I'm a recovering perfectionist. For years, I believed my "condition" was a blessing and that some day it would drive me to achieve — you guessed it — perfection. Boy, was I wrong.
It's not just me, though. Perfectionism is often viewed as a necessary trait for all ubermotivated gym goers and the super fit. But I'd argue that, somewhere along the line, we got perfectionism confused with determination.
So what's the difference? 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 — and that's where it gets hairy.
When you accomplish the thing you set out to do, perfectionism is the little voice in your head that says, "I should've pushed harder," "I wish I would've gone faster," and "I could've done it better." It's not super helpful, and quite frankly, it's a major downer.
Being a perfectionist is not an efficient long-term strategy. It'll never lead you to the promised land. In fact, it could end up stalling out your progress. Here's how:
4 Ways Perfectionism Holds You Back
- You do too much. Constantly trying to do more and go harder usually leads to insufficient recovery. It may show up as feeling like you need "breaks" from your workouts or like your body is getting weaker and is constantly achy. This, my friends, is called burnout. Ultimately, the search for perfection can lead to injury if you push through burnout and fatigue when you know you shouldn't. Injuries and burnout are the No. 1 killers of progress.
- You take an all-or-nothing approach. A "go big or go home" mentality can also lead you to skip workouts when you're feeling time-crunched, tired, or a little funky, or when you otherwise know you'll be dragging yourself through the workout. Fear of turning in a less-than-stellar performance means that half-assing it or easing up is not an option for perfectionists, resulting in frequently missed workouts since no one can be "on" all the time. Inconsistency will most definitely halt your progress in the long term.
- You're your own worst enemy. There's an important distinction to be made between self-improvement in areas that are holding you back and actively searching for things to improve in the hopes of nitpicking yourself closer to some image of perfection. No one stays motivated long-term when they're constantly made to feel not good enough. This includes you.
- You make yourself pay. It's not OK to "make up" for something you did or didn't do by doing something you know is not good for you, such as routinely skipping a meal after missing a workout or overeating. Look, I get that you think this is how to get "back on track," but doing damage control by intentionally depriving your body of the fuel it desperately needs as punishment for anything is just plain mean. Balance is key when it comes to getting sustainable and permanent results.
Bottom line: if fitness isn't making you less stressed, more confident, healthier, and happier, then you're doing it wrong. Workouts and proper nutrition should be tools that you use to take care of your body and mind, not to punish them or run them ragged as you journey toward a destination that doesn't actually exist.
Rather than trying to attain some impossible ideal of fitness perfection, seek improvement in all areas of your life. You'll find — as I did — that this approach is sustainable and far more likely to lead to lasting happiness.
Did you overcome perfectionism? Tell us how you did it!