“Perfection is the enemy of the good” – Voltaire
For the last two months, I’ve been experimenting with something new to get back into shape. The difference this time is that it wasn’t some “Oh shit, summer’s almost here, I gotta cut down and get my six pack ready for the beach.” It was more of a conscious decision to change some bad habits, get physically healthy again, get emotionally healthy, and in general get my body, mind, and spirit on the same page for the next phase.
I’m no stranger to working out and hitting the iron. I’ve been a workout warrior going back to my days as a competitive basketball player. Besides the obvious physical and psychological benefits of working out, what I always loved about it is the challenge it brings to the table and the ability to know that you have the power to change your physical appearance for the better.
I grew up an overweight kid. I was never the most athletic, and neither was I ever the tallest. What working out brought me was a sense of self-empowerment, stress relief, and a positive outlet to take my competitive anger out on something productive that wouldn’t backfire.
With that brought the discipline of getting my nutrition in check. The thing I’ve been experimenting with lately is flexible dieting or “if it fits your macros.” In a nutshell, it’s not a diet or a temporary fix, as any food is open season and not restricted for a certain amount of time, as long as you hit your recommended protein, carb, and fat requirements, and stay within or below your caloric intake depending on if you’re trying to pack on more muscle or lose fat.
So what exactly does this have to do with dating, as you’re probably scratching your head and wondering where I’m trying to go with this?
Let me paint a scenario for you. You start your new diet, whatever it is… Atkins, Keto, Paleo, the Zone Diet, the Chicken and Broccoli Diet, the Juice Cleanse Diet, the “insert something random here” diet with a bang. You’re enthusiastic, focused, and ready to crush your goal of getting ripped, losing weight, putting on muscle, or all three at the same time, which seems pretty unrealistic. But because you’re so motivated, you don’t think anything can stop you.
You track every bite of food that goes in your mouth. You clean out your pantry, eat only organic and whole foods, and label everything that doesn’t hit your diet’s guidelines or rules as “bad.” You cook all your meals at home, and stay up late to make sure everything is prepared for the entire week. You turn down food every time someone offers you something at work, a social event, or a birthday party, and you start to avoid social situations.
Like an alcoholic following the 12 steps, you’re finally doing it right this time and you feel like nothing can stop your progress. You feel like you’re on top of the world, but even though you’re excited to see the changes that are slowly happening, you start to feel a sense of frustration and resentment from time to time. You experience fleeting moments where it all starts to feel like it’s too much, but you’ve got to keep going and say “I can do this, it’s no big deal, this is just part of the process, I can do it.”
Then out of nowhere, it happens…
Life gets in the way. You have a terrible day at work, at school, or at home. Maybe you even have a tough week or month. Just like in those old Bugs Bunny cartoons, you’ve got a little angel on one shoulder that’s telling you that you can do it, and on the other shoulder is the little devil version of you tempting you to take a break.
Now, that little voice on your shoulder that’s telling you that it’s “too much” has morphed into something louder and more distinct. It’s slowly getting stronger the more you resist it, and suddenly the whole thing feels like a 10,000 pound rock that’s ready to crush you if you don’t push harder. You’re on the verge of breaking, you’re frustrated, you’re exhausted, and then you say, “Fuck it.”
Then you hop on the Seamless app on your phone where you go on to order an entire pie of your favorite pizza loaded with every single topping known to man to overcompensate for the last month of hard dieting. After that, you head down to the local convenience store and load up on 10 pints of your favorite flavor of Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream. You rationalize it in your mind, convincing yourself that you deserve it for being so strict the last month.
The rest of the night is followed by you gorging yourself with all the food you kept yourself away from, which is not just physically uncomfortable but also incredibly emotionally painful. Maybe you actually didn’t gorge yourself and tossed all the food out, or maybe you decided to go to town and go back to your old way of eating and start with the whole “Oh I fucked up today, I’ll just start fresh again on Monday.”
This ridiculous cycle of strict eating, crash dieting, and binge eating during the weekends or whenever something stressful comes along continues and repeats itself.
And then you find another diet, go through the same process again, and fall into a pit of self-pity and tell yourself that you’re a failure. In any case, you feel like you failed. Again you ask yourself, “Why the hell do I even bother?” or maybe you think that you’re weak, not motivated enough, not mentally strong enough, or not capable enough. You keep trying, but you’re stuck in that perpetual dieting limbo.
It’s okay, I’ve failed too… Hundreds if not thousands of times.
Listen, I’ve been down that road thousands of times. I’ve tried every diet known to man, from the conventional Paleo Diet to ridiculous crash diets like “the Ramen Diet” because I wanted to lose the weight I put on after transferring to a four year university and being a broke college kid at the time who was too stressed, cheap, and lazy to buy groceries and meal prep like when I was living at home.
