All or nothin’

I guess you could say I’m on a “goal-setting” kick. Over New Year’s, I expressed my disdain for annual resolutions, then subsequently set a non-New Year’s resolution. (By the way, I’m 100% so far in my calorie tracking. Thanks to those who’ve checked in on me).

And it seems I’ve got more to say.

The story

One thing we Mormons are supposed to do is home teach. The basic idea is that each dude is assigned 2-5 families that they’re supposed to minister to–give a lesson, assess needs, be a friend, that sort of thing. Problem is, most don’t like to do it. Many loathe it. Said individuals would rather sit comfortably at home and say a prayer for said families and hope the families never bother them for help.

As a native introvert, I’ve had my own ups and downs as a home teacher.

Back in 2007-2008, I was in a leadership position in my church. In other words, not only did I have the moral responsibility of being a solid home teacher, I also felt I needed to be an example to others. Tough thing, that.

And so I did it, the best that I could. And it was wonderful. I became lasting friends with the families I taught and felt that I’d truly made a difference.

But the people I led…..

Yeah, not so much. There was barely a 20% success rate (i.e., only 20% of the families were visited on any given month).


But, being a psychologist-in-training, I decided to use my academic know-how to motivate this group of men to do it. We planned a massive social event, complete with rib-eye steaks on the grill, a softball game, and music. Like the carrot in front of the horse, we dangled this just out of reach of this salivating group of men.

“Let’s bump our numbers to 60% and we’ll make it happen.”

60% should be easy, right? It would be a massive jump from 20%, but it was easily obtainable.


Nope. The numbers may have jumped a few percentage points, but that was it.


So we tried again, but this time, we set up monthly interviews with each person, hoping the added layer of accountability would make things work.

Did it?


But we did discover something in our interviews. We found that the majority of people said essentially the same thing….

I figured somebody else would make up for my failure.

Problem was, everyone was failing and hoping somebody else would pick up the slack.

Fine. If that’s how it was gonna be, we were going to change things up a bit.

We set a new goal. Not 60%, not 40%, not 70%.

But 100%.

That’s right. If the whole “someone else will pick up the slack for me” excuse was the reason for our failure, we’d eliminate that excuse.

100% or no party.

Immediately, the numbers shot up. We went from 20% to 95% within a month. By the second month, it went to 96%, then to 97%–only two families missed. Our spiking numbers drew the attention of the regional leaders who begged us to tell them our secret.

What was our secret?

All or nothing, dude.

You gotta be committed to that beast.

And so it is with goals, my friends. Want to lose “just a couple pounds?” Aint gonna happen. Want to save just $50 a month? Nope. Want to improve my GPA by just a few points? I don’t think so.

Why? Because it’s easy to fool ourselves into thinking that the smidgen of effort we offer is just enough to make it happen.

“Well, I didn’t eat that chocolate cake yesterday, so I’m sure this sundae will be fine.”

“Well I lowered my cell phone bill, so I’m sure eating out tonight is fine.”

“I did really well on the last test, so I’m sure I won’t have to study for this one.”

See the problem?

See the solution?

Remove the excuses.

All or nothing.

An example.

I’ve been torturing myself about what I was going to blog about this week and so I did what I always do when I’m tortured–I procrastinated.

Then yesterday I was reviewing our budget. The wife and I have this long-term goal of owning a nicely secluded cabin in the woods, overlooking a pond and a view that’s worth dying early for. I’ve been tracking the numbers for years and at the rate we’re going, it’s not gonna happen until the kids are long grown up.

Well that’s kinda lame. Achieving our dreams after the kids are grown? No, they need to be a part of it. I want them to long for summers and weekends and build memories that will carry them through their most grueling trials and bond them to “Walden” and to each other irreversibly. (Yes, yes, I know. This can happen without a cabin, but indulge me for a time).

all or nothing goal-setting

But it just aint happening.


Because I’ve only been halfway.

“Oh, let’s try and cut our grocery budget by $50, and maybe we’ll try to conserve our energy usage and hopefully it all works out in the end.”

Month after month, our expenses increase and Walden becomes more distant.

Well, this month I’d had it.


It’s all or nothing, baby.

So what are we doing?

No eating out.

No dates to the Warren theater.

No “fun money”

Cut the grocery bill in half.

Extreme, extreme, extreme. Bare bones living. Only the essentials to survive.

(And piano lessons. Amber wouldn’t budge on that one ;))

So now, when I’m browsing Amazon, checking out that new 10in 60 tooth TCG sawblade from Freud, I can’t think, “well, I’m sure I’m underbudget this month.”

No dude, you’re not! Why? Cuz your budget be zero!

“Well, I’m sure I can shuffle money around and buy this new book.”

Not a chance, amigo. Cuz yo budget be zero!

“But, but, but…”

No excuses. All or nothing.

Yo budget be zero.

I’m making it happen.

Walden, here I come.

How about you? Any “all or nothing” goals you’ve achieved?

15 thoughts on “All or nothin’

  1. Yup. You nailed it. When I’m soft on myself the squish eats up any progress. Sometimes I believe I am capable of hard things – and they happen. When I just dip toes in the project I end up wandering off to something easier. I love the cabin picture you use.

    Great post. Again.

    • I think it depends on how much you value the goal. There are certain goals that I probably wouldn’t give this sort of “all or nothing” effort to.

      And the cabin invitation is always open to you, my friend!

      • I see. That’s a good point. I suppose my difficulty with the “All or nothing” mentality is that it only leaves those two options. All or nothing. Let’s say we pin all our happiness on getting it All, then we get it. And suddenly, we discover that life is still difficult. Life is still painful. And the “All” that we pinned our happiness on is great, but we start seeking out the next thing that will make us happy. The second option, is “Nothing.” Which is extremely depressing. It implies that if we didn’t make it, now we’ve got nothing. And we feel that all our effort was in vain. We question why we even bothered making all those sacrifices. I prefer “All or Something.” I’m gong to give this my all, but if it doesn’t work out, I will still live a balanced healthy life. If I don’t get it all, I will seek the joy in the journey. Perhaps there is a different “all” in the end than I planned. That kind if thing. If that makes sense.

        • I see what you’re saying. For me the “all or nothing” is referring to our efforts. I know for people like you and me (you music writing, me writing books), it is depressing thinking about “all or nothing” as far as achieving our goals. It would be nice to see my books made into movies, but I’m okay with “something” (just a few people reading my books). But, if I give partial effort, I know I’m going to fail. (And I might as well not try).

          I know you’re giving full effort on your musical writing and I hope that brings millions, but I think you and I both will be grateful for whatever happens 🙂

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