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Book Review: All or Nothing

Type-A personality: The person who is always driven to achieve, even at the expense of everything else. If you are not that person, you probably know someone who operates that way. In All or Nothing: Bringing Balance to the Achievement-Oriented Personality, Mike McKinney addresses the type of person whose drive for success often results in burnout and fatigue. His goal is to help people understand the consequences of their behavior and feel empowered to change it.

When asked how you are doing, is your standard answer “busy”? If so, you may be an A/N (all-or-nothing) person. A/N people are always on the go and particularly sensitive to criticism of their actions, allowing others’ opinions of their performance to determine their self-worth. These factors work together to increase the likelihood of anxiety and depression, as well as physical health problems.

When an A/N person is praised for achievement, he or she may feel even more pressure to continue doing well. A fear of failure then becomes the driving factor for all actions. Either they succeed or fail. There is no in-between. As a result, every activity, role, and task of the A/N person is done with a single-minded focus of how likely it is to bring success. It is a very limiting view of the world because A/N people are unlikely to try things that are not guaranteed to bring success. They stay boxed in to only the area where they already know they perform well, and miss out on new experiences. Even in the areas where they do perform well, there is the danger of “analysis paralysis” when they overthink every single detail of an action.

McKinney’s comparison to a dimmer switch is right on. At times, people may need to push themselves a bit harder to achieve a specific goal, but can learn to increase their efforts for a short period of time and “dial out” once the goal is reach. Success does not have to be an “all-or-nothing” pursuit where people consistently put all their effort into only one part of life. A dichotomous view of the world is what can get people into trouble.

A/N personalities often find themselves with incomplete projects. Although they may operating at 100% when they start a venture, as the conclusion to a project approaches, they become subject to judgment, and out of fear, they regularly do not finish what they start. They fear failing so they stop before failure is possible. Since identity is built around goal achievement, the sense of self is threatened at the possibility of failure because who they are is tied directly to what they do.

However, by learning to tolerate uncertainty and be present in the here and now, A/N personalities can learn to appreciate life and view uncertainty as an opportunity to learn. To get there, they need to first willingly step into situations that have a risk of uncertainty. Taking small risks and feeling a little uncomfortable is the first step towards overcoming these feelings.

These A/N tendencies are further complicated since many A/N people are their own worst critics. When people believe negative things about themselves, these thoughts impact actions in a negative way, especially for A/N people, who lose objectivity when their harsh inner critics are shouting at them. Since this feedback comes from themselves, they are more inclined to believe it, no matter how off base it may be. Since worth is based on achievement, A/N personalities are overly focused on the outcome rather than the process. The inner critic does not give any credit for efforts — the end goal is all that matters. McKinney encourages people to stop accepting feedback from their harsh inner critic and instead view it as a “quality control advisor,” thus lessening the negative impact. A/N people also need to stop and ask if there is any real evidence for the statements running through their minds. Simply questioning messages from the brain can help stop this influx of negativity into the mind.

Perfectionism is another obvious trait of the A/N person. In this chapter, I disagree with his assumption that there can be a “healthy perfection driver.” Although I understand the positive parts of challenging oneself, the word “perfection” has so many negative connotations, I’m more comfortable just throwing it away.

Throughout the book, McKinney offers practical exercises to help readers identify their A/N traits. One of the first exercises asks the reader to complete sentences: “If I finished work earlier each night I would be able to…” and “Not expecting myself to be perfect will allow me to…” Readers can examine their own personality traits without judgment to see if they tend to think in all-or-nothing terms. Another exercise encourages the reader to think about what they are motivated to achieve and driven to avoid, which helps identify dichotomous thinking patterns.

McKinney’s overall tone is encouraging and empowering. Many people can relate to at least some of the traits of this personality style and have the opportunity to use practical skills to overcome those tendencies. His underlying message is a reminder that “you are you and not just what you have previously done.” Both clinicians, lay people, and business executives will discover nuggets of wisdom to help them make changes in their behavior where needed.

All or Nothing: Bringing Balance to the Achievement-Oriented Personality

Exisle Publishing, September 2016

Paperback, 215 pages


Book Review: All or Nothing

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Tina Arnoldi

Tina Arnoldi is a licensed professional counselor with a practice in Charleston South Carolina who primarily treats depression and anxiety. As a former technology director, she is especially interested in the impact of the internet on mental health. Read her Psych Central book reviews and learn about her practice at

APA Reference
Arnoldi, T. (2016). Book Review: All or Nothing. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 22, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 23 Nov 2016
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 23 Nov 2016
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