This behavior didn’t just manifest in my nutrition, I’ve berated myself for missing a workout, falling off the wagon by having a beer or drinking with friends, and beating myself up whenever I didn’t complete a task or lost my momentum with a work project or a personal development experiment.
This even applied to my dating life and even when I was trying to get good with women. I’d beat myself up for not approaching a certain amount of women, or saying something, or falling off track with whatever challenge I had set up with my accountability partner and who also doubled as my wingman at the time.
I suffered feelings of remorse for not completing the task or goal that I set myself to doing. Whether it was eating too many calories and going on an all out food bender or not securing a date with a girl I managed to push myself to approach, I would always end up telling myself, “Fuck it, that’s it, why should I even continue?”
I’d always convince myself to just toss it all out and start over. I don’t know if you can relate, but this type of black-and-white thinking has been present in my life for a while and is probably a result of my competitive and perfectionist personality.
Beside getting good at dating, this also applied to my prior relationships. For a long time, any perceived misstep in an interaction or difficult situation in a close relationship sent me reeling. I’d blow it out of proportion in my mind and convince myself, “Fuck it, why even bother, I failed again, it’s time to scorch it and start over.”
Going back to earlier about my work projects, school projects, and even writing on this blog, I’d try to put in the best work possible, forcing myself to break it down to the smallest details, even though I’m not a naturally detail oriented person. It’s made me get crippled in analysis paralysis, just like when I’d try to rationalize or figure out the perfect way to approach a girl I was really attracted to.
I’d dwell on the tiniest flaws. In the end, even after spending countless hours pumping out the perfect solutions and trying to finish the job, I’d throw in the towel and just submit whatever I had and never acknowledge it was good enough even after finishing it. As you can imagine, I’ve spent a lot of time dwelling and creating unnecessary and unproductive stress for myself. This is a result of that all-or-nothing mentality.
Can you relate?
This article wasn’t meant to vent or lament about my failures. I wanted to drive a point across. Whether it’s with dieting, exercise, relationships, work, wealth, or anything else, is this mindset something that resonates with you? If so, I’m going to let you in on a little secret…
Now, I’m always one for dishing out tough love since that’s the way I was brought up. Don’t let your ego get inflated. You’re not weak or unmotivated, and you don’t lack focus, discipline, or hard work. You’re not incapable and most of all, you’re not broken. You’re human, and as humans we have both our strengths and our flaws.
The problem isn’t you. It lies in that belief system and bullshit story you tell yourself that there is only one right way to do this. It’s thinking if you can’t do that one thing perfectly, you’re a failure. It’s this all-or-nothing mentality that gets us into trouble. When our own expectation is that we must get it right, do everything perfectly, or take it to unsustainable and unrealistic extremes, who wouldn’t lose their sanity in the process?
I’m not one for setting the bar low, but even when we set the bar so high, it’s far easier to stop trying or not even start at all than it is to tackle that gigantic beast. What kind of soul wouldn’t break down, give up, and give into “fuck it” syndrome and rebel? That ridiculous pressure is too much for any of us to handle and sustain for the long haul.
So, what’s the solution?
What can we do? I’m not saying that I’m Jesus, Muhammad, Buddha, Moses, or the Flying Spaghetti Monster and that I have all the answers, nor do I have every single detail figured out. I’d like to be able to shut off that inner perfectionist who works side by side with that inner competitor and wisely pick and choose my battles. I’d like to be able to say that I’m a reformed performance addict and that I’ve been able to completely overcome that “all-or-nothing” thinking.
Ever since I’ve taken a more flexible approach to my nutrition, re-framing all food as not “good” or “bad” but rather something that is to be enjoyed and to fuel my body with a pure focus on “consistency” rather than “perfection,” I’ve been able to see better results both physically, mentally, and emotionally.
I’d say I’m 100 times more productive and get more shit done in a day since I’ve focused on switching my thinking to consistency and steadiness rather than a full blown sprint all the time.
I was channel surfing while babysitting my niece the other day, and this old Bugs Bunny cartoon came up. I remember when I saw it as a kid. It was one of the very few times Bugs Bunny’s adversaries got the best of him and pulled his playbook on him. It was the classic tortoise and the hare tale with Bugs Bunny and Cecil Turtle. It was funny because the turtle, with his calm and confident demeanor, got the best of Bugs. While he sustained a slow and steady demeanor, beneath his shell was this powerful turbocharged engine. Even at full speed he sustained a consistent and steady pace whereas Bugs Bunny was erratic and unpredictable like his adversaries.
