On Wednesday evening, I knew something was wrong.
My sweet son came in from playing with daddy, head on his shoulder, moaning. Thoughts of disaster rushed through my mind. Did he hurt himself? Did he fall? What’s wrong???
“He’s just tired” was my husband’s answer.
Considering this little man is the energizer bunny every moment he’s awake, tired wasn’t likely. Within the hour, he spiked a fever and started coughing.
My son has a cold, it’s not the end of the world. I have a friend fighting for his life in a hospital in South America, and I know how many children have gotten the worst of this RSV season. I’m grateful for my son’s minor bug in comparison. But in my mind, at that moment, it was a disaster.
You see, Thursdays are my work day. My son goes to childcare while I catch up with clients, write blog posts, and plan lessons for my online courses. Since fevers mean “keep that child quarantined!” I knew that I would likely be cancelling my work day, and spending the entire day watching Daniel Tiger with a mopey feverish toddler.
And I did. And because of that, today, I don’t have a blog post prepared like I had hoped.
A little spoiler alert: I’ve been working on a major resource guide on menu planning and preparation. This toolkit is designed to streamline the entire meal planning process so that you don’t have to stress about what’s for dinner at 5 pm every night.
It’s a masterpiece. And it needs at least 4 more hours of work, which frustrates me because GAH I JUST started planning out my content ahead of time instead of writing what happens to be on my mind (which, if you can guess, is what I’m doing right now)
It’s so hard to recognize what’s going well for us when our best laid plans fall apart…
And it’s even more true when it comes to our food and movement habits.
As I coach clients, I hear daily about how their day is going. Often, they tell me how awful their day was, when I can clearly pick up at least 5 awesome new habits they’ve developed since we started working together.
“I bought cookies after work and ate one, I didn’t really need cookies.”
Yeah, you ate ONE. That’s a huge improvement over eating the whole bag like you may have in the past. I’d call that an absolute win.
It’s so easy to think that “perfect” is the key to reaching our health and fitness goals.
But here’s the honest truth: “perfect” is a myth. Perfect won’t happen for us because – we’re human. We’re unpredictable. Our circumstances, our lives, and the actions of others are unpredictable.
Perfect isn’t necessary.
If you want to create change, the goal is to do just enough to spark change and improvement, and build on it, not try to reach perfect at once. Molly Galbraith explains this so well in terms of exercise in this article on girls gone strong.
And the same applies to nutrition too.
Because it’s too easy to think “I can’t eat 3 nutritious meals today, I’ll just start tomorrow” when you really can eat a nourishing breakfast. So do breakfast.
Instead of “perfect” I ask my clients to tell me what the best possible version of themselves would do in that scenario. This is a big deal to me. We spend 2 weeks journaling about our “best possible selves” at the beginning of our work together (which isn’t the same thing as the “perfect” self).
Here’s what one client, Carol, has described her journey from expecting perfect to working towards becoming a better version of herself:
“It’s like, you know how one popular (but for me, not helpful) thing magazines tell us to do when we’re trying to lose weight is to put a picture of someone who you want to look like on your refrigerator? Well, I feel like I took that picture down and put up a picture of my own best self and it’s actually something I can imagine attaining and living as.”
It’s about stripping away the expectation of perfect, the belief that we must be perfect, and the fear of imperfection, that allows us to really become the best version of ourselves.
Old habits die hard, even the habit of expecting perfection out of ourselves.
So how do we let go of the need for perfect?
Just like I talk about adding in nourishing foods to create replacement habits for our undesirable eating habits, the best way to let go of perfection is to add in new guideposts in their place.
Here are three things to aim for that are much more helpful than “perfect”
1. Patience –
I’m starting with the hardest one. Patience is SO DIFFICULT. We live in a society where everything is instant. If your Starbucks order takes more than 5 minutes, you feel stressed. Amazon Prime has same day delivery. You can buy, order, and ship anything at the click of a button.
But you can’t buy health and fitness at the click of a button (although some internet fitness marketers would make you think you can.). Your healthy body is earned through your daily effort, and your daily actions.
I know I lose business every time I meet with someone and tell them that their goal of losing 50-100 pounds may take a year or more. No one wants to hear that. We want it now. We’re used to everything now.
But I’m not going to sugar coat it: making permanent change takes time.
Patience requires self acceptance, and a willingness to be happy before change is made. Can you see why loving yourself as you are is SO important?
2. Persistence –
The ability to continue going despite difficulty and frustration is one of the best gifts you can give yourself.
In fact, I dare to say that persistence is the opposite of perfection. Because when we expect ourselves to be perfect, the only options are either A) impossible perfection, or B) give up and do nothing.
Persistence is the ability to keep going, despite set backs, despite a rough day, despite a sick baby, a blip on the scale (omg, throw that dang scale away already!)
3. Progress –
Taking 10 small steps forward will get you farther than waiting for the “perfect time” to make the big leap. If you’re struggling to even get started, you may be stuck in the perfection mindset. Instead, ask yourself what is the ONE thing you know you can do that brings you closer to your goals.
Then keep doing it. And do one more thing.
Eventually, those small steps will add up a lot faster than when that perfect time, that perfect diet, or that perfect workout plan shows up (because newsflash, it won’t come)
So let’s say goodbye to perfect, and say hello to patience, persistence, and progress.
What’s one thing you know you can do right now to move away from perfection and towards patience, persistence, and progress?