I Didn’t Write My Daily Article Today and That’s Totally Fine
I work every morning. Without exception, except exception. Sometimes life gets in the way, and thankfully so: the beauty of life lies in its fluidity and unpredictability.
Yesterday morning, I didn’t work. I was sitting on a shuttle bus that was taking me from the Caribbean side of Costa Rica to Alajuela, the airport city. I had wifi. I could have done it. But I just felt that it wasn’t the right place to do quality work. And I’ve learned to accept that skipping a “commitment” is by no means a failure.
I exceptionally used the afternoon to catch up on my freelance work. But I had so much to deliver for the next day that I ended up with a totally exhausted attention span, and my daily article still wasn’t written.
I certainly could have pushed through and done it. Instead, I went out and bought dinner, watched an episode of a TV show, took a relaxing shower, did some stretching, and read before going to bed in my sea of pillows. With a mind at peace.
And that doesn’t mean I’ve backed off from my goals, that I’m a failure, that I should stop everything, or that I should feel guilty. It’s time to ditch the “all or nothing” mindset.
“If what you’re doing requires that you ‘cheat,’ it’s not sustainable or healthy.”— Leslie Schilling, RD
You know it too well.
The “all or nothing” mindset takes the form of negative thoughts. Faced with this or that situation, we tell ourselves “I’ll never make it” or “I’m always [insert self-deprecating adjective]”.
“When thinking in all-or-nothing terms, you split your views into extremes. Everything — from your view of yourself to your life experiences — is divided into black-or-white terms. This leaves room for little, if any, gray area in between.” — Very Well Mind
When you think this way, you demand perfection from yourself. It’s either “I succeeded” or “I failed”. And this is not a sustainable way of thinking. Thinking that way is actually the surest path to burnout. At some point, you will be so exhausted that you will drop everything. Which is a shame, because who knows where it might have led you if you had allowed a little more flexibility?
“You evaluate your life in extreme terms: it’s either perfect or a disaster. You’re either a total success or a total failure. This is distorted thinking because life is a mixed bag for all of us.” — Psychology Today
It’s a way of thinking that I first discovered in diet culture, before realizing that I was applying it to many areas of my life. This example provided by Marissa Kai Miluk, MS, RDN, LD, highlights how we can throw everything out the window at the slightest thing that “doesn’t fit” according to the rules we set for it. Except that this behavior is far more destructive than simply taking that day off — or that donut, depending on the example — and moving on.
“The ‘all-or-nothing mindset’ is that mindset where when you have one thing that’s even a little off-limits or a little out of your diet, you think ‘well screw it! I’ve already blown it’. And then you eat through your entire pantry the rest of the day. It’s like when you can’t just have one donut for breakfast without eating the entire box. It’s either you’re all on the diet, or you’re all off of it.” — Marissa Kai Miluk
The truth is, you’re craving a safety net.
How relaxing it was to be a kid and have your whole daily life organized for you without having to think about anything! Of course, there were times when it was frustrating, but it was still pretty fun.
That’s what you’re trying to replicate with this mindset. You create rules for yourself, so you can focus on following them without thinking too much, just following what you think is a safe path to accomplishing your goals. You want to be in control.
Except that the “all or nothing” mindset is not a safety net. It’s the surest path to hurt your motivation and burn yourself out.
I used to commit to doing something, like working out every Monday, Wednesday, and Saturday. It made me feel good about myself. I knew what I had to do, I just had to follow the directions. Easy. No thinking. Just do it.
Except that when life got in the way because I was invited to my friend's birthday party on Monday, or when I was overwhelmed by an unexpected torrent of client requests on Wednesday, I couldn’t get the job done, which meant that I had broken my commitment. That I had failed. I felt guilty. I felt like all of my efforts had been undone. Which is a completely false way of thinking. Just because you won’t write your daily post today doesn’t mean that the 30 you wrote previously will magically be erased! Instead of moving on and getting back on track, I was throwing everything out the window. I would binge on pizza. Or I’d drop my project.
The “all or nothing” mindset feels like a safety net, a safe path to your goals, but what it really does is put too much pressure on you. Suddenly, it turns your days into a series of tasks to do and commitments to meet. Nothing flows anymore. You put off all the beautiful, unpredictable things in life — like not going to your friend’s birthday party to keep up with your diet or doing your work that really has no urgency — just to meet your commitment. What a sad life!
“Life is too important to be taken seriously.”
— Oscar Wilde
The Bottom Line
Sometimes you have to give yourself permission to “fail”. Which is anything but a failure.
The healthiest way to live each day is to allow for flexibility. It’s about letting go. Allowing yourself to go with the flow. You know what you have to do, but you are not obsessed with arbitrary rules. Every day is a new opportunity to move forward, but if you don’t, that’s okay. Not moving forward does not mean moving backward.
Doing this or that arbitrary task does not determine your worth. What is healthy is to respect how you feel and the fact that life is made up of more than a timetable.
Sometimes life gets in the way. In a positive way, or a negative way. It’s okay to put off until tomorrow something you would rather do today. If your motives are genuine, you’ll land on your feet soon enough and get back on track. Sometimes you’ll be tired and need a nap. Sometimes you’ll have another job to do that will pay your rent. Sometimes your partner will want to go out to dinner with you and it would be a shame to miss this opportunity to connect, feel joy and create beautiful memories just for a commitment to yourself.
Accept that nothing is 100% or 0%. It is always, always an in-between. Taking care of your mental and physical well-being is the most important thing.
“If what you’re doing requires that you ‘cheat,’ it’s not sustainable or healthy.”
— Leslie Schilling, RD
See? I didn’t write my article yesterday. But today, I’m here doing it. And no, I’m not going to try to “cope” with this loss. I’m not going to write two articles instead of one. I have nothing to make up for.