There Are More than Two Options

by Michael Plank

At the end of my last semester of college I got a letter from the university that said I would not graduate with the rest of my class. Turns out that skipping tons of classes has consequences. I remember my thoughts spinning immediately to how awful it would be to tell my parents; to how I would end up a college dropout; to how I’d have to list it on my transcript and would never get a job; to how I’d be broke and living in the basement of the house where I grew up for the rest of my life. Now, the inevitability of that downward spiral wasn’t actually true, of course.

There’s a great phrase in the world of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: “Cognitive Distortions.” Therapists sometimes call these “Thinking Mistakes.” They’re thought patterns, or ways of looking at the world that we use on a regular basis but are fundamentally built on something that’s just not correct. The one I experienced in college is called “Catastrophizing.” There are lots more though. “Generalizing” involves taking one experience (usually a negative one) and letting it color your entire view of the world. If you were bitten by a beagle when you were 6 years old and now you believe that beagles are dangerous, that’s generalizing.

The one we see all the time though is called “Polarization” or “All-or-Nothing Thinking.”

It’s the idea that you are all in or all out; on the wagon or off the wagon; eating clean or eating like an asshole; crushing it or you need to get your shit together. There is no in-between, no gray area, no middle ground. It’s black and white. Yes or no. One or zero. Binary thinking. And that’s especially present at the holidays. I can’t tell you the number of times we hear people worried that celebrating the holidays will destroy all the progress they’ve made.

But the thing is: that’s just not the way the world actually works. That whole all-or-nothing lens is based on a completely inaccurate concept. There’s tons of gray area. The world is not an all-or-nothing place.

Working out 5 days a week, following a strict keto diet, sleeping 9 hours per night, and meditating for 15 minutes every day isn’t being “On the Wagon.” It’s an extreme. The other extreme is eating a gallon of ice cream a day and sitting on the couch for all your waking hours. But there is so much room between those extremes!

Extremes aren’t sustainable, but that’s ok, because there are more options than just the two extreme ones. Working out once a week is better than never. Doing 10 squats before bed is better than doing nothing. Eating a single piece of broccoli is better than no vegetables at all. And by the same token, one Christmas cookie won’t ruin your progress. A holiday full of snacks, sweets, and family movies on the couch won’t destroy all your gains.

A good life is lived between the extremes, not at them. Keep growing and progressing, but remember that you don’t need perfection to make progress.

The holidays are here. Enjoy them! Live your life. And keep moving forward, even if it’s only by eating a single piece of broccoli more than yesterday.

Happy Holidays from all of us at Underwood Park CrossFit!