action, success advice

How To Always Take Action: Ditch The All Or Nothing Mindset

All or nothing.

Go big or go home.

There is something appealing about these ideas; going all out for something. It’s inspiring because deep down, we all want to give life our best shot. But there is a dark side to this, and it has nothing to do with Star Wars this time.

All or nothing is associated with bravery, courage, and guts. But let’s not forget that one of the possibilities in all or nothing is nothing. Getting it “all” is great, but getting nothing is the worst! This effect is exacerbated when it comes to personal growth.

The Flaw In All Or Nothing Thinking

Have you ever decided to do something productive, only to cancel it later? I ran into this scenario recently. I was going to go to the gym, until I realized I had no clean gym shorts, so I decided that I would go tomorrow. This seemed fine, but it wasn’t, and here’s why…

I thought that because I couldn’t go to the gym, I couldn’t exercise. I wanted to exercise, but the all or nothing mindset made me think I had to choose nothing. At this realization, I dropped and did some push-ups, and then pull-ups. I did something. The next day, I went to the gym too.

The all or nothing mindset causes us to do nothing sometimes, which hurts our progress in life. We do it because it’s easy to underestimate the double benefit impact of doing a little bit instead of nothing. The error in calculation is thinking that because the full amount is great, that anything less than that isn’t. That’s a lie. Consider these two benefits of doing just a little bit…

Benefit #1 –¬†Small quantities are insignificant alone, but when added up over time, they can have a dramatic positive impact on your life. Writing 100 words a day is enough to write a book in one year. Four push-ups a day is more than 1,000 push-ups in a year, and you WILL feel a difference from even this small amount.

Benefit #2 – Once you start something, you might continue it.

Why All Or Nothing Thinking Is A Failing Strategy

Going all-in in poker. Putting all of your money on red in roulette. Trying for a 2-point conversion to win the game instead of tying it with an extra point.

What do these have in common? Pressure. When you assume an all or nothing mindset, you drastically increase the pressure on yourself to perform. Let’s dissect pressure – is it helpful or hurtful?

Consideration #1: What does pressure do to us?

Pressure is a form of stress, which has been shown to increase habitual behavior (Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, Volume 36, 499-511). When we feel pressure, the brain resorts to what it knows best – habits. Habits are proven behaviors, and anything else would seem too risky in a high stress situation. This is why high-pressure situations are so difficult – we’ll want to do something bold, but our brain will want to do the same old. That was an awkward sentence, but it rhymed.

Habits may work fine in some cases, like when an NBA player needs to make a free throw, he should rely on muscle memory. But in cases of personal growth, it’s bad news every time. The idea of personal growth is to change yourself for the better, and if you’re relying on old habits, you obviously aren’t changing. So when the time comes to go to the gym, for example, you’ll think in all or nothing terms, and that pressure will coerce your mind into a habitual way of thinking. And just like that, you’re back in a rut!

Consideration #2: Are big accomplishments really better than small ones?

I realize it’s bold to make a comparison between a big accomplishment and a small one. I mean, one is bigger! But when it comes to personal growth, bigger isn’t king, consistency is. Consistency forms habits, which are the framework of every human life.

If one of these would allow us to have greater consistency, then it would technically be better. When you think about it this way, consistent smaller accomplishments are better than sporadic big ones. This is a moot point if you’re able to perform bigger accomplishments with regularity, but that’s easier said than done.

All or nothing thinking holds you back. I hope you can see how ineffective it is for lasting change. Here is a fantastic alternative.

Change Your Strategy To “A Little Bit Or Nothing”

This is my strategy, but I also remove the nothing part, by forcing myself to do small behaviors every day. I call it Mini Habits. I started with one push-up a day, and later, added writing 50 words and reading two pages in a book every day.

My results? I’m in the best shape of my life. (I can now do 16 pull-ups in a row, which is one way I measure that.) I’ve written approximately 3-6 times as much as I did before, which is how I wrote a book while writing 4,000 word guides for my blog and frequent guest posts. I’ve also read 6 books in the last three months, which is 8-10 times as many as I used to read. It’s not me and I’m not boasting – I had tried and failed to do this for the last decade! It’s the Mini Habits strategy that works so well.¬†It keeps you moving forward.

When I removed the pressure to perform and forced myself to take these small steps, I ended up doing quite a bit more. Before this, I tried to do everything, and ended up doing nothing. When I was blown away by my results, I sought to understand why. “Mini Habits: Smaller Habits, Bigger Results” is where I documented the science, theories, and reasons behind why this works so well. It’s also a guide to help you create your own Mini Habits.

Others are reporting early success using this strategy, and I’m not surprised, because it’s based on overcoming the key limitations we have (willpower, among others). As I wrote in the book, “when you never lose, you tend to win.” For a comprehensive look at what makes this strategy work and how to do it, pick up Mini Habits on Amazon. It will be 50% off until January 2nd.


Erin shows overscheduled, overwhelmed women how to do less so that they can achieve more. Traditional productivity books—written by men—barely touch the tangle of cultural pressures that women feel when facing down a to-do list. How to Get Sh*t Done will teach you how to zero in on the three areas of your life where you want to excel, and then it will show you how to off-load, outsource, or just stop giving a damn about the rest.

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