All or Nothing

“With me, it’s all or nothing. Is it all or nothing with you?”

Will Parker sang that in the play Oklahoma to Ado Annie (a role I unsuccessfully auditioned for at Camp Apollo the summer before sixth grade. Who knows how my life would have turned out if I had played that coveted part, at the low-budget camp that took place at my high school and equally valued ping-pong, kickball and stationery trading?!).

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Will was singing about love. But in life, I realize, for better or for worse, I’m pretty much all or nothing, too. And I’ve been told (by sometimes exasperated family members) that I tend to operate at two speeds – 0 and 100 or more.


I’m fast asleep in bed, the alarm rings. I struggle, for a moment, to get up. The second I start doing things, though, I’m up and ready for action. Full capacity, maximum miles per hour, no caffeine required. The minute I, in fact, open the blinds downstairs to let the sun come in, I feel awake and alive. And, again to my family’s chagrin, I’m ready to chat and joke around over breakfast or on a morning commute, with daughter Jamie grunting, “Not before my coffee, mom!” or, in her typically non-subtle way, “PLEASE STOP TALKING!”


Another example:

I’m working all day, come home to dinner preparation and other chores and know if I so much as sit down on the couch to watch TV or read, I’ll be fast asleep a couple of pages in, or before the show’s first commercial break. I’ve dozed off trying to use the remote to skip commercials on DVR’ed episodes of Jeopardy and other shows. I’ve fallen asleep talking, laughing or trying to listen to my family talking to me.

SleepI also have a habit of conking out on movies – at home or in the theater – particularly action films and especially during the loudest, most violent and supposedly ‘exciting’ parts. Romantic comedies or dramas hold my attention more but it’s still a challenge to stay up once I ‘settle in.’

Here’s the kind of funny (insane?) part – I will rouse myself up from the couch (or someone in the family will wake me), barely able to move, muttering “I’m going up to bed.” It might only be 8:30 or 9 p.m. But then I’ll see some kitchen cleanup to attend to or decide I want to play the piano or ride on my stationary recumbent bike … and I’m off to the races again.

I think it’s why I loved sprinting on my high school track team … I love going full-out, then passing out for a while, then starting again. All … then nothing … then all.

It’s like they say, ‘a body in motion stays in motion and a body at rest stays at rest.’ Or what I call ‘momentum’ (which our Chemistry PhD student son Dan says is a little oversimplified, but you get the idea!).

Another facet of my ‘all or nothing’ tendencies is the fact that I can’t easily do things without giving them my all. I don’t skim books or play sports half-heartedly and I never was the type who could cram right before an exam. I’ve always had to work, and study, pretty hard to do well. And if I sign up to do something, I know I’m going to do it ‘full-on.’

If I start something, I also know I’m going to want to finish it. If I clean up a room at home, or an email inbox or some paper files, I want that sigh-of-relief sense of satisfaction at looking at everything nice and clean and orderly. Having to stop halfway on those smaller tasks kind of drives me crazy! And once I start doing chores and tasks, I move from one to the other, getting energized (obsessed?) to do more. Which is why I sometimes choose not to start them and give myself a little break.

cookies-525060_960_720I’m definitely pretty all or nothing when it comes to snacking. I am not the one who can eat just one (or two or three) Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups when they’re left over from Halloween. I’m not satisfied with one or two cookies or a couple of small scoops of ice cream. I could eat spaghetti all day long, every day, so portion control requires A LOT of discipline for me. I marvel at individuals – like my husband and son – who will literally leave behind half a cookie or still be eating candy weeks after purchase. Who immediately stop eating when they’re full.

I realize I have the motivation to do things (I love exercising and staying active, for example or practicing piano) but often lack the discipline not to do other things (overeating, for example, or slowing myself down when I’m trying to do too much, taking a breather).

Many times, I’ll be torn between an ‘all or nothing’ dilemma. I can equally see myself taking a fantastically quiet, peaceful midday weekend nap and going outside for a nice, long, brisk walk. The ‘all’ almost always wins out. But that’s just me. Or is it you, too?

3 thoughts on “All or Nothing

  1. Lol! Ellen you have a way of writting things that always hits home with me. Yes, I can definetly feel I’m an all or nothing person too. 😄


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