Are you a moderator or an all-or-nothing person?

If you’ve been reading my blog the past few months, I’m sure you’ve noticed a common theme in my approach to life. Whether it’s food or TV or social media, I’m an all-or-nothing person.

My husband is the exact opposite. For example, when I wake up one Saturday morning and announce that I’m giving up caffeine, he knows he will have to brace for the coming tsunami.

“Can’t you just taper off?” he begs. “Could you just cut back a little at a time?”

I look at him and laugh hysterically. “Are you crazy?!?”

Then I plunge straight ahead into a week of caffeine withdrawal, life-halting headaches and frequent naps. That’s how it has to be.


You see, there’s no such thing as “taper off” in my world. If I’m going to do something, I’m going to do it everyday at the same time, the same way. For example, my husband can drink a can of Coke once in a while or when he’s in the mood. Not me. If I drink one can of Coke at 10 a.m., I will drink a can of Coke at 10 a.m. every single day until I take some drastic measure to stop.

He can pop on Facebook once a month. He can eat a bowl of ice cream tonight and not be tempted to do it again tomorrow. He doesn’t have to worry that if he drinks a Cafe Mocha today, he might become completely addicted and have to have one every single day for the rest of his life. I’m just the opposite. If I’m going to do something, I’m going to do it all the way or not at all. There’s no in between.

This summer, I was so thankful to finally get some clarity on why we approach life so differently when I read the book, Better Than Before. The author, Gretchen Rubin, explained that some people are abstainers and other are moderators. Abstainers have a harder time doing things in moderation. It’s actually easier for them to give something up completely, than to try to do it just a little. Moderators are the opposite. They can set rules and boundaries for their habits and live within them.

Understanding that I’m an abstainer and he’s a moderator has been so helpful for our relationship. Now, when my husband suggests that I just cut back or take a day off or do that thing a little less, I tell him, “I can’t because I’m an abstainer.” When he merrily goes through life without all of the black and white lines that mark my path, I tell myself, “That’s’ OK. He can do that. He’s a moderator.”

He doesn’t have to worry about setting monthly goals for himself or making crazy adjustments to his diet. Meanwhile, I cover the walls in charts to mark my progress as I attempt to make some new drastic change to my lifestyle.

What about you? Are you a moderator or do you take an all-or-nothing approach to life? I would love to hear in the comments!

18 Responses

  1. I’m a moderator. At least I think I am. What makes me suspect that is my approach to watching movies at home. Sometimes I’ll get up in the middle of a movie and do something else and wander back in later. I don’t have to be there for every second of it (unless it’s a movie that has totally captivated me). I’m also okay with closing a book that I’m not liking and never finishing it. I have habits and routines and life goes better for me when I follow them.

    Of course my husband might tell you I’m an abstainer because when I find a new hobby or interest, I throw myself into it wholeheartedly. Couponing, writing, travel hacking. But again, I could one day just drop any of them without having to make a conscious effort at it.

    I like this concept of abstainer/mediator. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Hi Lara, I can picture you as a moderator! I think the best way to determine it though would be to ask yourself how you approach breaking a habit. If you are like my husband and you wanted to stop eating sugar, you might be able to reduce your sugar intake a little bit each week until you got to the level you though was acceptable. If you are an abstainer like me, you would need to quit eating sugar all together. It’s easier to stop doing something completely than to do it less. Thanks for reading!

  2. This is fascinating!!! I’m definitely more of a moderator, and my husband is an absolute abstainer! I can get obsessed with things easily, but when it comes to making change in my life? 100% taper!!!

    1. Sues, I would have guessed the total opposite! You seem like such an all-or-nothing person to me. I thought you would have been an abstainer! I guess that’s why you can still have your bubble tea and your Chai latte though, so it makes sense!

  3. Yes!!! I feel very obsessive about things sometimes, but it’s exactly my chai & bubble tea drinking habits that very clearly define me as a moderator. 😀 That & the fact that I can’t stand making a drastic change in my life. If I’m going to cut something out, it must be gradual, otherwise I will obsess about it until I sabotage myself.

  4. OK, so I keep thinking about this: is there a “faux-moderator” designation? I can’t stand the idea of being forced 100% into a change or unpleasant task – it stresses me out SOOO bad to think of it! …But when it comes time for me to actually take action, I’m realizing I usually DO go full-out on it. I just have to have the guise of tapering or opting out to trick my brain into sticking with going full-out for success. I’m also very different, I think, re: positive and negative things – positive, happy things I’m all in 1000%. Negative, unpleasant things, I freak out if I don’t have an escape clause. #iloveintrospection

    1. Sues, Here’s a link to some more info and a quiz that might help:

      This quiz also might help… She separates people into four tendencies, which is how we tend to be influenced to make decisions. I think this might have something to do with your response:

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