. If my workout couldn’t be a full 60 minutes then I simply didn’t workout at all. In this way, I had an all-or-nothing mindset.

The downside is that I missed many workouts simply because I didn’t have time. However, I also missed out on the opportunity to learn how to effectively get a workout completed with less time. At the same time, I was under the false impression that if my workout was 60 minutes then it was effective. Instead of looking to progress my workout and improve my performance, I was only interested in making sure my workout was 60 minutes in length. As you can guess, my potential for progress was greatly limited even though I felt like I was doing everything right.

The same thing can happen with a diet. Our dietary culture is filled with the idea that as long as you keep your diet strict within a few guidelines then you’ll be lean and healthy. Once again, this can set it up for false expectations, inflexibility, and limited beliefs on what a healthy diet should be composed of.

Examples can often include simply limiting for eliminating certain foods or nutrients from the diet. Other rules might include only eating at certain times, sticking to a timed meal routine or keeping the nutrient content of certain meals the same. These rules sound great in a book but they are often difficult to administer over the long-term through an ever-changing lifestyle. Not to mention, there’s a lot more to a healthy diet than simply not eating processed foods or making sure that you don’t eat carbs after 7 p.m. at night. Just like with exercise, there are a number of factors and influences to consider on an ongoing basis and an all or nothing approach often causes us to turn a blind eye to these factors and create a focus which can be far too narrow to be enjoyable or effective.


It can be difficult to break out of the all-or-nothing mindset. After all, the mindset promises all of the riches and spoils of fitness with a relatively simple and easy to understand structured framework. Forsaking such a mindset can mean that we are back in the world of uncertainty and trial and error. However, while the threat of mistakes does increase without the all-or-nothing mindset it’s important to understand that the mindset itself set us up for a break even for fail possibility. Accepting a more flexible mindset opens the door to much more potential success.

Quite possibly the best strategy for defeating the all-or-nothing mindset, is to have a progressive mindset. Instead of thinking that you can stick to the rules or not it can be much more beneficial to look at it and see what you can do with the resources that you have. So if you don’t have 60 minutes to exercise you can ask yourself how you can get the best workout finished with the time that you do have. If you find yourself at a restaurant and nothing on the menu fits with your diet, you can learn to use what is available in the healthiest way possible.

The black and white mindset can create a small little shelter of comfort and control, however this shelter also limits your potential and flexibility much like a small prison cell. To the individual who sees the world in color and grayscale there is always the potential to move forward and make progress rather than just the potential to sit tight without going anywhere.

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About Author

Matt Schifferle

My name is Matt Schifferle and I'm an A.C.E. Certified Personal Trainer, CrossFit Level 1 coach, underground strength coach and I'm a 5th degree black belt in Taekwon-Do. I specialize in outdoor and playground based underground and CrossFit style bootcamps. See my profile page for more information!

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