by Michelle Sutton-Kerchner
Is your personality limiting your health? Perfectionists beware …
So many members hit the ground running. Their motivation is impressive and admirable. They stop at the Center before work, during work, after a traffic nightmare en route home.
Then, there’re those who procrastinate fitness and a healthier lifestyle for tomorrow. Why? Because today just isn’t turning out ideal.
Preoccupation with achieving the perfect workout, which leads to a supermodel build with the physical and mental health to strut along with it, can hinder outcomes. In fact, those obsessed with accomplishing the best workout at maximum intensity and duration often never lace up their sneakers. Worse yet, when these folks do manage a workout, their perfectionist mindset often undermines performance and minimizes self-satisfaction.
Is This You?
Consider these items. Are you an exercise perfectionist? If so, your mind may be the roadblock to your fitness goals. Worry not—you can reconstruct that road.
- I’ll start working out when I develop a healthier diet.
- I didn’t burn many calories today. Tomorrow is the company picnic. I’ll need to exercise after that more.
- I forgot my bathing suit and was going to include a water workout after my Group Fitness class. I’ll go another time when I can manage both.
- I missed my workout yesterday, so I’m going to work twice as hard next time to make up for it.
- I can’t make-up for that missed workout today. I’m too tired to “work twice as hard.” Tomorrow …
- I don’t enjoy my workouts anymore. There must be something wrong with me.
- I haven’t reached any fitness goals lately. There must be something wrong with me.
- I missed several workouts. I failed myself already, no sense attempting a routine again.
As a perfectionist, the pressure is always on the self and the need to meet high expectations (that are often unreasonable). It takes a lot of energy to live that way in our imperfect world. Not to mention, your standards can be annoying to others in your life, especially if you hold them to the same.
What’s a Perfectionist to Do?
Write yourself a permission slip. Conditions in life are rarely perfect for anything. Recognize your cognitive behavior as prohibiting you from achieving goals, whether on the Exercise Floor, in the kitchen, or in your personal and professional life.
Get started and give yourself credit. When it comes to your health, little improvements can have a large impact. Beyond the direct benefits gained, you also redirect your attention from the need to start under perfect conditions. You’ve already started, however small.
There is a theory that encourages imperfection. One creative soul and author, SARK, actually suggests acceptance of tasks done half-way. Exercise with positive affirmations of whatever you do. Leave the inner-critic at the locker room with your uncomfortable work shoes and stiff shirt and tie. Take a vacation from perfectionist ideals and accompanying worries about falling short. Dare yourself to try this for a full day.
You won’t always be perfect at exercise, or at life. You do not need to be. Give your best effort and be happy with yourself. Take action.
Just Do It (Any Old Way)
Purposefully only vacuum half the room, swim half the laps of which you’re capable, floss half your teeth. Although not recommended on a daily basis, at least you are keeping momentum. You don’t have to do everything perfectly all the time. (However, don’t tell your dentist if you try the half-way floss trick. It’s better than nothing, but they say you should only floss the teeth you want to keep.)
Whatever you do, even if it’s a portion of the whole, do it with vigor and self-confidence. You are striving to improve with each movement. That’s what counts. When your mind shifts to other things you could be doing, where you should be (in your fitness level or life), or how you appear while grunting out 50 stomach crunches, redirect it. Focus on this particular workout and how it’s making your body and mind stronger. Acknowledge your efforts and ignore your mistakes. (Yes, you can.)
A personal trainer or Group Fitness instructor is always available at the Center. You should never exercise incorrectly with their insight readily available. And, if you’re just giving it a walk-through rather than your all, mention this disclaimer. It’ll make you feel better and probably the person next to you who is criticizing himself over reducing his weights this round.
Athletes are trained (perhaps born) with a competitive spirit. Sports require 100 percent effort at every event. However, the pressure to obtain this often creates a defeated attitude (and game score). Being preoccupied with a perfect performance distracts and drains energy and pleasure. Suddenly, the sport becomes a chore where self-satisfaction and enjoyment are replaced with doubt and struggle to gain the unachievable. Keep your expectations realistic. With “No one is perfect.” as your mantra, you might just come close.
Often perfectionists are so focused on doing something without mistakes they never take action at all. Individuals who suffer from depression frequently don’t accept anything less than perfect, considering it failure. A vicious cycle, this mentality diminishes motivation and fosters a negative attitude—both of which exacerbate depression. Sometimes, accepting less-than-perfect results really is allowable and healthier.
Focus on the Highlights
Don’t berate, congratulate. You lost five pounds! So what if it wasn’t the 10 you were hoping to shed. You spent 20 minutes on the elliptical machine! It’s okay if you couldn’t give it 30. Allow yourself flexibility. The path to wellness is frequently marked with detours and obstacles. An unbending road often leads to a dead-end. Mistakes and change are a couple of life’s only constants. Actions may make a person who s/he is, but they don’t define a person’s worth.
Here’s your homework, whether you’re a habitual perfectionist or have tendencies:
Laugh at yourself today. Take that moment when your face would typically burn from embarrassment or your imaginary leg relentlessly kicks you and force yourself to laugh. Life is short. Make fun of it, even if it means making a little fun of yourself. Now, that’s the perfect response to a flaw.
“Are You an Exercise Perfectionist?” by Paige Waehner at www.about.com.
“Liberate Yourself from Perfectionism,” by Paige Waehner at www.about.com.
“The Perils of Perfectionism in Sports and Exercise,” by Gordon Flett and Paul Hewitt, Current Directions in Psychological Science, vol. 14, no. 1.
“10 Ways to Get Things Done despite Depression,” by Eric Metcalf at www.everydayhealth.com.
Imperfect flower (introductory photo): www.flickr.com/photos/linhngan/3295481102
Permission slip: www.flickr.com/photos/pilisa/4267265318