The Dangerous "All or Nothing" Mentality
By Adam Brown
How I avoid one of my biggest diabetes landmines: “I don’t have an hour, so I can’t…”
When life is busy, it’s easy to start shaving off time for Bright Spots – whether that’s cooking dinner, breathing deeply in the morning, getting enough sleep, or staying active.
Time for exercise is one of the easiest behaviors to cut, especially on packed days – the “I don’t have time today” excuse is always applicable.
When I find myself saying this, I rely on the mental trick below – it works almost 100% of the time! It also reveals a bit about my philosophy on habits and behavior change: consistency beats quality much of the time. I’d rather exercise for 5 minutes per day, seven days per week than once on Sunday for 35 minutes. Put differently, the small steps I take every day matter far more than the big steps I take once in a while.
"All or nothing" mentality: "Well, I don't have an hour, so I can't exercise"
I’ve been an active person for as long as I can remember, which can bring a dark side: thinking of “exercise” with an intense, all-or-nothing, I-must-break-a-sweat-and-be-exhausted frame of reference.
The proliferation of gyms, high-intensity exercise classes, late-night TV advertisements, and gear has upped the ante for what qualifies as “exercise.”
Unfortunately, this mindset is a Landmine for those days when time is running thin: “I don’t have an hour of free time, so I can’t possibly exercise today.” It’s a lame and illogical excuse, and I do it all the time.
A better way to think of exercise is:
“Five minutes of activity beats zero minutes.”
This liberating reframe makes the bar more realistic. The comparator for exercise is not what I see world-class athletes doing on YouTube; it’s what I’m most likely to do on my packed days – nothing at all. Can I do slightly more than nothing at all? Yes, even if it’s a 10-minute walk on a lunch break.
I’m most reminded of this challenge when I go to diabetes conferences, where my schedule is usually booked solid from early in the morning to late at night. There is so much to do at a conference that exercise seems completely out of the question, and often, doesn’t even cross my mind. When I remember that “five minutes of activity beats zero minutes,” however, I always come up with something: 50 jumping jacks in the hotel room, hopping on the bike in the gym for a six-minute interval, 25 bodyweight squats, taking the stairs up to my hotel room, or even turning the treadmill in my hotel gym into a walking desk.
Exercise is also typically positioned as a “do it to live longer” kind of activity. But when things are busy today, it’s hard to prioritize the long game, and very easy to make “I don’t have time” excuses.
As I mention in the Mindset part of the book, long-term motivators work for some people some of the time, but I also try to focus on short-term reasons to do something today. For exercise, the WHY is all the terrific immediate wins:
Reduces my blood glucose (most of the time).
Cuts my insulin needs and improves my insulin sensitivity.
Lifts my mood, improves my relationships and positivity, and reduces my stress levels, which in turn helps my BGs.
Increases my productivity.
Helps me sleep better, which also helps next-day BGs.
Helps me generate new ideas.
Reframing the reward from exercise – something that benefits me immediately – boosts the benefit of doing it and helps overcome the blow-it-off tendency when I’m tired, stressed, and feeling overwhelmed. An hour invested in exercise will actually make me more productive at my job. From that perspective, exercise isn’t an “I’ll do it if I have time” kind of activity, but a necessity in my daily schedule that is no different from charging my laptop or brushing my teeth.
“Exercise” does not automatically mean 60 minutes of breaking a sweat to exhaustion. When time is of the essence, “5 minutes of activity beats zero minutes.”
Consistency can be more important than quality, especially if life is busy. I benefit more from 10 minutes of exercise five days per week vs. one 50-minute session.
Reframe the rewards from exercise to short-term benefits. How does moving my body benefit me immediately?
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