Get Fit: The Dastardly Link between Perfectionism and Failure

Are you a perfectionist? Do you question the quality of everything you do? Could your last run have been longer? If you had just tried a little harder, could you have completed a few more squats? Maybe you stuck to your diet, but still questioned whether you should have taken a few less bites at dinner?

Perfectionism is that little voice in your head that tells you, “Hey, you could have done a little better”. No matter how well or how quickly you achieve a task, that voice will always find a way to put a negative spin on your accomplishments.

Perfectionism a Bane to Get FitThe sad truth is that, in most cases, perfectionism ultimately leads to disappointment in yourself, and that’s the fastest way to give up on any goal. As any current or formally overweight individual knows, for someone who’s trying to get fit, it’s those negative voices that wreak the most havoc on any chance for success.

I’m not a perfectionist myself. I can honestly say that, and I know why I’m not. I grew up with a perfectionist. My mother suffered from this emotional disability, and having experienced it from such close proximity, that’s exactly what I think it is – a disability. She was an amazing writer; the historical romance type. But she never got past chapter 5 of any book because she would go back and read what she’d written, decide it wasn’t good enough and start over. This was a tragically repetitive cycle that lasted for over 45 years.

Her incapacity to appreciate her own abilities effected many other parts of her life, depleting her fortitude and undermining her determination. As I grew older, I began to recognize these traits emerging in myself, and immediately squashed them. But I’m well aware that it’s not so easy for a perfectionist to simply stop being a perfectionist.

I came across an article the other day by fitness journalist ‘Alison’ of Fit Bottom Girls, who described her own battle with the problem in “4 Ways Perfectionism Holds You Back”. Alison’s words were a quaking reminder for me, and something I believe everyone should be aware of.

She called herself a “recovering perfectionist”, and said that for years, she had no idea her “condition” was a problem at all. She believed it was a “blessing and that someday it would drive me to achieve – you guessed it – perfection. Boy, was I wrong,” she said.

Alison made one very relevant point, and that’s the fact that so many people seem to believe that a perfectionist attitude is required to sustain the necessary motivation to get fit and stay fit. “But I’d argue that somewhere along the line we got perfectionism confused with determination,” she said.

The difference was explained as, “Determination is a goal-focused and steadfast pursuit of your purpose. Perfectionism, on the other hand, doesn’t actually care if you reach your goals, it only cares how you reach your goals.”

With that, she detailed four ways that perfectionism will prevent people from reaching their goals in life, whether it’s to get fit, write a book, or earn a 6-figure salary.

1. Burnout

Have you ever done too much of something, and got burned out on it? That’s what perfectionism does for us. We do entirely too much of something, thinking it’s going to make us better, then we become so sick of it we don’t want to do it anymore. Working out too hard makes our muscles sore, and if we don’t allow our bodies to recover properly, the next workout becomes even more painful and exerting. Instead of pacing yourself, you could suffer burnout and quit altogether.

2. All or Nothing

Perfectionists tend to think that if they can’t do something 100%, they shouldn’t do it at all. Their mentality states, ‘if you can’t devote a full hour to the gym, or are feeling a bit tired and won’t make a full 5 mile run, you might as well skip that day.’ Alison says that leads to inconsistency, and will “most definitely halt your progress in the long term.”

3. Self-Motivation

In order to maintain willpower, you must be able to motivate yourself; to compliment yourself for the things you’ve achieved. A perfectionist spends most of their time doing the opposite. Putting yourself down for not choosing the fat-free dressing (which usually tastes disgusting) or finishing a mile under par on the treadmill will not help you get fit. It breeds disappointment and will only help you give up.

4. Punishing Yourself

When a perfectionist feels they haven’t done enough, they often punish themselves for it. If they didn’t work out good enough one day, they might deprive themselves of dinner, or take the opposite approach and eat a half-gallon of ice cream. Getting back on track doesn’t mean depriving your body of necessary fuel, or loading it with more calories than one can possibly burn in a day.

It’s okay to skip a workout, and it’s okay to underperform. You don’t have to be ‘perfect’, you just have to do your best as consistently as possible. If you are feeling under the weather, but still go for a half-distance run, be proud of that. When you feel good about what you’re doing, your long-term results will be much more successful.

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