This approach with my nutrition has flooded into other areas of my life. As I’ve said I’m more consistent and more productive. Even when I go out to coach, I’m not focused on the setbacks or the road bumps. I’m only focused on consistently keeping the pace and rebounding quickly.
Tips to Break Out of Perfectionist Patterns
It’s a marathon, not a sprint. Focus on the long game.
I don’t get phased nearly as much when I remind myself of the bigger picture and what goal I’m working towards. The point is to not get bogged down in the details and always keep the long-term end game in mind. You’re not trying to rush to the finish line. You’re trying to slowly and steadily build good habits that’ll eventually compound over time, which will bring you the results you’ve been looking for since you started your journey towards your goal.
Don’t wait for the right time. Just start and keep going.
Have you ever said you’ll start your new diet on Monday or next week? Have you ever made one bad food choice when you went out drinking with your friends on a Saturday night? What’s so great about Monday, or Friday night, or Saturday? Whether it’s a new habit, a diet, starting a business, finding a new job, or even going out to work on your dating skills, there’s no perfect time to start.
The problem isn’t you, you’re just bracing for suffering as any of us would when we’re about to start or undertake something arduous and painful. I don’t want to give you the impression that change isn’t challenging and should be comfortable. Going back to dieting again, if it wasn’t hard, everyone would be ripped. It’s especially hard for people who are emotional eaters, as we try to compensate for loss by going overboard before starting again.
It’s not all sunshine and rainbows. It’ll take patience, consistency, and pushing through some resistance. But it doesn’t need to be perfect or right on point all the time. We don’t need to go completely all out. One change at a time.
“That’s how you devour a whale Doug, one bite at a time.” – Frank Underwood, House of Cards
Consistency is the King, patience is the Queen.
Sustainability is probably the most important asset you’ll ever have when starting something new or undertaking a new goal. Like starting a new diet with a bang only to completely fizzle out after a week or two, it might help to consider whether your plan is realistic. Ask yourself, “Can I see myself doing this 6 months or a year from now?” If the answer is a clear no, or there’s hesitation, then maybe it’s wise to take a step back and find something gradual and sustainable.
Oftentimes our expectation of what we have to do to win and succeed seems far more intensive than what we actually need to do to succeed. You don’t have to keep score all the time, or track and measure every morsel of food or whatever thing you did. You just have to focus on sustaining the habit until you don’t think about it anymore.
Good enough is good enough. Let the little fish go so you can catch the big fish later. Seriously, preparation is great and is something you should keep doing, but you don’t have to take it to an insane extreme that causes your hair to fall out. Not everything has to be 100% to the T. Like preparing meals, it doesn’t have to be perfectly nutritious or balanced. That’s an awful amount of pressure, and how long can you honestly keep it up?
The most important part is that you focus on realistic and pragmatic changes that you can stick to and commit to. DON’T OVER-COMPLICATE IT! For now, stick to what you can manage, and get used to macro-managing rather than micro-managing everything. Your willpower is like a muscle. The more stressors you add onto it, the more erratic your decision making is going to be, and the more likely you’ll revert back to your old ways and negative feedback loops.
Save your willpower for something such as a really important deadline or project that you have to put all your time, energy, and focus into for the short-term. For long-term goals, focus on exercising and efficiently using that finite source of energy to sustain those habits.
You’re not entitled, stop assuming it’ll happen overnight.
Maybe it’s all the technology we have, or that instant gratification at our fingertips. When we’re sick of being the way we are and want to change it right now, it’s difficult to pull back and look at the bigger picture. It can be tempting to take shortcuts.
Going back to the nutrition example again, it can be tempting to slash a bunch of calories right away, exercise ourselves to death, cut out entire food groups, go on a cleanse, take appetite suppressants, fat burners, supplements, weight loss drugs, diuretics, or starve yourself to death.
As I’ve said before, this is a marathon, not a sprint. If we burn ourselves out within the first few miles, we’ll have nothing left to get to the middle or the end of the race, let alone finish the journey. Doing more isn’t necessarily better. Be consistent, be patient, don’t assume it’ll all happen right away, and gradually keep raising the bar.
We may be able to maintain extremes for a period of weeks or even months in some rare cases. But usually it’s only going to set you up for failure. Don’t sabotage yourself, and don’t be afraid of success, whether it’s in your health, wealth, or relationships. Don’t paint or even live up to the hype of your own myth, just keep up the consistency and keep getting up every time you fall square on your ass.
It’s okay to make a little progress, plateau, fall back, progress again, and repeat. But if you look at the bigger picture, you’ll notice that the progression is moving upwards and that you’re not too far off from your perception of success and winning. Keep moving forward, keep learning, and most of all keep growing.
‘Til Next Time,