The Power of Thinking & Living in the Grey

This week we’re talking about a mindset switch that could literally change your entire journey. No, I’m not exaggerating. Yes, it is that powerful. We’re talking about ditching the all-or-nothing mindset and embracing the grey space that is the middle.


Do you prefer to listen? Are you busy running around and want to follow along there for future episodes? This originally dropped as an episode of the Fuel Your Freedom podcast! Check out this episode here and subscribe on your favorite podcast platform so you don’t miss future episodes!


First, let’s define the all-or-nothing mindset. All-or-nothing thinking refers to using absolute terms: never, always, perfect, failure, 100% or 0%.

With health and lifestyle change all-or-nothing thinking can rear its ugly head ALL. THE. TIME.

Let’s use a nutrition example: You stay on track all day – “perfectly” following your diet. But then, nighttime rolls around and you indulge in a cookie for dessert. Just one, nothing crazy. But in your mind, the entire day becomes a catastrophic failure. You forget about the prepped meals and vegetables and lean proteins that you ate the rest of the day. Instead, your day is categorized by that cookie.

Or, a second example, say you start the day strong, but by lunch you indulge in a treat from the break room or raid the snack cabinet. Mid-afternoon rolls around and since you already “ruined” your day at lunch, might as well just keep it going. Same goes for dinner – gone are the prepped meals and pre-planning. It’s not going to be perfect, so you might as well make it terrible, right?

Totally wrong! This is all or nothing thinking at its finest. We want to avoid this.

Think of all-or-nothing thinking like a racecar. It’s full speed ahead or it’s full stop.

This leads to a stop and go progress. We might make a bunch of progress in a short amount of time. But then, it’s unsustainable. We “fall off the wagon” if you will. Go and stop. Go and stop. We never see progress because we’re not moving anywhere substantial.

You know the story of the tortoise and the hare? Slow and steady wins the race and the same is true for any fitness journey. As tempting as it can be to go full speed ahead and race into the new journey, we have to set aside our desire for that instant gratification and embrace the journey.

The easiest way to start recognizing this type of thinking is to listen to the types of words we use as we’re speaking about our health and fitness journey. Words such as: always, never, everything, can’t, totally, everyone, ruined, no one, anymore, and nothing can start to become beacons that we should take note of.

After we recognize, we can take steps to find grey areas. What does that grey area look like for you? How is it different from the black or the white?

Often, we avoid the middle because it’s not perfect. Especially if you’re a person who thrives on order, rules, structure, discipline, schedules, and routines.

HELLO to my fellow type-A personality humans out there!

This messy middle, if you will, doesn’t sound as extreme or “hard-core” as if we’re following a restrictive diet, 7-day per week training program, or having “sleep when you’re dead” mentality.

We need to normalize living with the imperfection. Living with the messiness. Normalize making mistakes and moving forward anyway. Finding small wins, instead of trying to conquer the mountain in a day.

So what does this grey space look like for you? It’s an individual approach, not one that can be exactly the same for everyone. But there are SOME common situations that we may find ourselves experiencing.

Let’s look at our four main pillars and think about ways that living in the grey can show up and benefit us in those moments.

Finding the Grey with Fitness

White (All):

  • Working out everyday
  • No excuses
  • Long/intense training sessions
  • “No pain, no gain”
  • Two per day workouts

Black (Nothing):

  • “You don’t have to workout”
  • High intensity is always bad
  • Daily movement means you’re obsessed

Grey (Middle):

  • Training 3-4 days per week (depending on your schedule)
  • Moving throughout the day even if it’s only for 5-10 minutes
  • Taking scheduled deload weeks and not feeling guilty for dialing back on your training so your body is able to recover
  • Incorporating some higher intensity paired with lower recovery/regeneration training sessions

Finding the Grey with Nutrition

White (All):

  • You have to be on a diet
  • Rules around food
  • Never eating out
  • Never go over calories
  • Track every morsel of food
  • Following a strict and/or restrictive food plan

Black (Nothing):

  • What you eat doesn’t matter
  • Eliminating foods for health purposes is obsessive
  • Wanting to change your body means you don’t love yourself
  • Eating everything and anything in sight with zero regard to how it makes you feel

Grey (Middle):

  • Recognizing the foods that fuel your body and those that (as I like to say) fuel your soul
  • Incorporating a mix of all foods you enjoy into your diet
  • Enjoying treats without guilt or shame

Finding the Grey with Mindset

Heck, I think this is ALL about mindset, but what about mindset practice?

White (All):

  • You can only meditate for an hour and anything less is useless
  • Believing that you have to invest endless dollars in the latest technology for fancy apps, guides, classes, etc.

Black (Nothing):

  • I can’t meditate
  • I’m not good at meditating
  • Having a fixed mindset (The belief that nothing can change.)

Grey (Middle):

  • I’ve had a busy day and only have time for a few deep breaths during stressful times, so that’s what I’ll commit to doing.
  • Even if it’s for 5-minutes while I enjoy my coffee, I’m going to sit in silence and breathe.
  • Fostering a growth mindset and recognizing that even small, incremental changes are progress.

Finding the Grey with Recovery

White (All):

  • Expensive recovery tools
  • Spending hours per day on soft tissue work/mobility/stability (to the point of diminishing returns)

Black (Nothing):

  • Zero focus on the bare minimum
  • I can’t sleep well, so I may as well not even try to fix it

Grey (Middle):

  • Focusing on what you can control – you may not be able to control your amount of sleep, but you can control the quality, your nighttime routine, exposure to blue light and screens, etc.
  • Doing what you can, with what you have (tools, time, resources, etc.)

YOUR EM-POWERED ACTION

Do any of these examples sound familiar? Are there other areas that you’ve recognized in your own life as all-or-nothing thinking even while just listening to this episode?

For your empowered action from this episode, take note of all or nothing words that creep into your everyday life or in your health and fitness journey. Write them down. Keep a post-it or make a note in your phone. As you note them, think about how you can move that thought toward the grey area. What would living in that grey area look like in that specific situation? Make note of that. Try to reframe that thought in the moment next time you have a similar one.

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