How you do anything is how you do everything – and other uninspiring quotes

I was riding my indoor bike one morning. It was a 30 min Tabata Ride that was coached by a Peleton instructor who peppily said “How you do anything is how you do everything”. I don’t think that’s helpful, I thought, and kept riding.

Later that morning, I was scrolling through LinkedIn and someone I know “liked” another person’s post. Lo and behold, it was someone praising the same quote. “How you do anything is how you do everything”. This person attributed the quote to another Peleton instructor who I’m not familiar with. Aside from not finding the quote inspiring, I doubted very much that the quote was originally penned by this instructor. When I looked online there were many guesses at its origin, but it is generally thought to have been inspired by a Zen Buddhist.

Black lettering on a wood-like background “How You Do Anything is How You Do Everything”. Anything and Everything are underlined and WTF? and Not Me have been added in blue lettering.

When I think of that quote, I think “wow, what pressure”. Pressure doesn’t motivate me. I get the idea that one should be present in every thing they do and be intentional in their efforts and do their best. But that doesn’t mean I do everything equally.

When I mentioned the quote to a colleague she said she thinks they are going for the “shame you into working harder” vibe with that message. When does shame work in this way? Shame definitely doesn’t make me work harder. Or do better.

cute cat with eyes wide and the saying “Please Spare me”

I like to have a clean house, but I don’t like to clean. Thinking that someone might discover my dusty floors, might make me slightly uncomfortable, but it doesn’t make me want to clean them more on a day when I have about 10 other things I’d rather occupy my time with. I certainly do not put the same effort into cleaning my house as I put into my relationships, or my work, or my workouts.

I’m not a parent, but I know enough about parenting to know that it’s possible to put the same effort into parenting, as the effort put into work, relationships, grocery shopping, self maintenance and other things.

I am not a CEO, nor do I have a similarly powerful position. Perhaps, people who reach such levels of power, are people who believe in the quote “How you do anything is how you do everything?” Yet, I find it hard to believe that someone in a C-suite position, would be able to put the same effort into each of their endeavours. Maybe there are people who are able to function perfectly on 4 hours of sleep and who have a rare, limitless, amount of energy that allows them to be a successful perfectionist in everything they do, from their morning workout, to making breakfast for the kids, to learning something new, to leading people, to caring for family members, to how they park their car. I mean we are talking about EVERYTHING. Perhaps Dolly Parton is one of these people?

A photo of Dolly with the words in pink “Praise Dolly”

But why is it necessary? How is this helpful? Who are these people that are completely present 24/7 and don’t give in to moments of laziness, half-assedness, mediocrity, when it’s acceptable to do so? I know I can’t be 100% all the time. I divvy up my energy and focus where I’ve determined it’s most valuable to me and others important to me.

And maybe it’s a better goal to put your efforts where they matter most. It’s more efficient. It’s more practical. It’s more AWARE of priorities, limitations, abilities.

The type of thinking espoused by this quote, holds the idea of achieving greatness as the ultimate goal. I think a lot of us can agree that it’s healthier for a lot of us to achieve goodness and balance. Greatness in that balance. Thinking a successful life is only one that achieves greatness in everything is what can lead to a lot of unfulfillment and disappointment.

That doesn’t mean I don’t consider my actions in less important situations. But all moments are not equal. How I do anything is definitely not how I do everything. Nor should it be.

Other motivational quotes I don’t find inspiring while exercising:

The dreaded “you’re here to burn off those calories” – no I’m actually not. I’m here to raise my heart rate, to clear my mind, to gain energy. A whole host of other reasons.

“You can do better than that.” Sometimes yes. But not always. Some days. Some moments. What I’m doing is just enough. It’s perfect.

Sam wrote about Lies fitness instructors love to tell to cheer us on, 4 years ago.

I have my own motivational quotes in my head that help me at times:

When I’m running and I’m in the tough stretch of a long run, I find telling myself “this might be the best part of my day” helpful. Gavin found that funny when I mentioned that once before. It’s not a diss to other parts of my day or other people in my day. It just means that I love running. I love how it makes me feel, even the hard parts. So I want to appreciate that part of my day.

“You’re here.” This one is so simple. I showed up. I’m doing what I can do. I find that inspiring in the moment to keep going. Especially on days where I may not feel my best and I wasn’t sure about arriving.

Show up (black lettering on white background)

The thing that bothers me the most about “How we do anything is how we do everything” is that this type of perfectionist thinking can lead to people not doing anything. It’s one of the biggest hurdles to getting people exercising. The “all or nothing” thinking that prevents people from doing what they can do, and benefitting from what they can do.

What do you think of this quote? Are there “inspirational quotes” you find annoying. Are there ones that work for you?

Nicole P. lives in Toronto with her husband and two dogs. She loves movement in the form of running, HIIT workouts, some yoga an indoor cycling an is not a perfectionist or Type A person, apparently.

5 thoughts on “How you do anything is how you do everything – and other uninspiring quotes

  1. one of the most powerful things my favourite yoga teacher taught me was “listen to your body”. and some days that means pushing into a more “advanced” variation of a pose, and some days, accepting grace in a more moderate version of that same pose.

  2. I agree that the quote, as used by an instructor hoping to make students push harder, is not great, but I choose to hear it differently: for me, it means that I do everything (I hope) thoughtfully and intentionally. And that includes being able to say all those things you say to yourself to give encouragement (I’m here, I showed up, etc.). I like to think that the way I do everything includes time to sit in front of a jigsaw puzzle, or eat ice cream, or read a silly book. And also to work out hard, to work hard at other things, to reach out and help, basically to find my balance in my life. I guess part of how I (try to) do everything includes trying to find a way statements like that can work for me. Or recognizing that they don’t work for me and moving on. In this case, moving on to a teacher/coach who respects the students a bit more?

    I like AJ’s comment, too. One yoga teacher I like a lot uses that, and a variation, “Meet yourself where you are today,” both of which make lots of sense.

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