When GREAT Kills Good
Fitness Perfectionism Revealed
Here is how the conversation went.
Her – “I want to swim for a cardio workout because I can’t walk or jog or bike due to injuries, but I can’t seem to make it happen. It will take too much time.”
Me – “Why do you say that? Your health is the most important investment you can make.”
Her – “Well, the gym with the chlorine pool is a 10-minute drive. However, salt water is better, and that gym is 15 minutes away. To get the recommended workout, I really should be doing it 4x per week. So 30 minutes round trip to drive, plus actual swim time, then I have to wash my hair and get cleaned up. That’s a couple of hours, and I don’t have that kind of time four days per week.”
Me – “What if you only go twice a week, and perhaps swim a little longer each time?”
Her – A wrinkled brow and pursed lips. “That won’t work. Then I won’t be meeting the weekly recommendation.”
Me – “But isn’t it better than the alternative of doing nothing?”
Her – A deep sigh of realization and thought. “True.”
I completely understood where my friend was coming from in this discussion! Since we are both perfectionists, the motto of “all or nothing” is a non-stop program playing in the back of our brains, at least when it goes unchecked.
As a business person, I LOVED Jim Collin’s books, and especially his statement that “Good is the enemy of Great.” That “all or nothing” perfectionist tendency drove me to spend weekends and weeknights making sure presentations and data were accurate for my company du jour, a behavior re-enforced by success. I would ignore my physical and emotional well-being to make sure my work was GREAT, not just good.
Now think about how we apply that same pattern in our personal lives, especially around health. Do any of these sound familiar?
“If I can’t make it to the gym 5x per week, why bother.”
“I got off my nutritional plan for the day (I hate the word diet), so I will just eat everything I have been craving.”
Or my personal choice, “I couldn’t possibly take on a weight loss goal this month. I have social engagements every weekend which means I can’t stay 100% on my plan.”
See the trend? In the case of fitness and health, “good” is better than doing nothing. However, our desire to be “great” at something and execute with perfection will often keep us from even trying to start in the first place.
So here are a few thoughts:
- Ask “Why” – Step One – Awareness. Ask yourself WHY you feel the need to have your fitness or health goal be set up a certain way before you even attempt it. Often we find someone else’s expectations come into the picture, even if it’s someone like Dr. Oz! The other question to ask yourself is WHY you are working on this goal in the first place. Is it for you or another party? Our perfectionist tendencies go into “overload” if we think we are letting someone else down when we don’t achieve our goals. Fitness and health are personal. If it is primarily for someone else, the extra pressure may also keep you from moving forward.
- Have “Perfect” goals that are smaller and achievable – Define success for yourself, not using what some expert says you should do. If a reasonable and achievable goal is staying on your nutrition plan five days per week or making it to the gym 2 or 3 days per week, make that your barometer of success. Then, on those weeks where you do eat healthy every day or make it to the gym more than three times, you have exceeded your expectations! I used this when starting a morning meditation practice. Even though my long-term goal was daily, success in the months when I started was 3x per week, and now it’s built up to “most days,” which is perfect for me. (Side note: For those of us who have procrastination tendencies, I recommend deciding ahead of time which days are “gym days” or “flexible food” days, so you don’t try to hit the gym three days in a row because you ran out of the days in the week.)
- Habits take time to build up – There is new research that says habits take 66 days to build versus the previously thought 21 days. When you are trying to build a new habit for health, I recommend being gentle with yourself. Recognize we don’t change our brain patterns overnight and incorporate some rewards into the process to help sync in the behavior.
When we try to be perfect in our fitness activities, it may deter us from long-term success in our health. So I say, “Go for Good!” and leave “Great” for another time and place.