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ADHD and All Or Nothing Thinking

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adhd all or nothing thinking

ADHD and All Or Nothing Thinking

ADHD and all or nothing thinking frequently go hand in hand. Not only is the latter one of the most common cognitive distortions, it’s one of the markers of ADHD. It’s one thing to say to toss these polarizing thoughts, it’s a completely different thing to put it into practice. Self-awareness helps, but it can only get you so far. For me, I also require some type of practical, tangible benchmark.

Okay, if it isn’t all or nothing, then certainly there’s somewhere in the middle and I can aim for, right? I aim for 80%, an idea I originally got from Hungry Girl. Here are a few examples of 80-20 thinking to fight ADHD all or nothing thinking.

Related: What It’s Like To Be A Grown Woman With ADHD | ADHD and Perfectionism 


I don’t have to be perfect all the time. I can have donuts on Saturday and not meet my step goal one day of the week.

How did all this madness start?

Well, a few weeks ago I quit two weight loss contests, broke up with Weight Watchers and incorporated 80-20 thinking into my diet and exercise. I was just fed up with the obsession and was getting zero pleasure out of most things. I needed to take some time to heal my relationship with diet and exercise, but I needed a safe space to do it where I wouldn’t slip back into being unhealthy as well. 80-20 seemed like the perfect match (and it was!)

Here’s how Hungry Girl does it. Here’s my own modified version that works for me:


    • Food – I don’t just give myself a cheat day once a week. That’s way too easy for me to fall into old habits. Instead, I look at on a much more granular level, down to meals and habits. For example, for breakfast instead of having a daily argument with myself on whether to grab a fast food breakfast because it’s National [Whatever] Day, I know that I typically have a peanut butter tortilla with a banana. No fuss, no muss, and if I need to stray from that because of a work trip or to indulge – that’s okay.

      Another one is drinking. These days, since I’m a toddler mom with a full-time job, I’m pretty much on the 95-5 plan. But if I wanted to, say, have wine, maybe I’d crack open an ice cold can of sparkling rose on Friday as I’m closing out my work week. This has yet to happen; I typically fall asleep in front of the TV instead, which is cheaper and calorie-free.


    • Exercise – I pick a daily step goal and keep my Fitbit charged and working throughout the week. Since I started as a sedentary office worker, I aimed for 5,000 steps a day, with the intent of adding on another 1K as I became more “programmed”. Once it’s effortless, I add on another 1K. As long as I’m reaching 80% of those steps a week cumulatively, then I consider my week a success in terms of movement. In fact, straight from my cardiologist’s mouth: If I can hit 10k a day consistently, I never have to go to the gym. Sounds fair to me.

      Full disclosure: I’m still in 5k-6k land because life’s gotten crazy. But that’s the whole point: I’m programmed to know what a normal habit is supposed to look like, and I’m comfortable in veering off-course because I know that now that life is slowing back down, I can pick up where I left off.


  • Water – Pick your favorite rule of thumb (64 oz a day, your weight divided by two, etc.), log it into your fitness tracker and be happy with hitting 80% of that. An even simpler version? Just watch your pee.


Not every day is going to be super productive. Hell, not every hour of a single working day will be either. Between the ramping up of morning emails to the desk visits from some rando, be okay with just hitting a “hard time” goal and making peace with a chunk of time set aside for admin. It may sound too generous not to aim for 100% worker bee, but you could be saving yourself from flushing the whole day down the toilet if you are an all-or-nothing thinker. The last couple of jobs I’ve had actually account for this time in your day, knowing you’re going to have emails, stupid phone calls, etc.

Depending on your comfort level with your team, this may even be something you can talk about. If not with the boss, maybe a peer. Your mileage may vary with this. I’ve had jobs where I’ve had to install spyware to protect myself from bully supervisors, to others where I could have honest dialogue about working habits and how to track them and hold myself accountable.


Much like cheating on your diet, cheating on your budget is no fun after the fact. But the occasional splurge on fun is a welcome, even encouraged habit (yes – the experts say so!).

In my case, I get a lot of fun out of convenience, so my splurges tend to be for things that make my life easier. For example,  it’s super expensive to get grocery delivery two or three times a week. However, given my busy lifestyle, I would be totally okay with once a week paying somebody to help me out. (And this, to me, is fun!)

But remember how I mentioned earlier about having a super crazy couple of weeks recently? My once a week shopping order started becoming more frequent. I realized I had become to rely TOO much on a good thing. And when I really think deep on it, I know it’s all because of poor planning. If I had taken my time to do one well thought-out grocery order, then I wouldn’t need the extra trips throughout the week. And since I was too damn busy to go myself, I paid the price!

Do you have an costly little habit like grocery delivery? Maybe before completely shutting it down, could you keep it 20% of the time? I could see this really helping with housekeeping. It may seem like an indulgence to hire a housekeeper, but what if it was somebody who came in on a quarterly or monthly basis to help with deep cleaning and your job was to maintenance clean, applying the 80-20 rule? Put another way, if you found a way to program yourself to keep things good enough, the reinforcements could in on occasion to provide some extra support.


Which brings us to home, and I’m going to throw parenting in here because they parallel each other. If you don’t keep a home and/or parent your child like a Pinterest board, is the situation at least good enough for you and the people it impacts?

If so, hoo-ray! Forget Pinterest, the Joneses and that opinionated friend or family member.

If not, what needs to change and is 80% of the time okay as a goal? Back to the clutter example. Could there be a weekly decluttering schedule and if you occasionally skip it because of a family trip or a crazy work schedule, is that enough?

Which is a good way, in my experience, to approach all of the things:What’s good enough and would hitting it 80% of the time be good enough for you?

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