“Perfection is a mean, frozen form of idealism.” That’s what author Anne Lamott writes in her book Bird by Bird. It’s about her experience becoming a published writer, yet it’s eerily pertinent to fitness. Her tips on writer’s block? They’re what helped me plow through my exercise impasse in December.
I consider myself something of an expert on achieving gridlock in a workout routine. I’m the queen of perfectionism. Or is it procrastination? Or maybe it’s planning to exercise when I should really be exercising.
Whatever it is, I’ve found that adopting Lamott’s anti-perfection mantra is a pretty easy way to catapult fitness results.
Striving for perfection is immobilizing, she says. (This happens to be true whether you’re trying to write, work out, or keep track of your mileage.) It seems like it would be the opposite—that aiming for a perfect 10 would propel us to greatness—but somehow it doesn’t work that way. No. Instead, our quest for the best somehow leads to a perfect ZERO.
Why? I think it’s because we’re not dumb. We know that writing a perfect novel or sculpting a perfect body isn’t actually possible, so it would be silly to even try. Hence: blank screen. Unused gym membership.
Setting your sights on a goal that’s too big, even if you aren’t aiming for flawless execution, can screech your exercise engine to a halt. It’s too much pressure. The brain and body are frazzled by stress, and soon become staggeringly less efficient.
Here’s another reason to scratch perfect fitness off your wish list: it puts all your focus on outside information. Even if all the info out there was true—and it certainly isn’t—trying to apply it all would still fizzle your fitness program.
This is because you’re now listening only to what others are telling you is best for your body. (That’s usually how we define perfection, right?) Or, you’re using someone else’s ideal figure, rather than your own ideal body shape, to determine your goals.
Seeking guidance from fitness experts is important. But the most valuable (not to mention free!) markers of progress come from within. Your body will tell you if you’re performing to your fullest ability, pushing too hard, or are due for a rest. And good information will help you tune into these cues instead of oppressing them.
How about a third reason perfection isn’t a very helpful goal? It discounts the journey toward fitness and overvalues the destination. Lamott tells her writing students, “There is no cosmic importance in being published—only in giving.” Her point is that the satisfaction of reaching external milestones is fleeting. The same is true with fitness: you might bench-press more or fit into a smaller dress size, but then what?
You’re going to need something else, something more enduring and meaningful than superficial markers of success, to keep your fitness fire burning.
Such as, you ask? How about lifelong health, wellness and improved quality of life? These goals escape perfection’s grasp: they’re rough around the edges, hard to define and change a lot (in a good way). Because of that, we have enough room to thrive in our fitness programs.
If you’re going to insist on getting perfect results from your perfect fitness regimen in a perfect amount of time, that’s fine. (Sucker.)
Me, I’ll be setting goals that I can achieve this year, so I can enjoy the thrill of accomplishment and feel inspired to keep at it.
What do you think? Would you consider starting with a messy rough draft of your new year’s resolution, and seeing where it takes you?