Never suffer to maintain a habit again.

I planned to write my next 35 blog posts in Arabic, but it didn’t feel right. It felt as if I’m starting from zero. 

I changed my mind and continued with another 35 blog posts written in English.

Change doesn’t happen overnight. It is the accumulation of daily habits and promises we keep to ourselves. Sometimes we slack, but that doesn’t mean that we are failures. We can always try again.

All-or-nothing thinking

“All-or-nothing thinking”, sometimes called “black or white”, is one of the cognitive distortions first described by the psychiatrist Aaron Beck. Cognitive distortions are irrational thoughts that “distort” how we perceive reality.

To explain this further, let’s take a real example of my relationship with food. I either stopped eating chocolate at all or ate 3-4 bars per day. There was no mid-point which manifested in difficulties with maintaining a healthy weight.

Black-or-white thinking can also dictate how we see people and classify them as “bad” or “good”, like how they used to portray fictional characters, the flawless hero versus the villain that is all evil. Which doesn’t reflect reality and the nature of human beings.

The black-and-white thinking can also be addressed toward the same person we once saw as perfect. Then he or she becomes awful without the ability to maintain the entire picture and full spectrum of the qualities of the same person.

Finding the balance in life is critical. 

Finding the balance in my relationship with food was developing the habit of eating one chocolate a day mindfully.

Eating mindfully is being fully present, not distracted by a movie, work, or anything else. It is being present with the experiences and sensations we experience now. 

I noticed a change in how characters are portrayed in movies lately, especially when I watched “Joker”. Joker is known to be the villain (all bad). In this movie, they gave us the character’s backstory that made us empathize with and understand him better. We got to know that Joker was not born evil and that he is not all bad. Like most of us, he was a human looking for love and acceptance.

All-or-nothing thinking and its relationship with boundaries. 

Limits are another word for boundaries. Let’s take a house as an example.

The boundaries of a house are the walls, the door, and the windows that protect the inside and allow people to decide what and who can enter their home.

The limit of a door allows people of certain heights to cross it, a vast creature cannot enter the door, which indicates that he is not allowed inside, yet this creature may decide to join, despite the people’s wish, cross the house’s limit and violate it. 

Furthermore, a family, for example, may choose to keep their house open without limits, and one day, she wakes up to find that the house was robbed and damaged. 

Both examples indicate the importance of setting limits to maintain the security and safety of the house. The door’s role is to protect the home from undesired visitors that might harm the house.  

The door is a physical boundary, which is easy to identify. 

In our life, we have additional types of boundaries: Mental, physical, and emotional.

Remember this image when thinking about boundaries.

Our childhood affects our perception of boundaries.

We learn about boundaries since childhood through the rules our parents and mainly our father set. We understand that we cannot hit our siblings if we feel angry. We can channel this energy through running or drawing but not by hurting others. We learn that we can’t watch television as much as we want, we cannot marry our parents or siblings and that we cannot touch other people’s private parts, and so on.

Many of our parents were not raised in families with clear boundaries, so they couldn’t teach us what boundaries were and why they were important. They even might have violated our boundaries without being aware of it and used boundaries to manipulate and control us. 

They might not have allowed us to set boundaries and say “no”. Having boundaries was perceived as being disobedient and misbehaving.

Boundaries from childhood to adulthood

Our first experience with boundaries as children dictates our perception of what a limit is in the future. 

Setting limits with someone punishes them because that is how it was as children. Boundaries were not stable and fixed, one day, we were allowed to use the phone as much as we wanted, and the second day, we were not allowed at all. This instability progressively creates chaos and internal insecurity that we experience in our relationships with others and toward ourselves. 

As mentioned above, the door’s role is to protect and give us safety, the same as rules. The swing between too many laws and no restrictions at all can be one of the reasons we might develop all-or-nothing thinking.

All-or-nothing and what’s in between

As in the case of the house, the door was placed to protect us, yet sometimes there are exceptions. When someone passing by hears someone screaming for help inside a home, he might break the door and enter to help him. But this exception doesn’t make a new rule.

Let’s come back to where we started: maintaining habits.

When we set rules for ourselves to eat one chocolate a day, and a day comes when we don’t feel like we want to eat that chocolate or the opposite, we feel like eating one more. One day of exception doesn’t erase an entire journey of dedication and commitment.

We can let that day go and begin again on the second day.

When we set limits for ourselves, let’s consider the exception that comes with emergencies and other situations. When we fall, let’s learn to stand up and begin again. 

Remember to look at the whole picture instead of focusing on one detail when you have this way of thinking. Stick to your goal, and, as Robin Sharma says, “small daily improvements over time lead to stunning results.”

Ninette Abi Atallah

2 thoughts on “Never suffer to maintain a habit again.”

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.