How I chose progress over perfection
This is going to be a post outlining my experience with choosing perfection at first then realizing that progress is much more important.
Keep reading if you want to get to know me a little bit better and take some tips of your own to use for your journey!
Many of you probably know that I’ve been an active athlete since the day I was able to walk and run. I played sports such as football, baseball, and track in high school as well as recreational sports still today (flag football, softball).
One could imagine that I’ve seen both highs and lows in my personal fitness and health through my 31 years of life. I’ve gone through stages where I felt disgusted and upset with myself and I’ve been through times where I felt invincible.
What I’d like to do for you here today is to give some insight into how I started to focus on progressing every day, rather than being perfect.
The early years
Like I mentioned above I’ve been an athlete for my whole life. With this comes a competitive drive to always be the best, to always try to improve my level of fitness so that I can be whatever the team needs.
This was always my motivation during my pee-wee leagues up until college. I found so much of my identity in sports. I was always the fast kid on the team. Speed and power was my game and I used it to my advantage in every sports game and sports team I played on.
Why is this important?
Aside from it being part of my life - it’s important to understand my line of thinking was along the lines of perfection. If I didn’t score a touchdown, if I didn't score 2-3 hits per baseball game I would be upset with myself and disappointed.
I set my expectations high and created tension within myself because I wanted to be perfect, I wanted to be the star on the field and stand out.
What I found out was that I was in constant fear of not being perfect and allowed it to impact my game. I would get into my head and get caught up in any mis-plays or end up striking out.
What staying fit meant to me
Back in high school I was one of the first players to start weightlifting during the summer off season. 4-5 times a week I would ride my bike with a friend to our high school gym and work out. This was my first true introduction into lifting heavy weights.
Staying fit at this time meant more than just a physical appearance but it meant performance. I wanted to be stronger so that I can generate more power to compete at a higher level.
As years went on and I stopped playing competitive sports in school - working out and staying fit kept with me. I saw this as a lifestyle choice, I wanted to feel fast, strong, jump high and be someone that others can look up to when it comes to fitness.
As I got older I also began to care more about how I looked. I began researching more about exercise and mass building and started to incorporate new exercises and programs to help me build muscle.
I still had the competitive drive to do the best in this and it helped me to jump start my weight lifting and strength.
However I still had this idea of perfection in my mind...only now it was different.
I wanted to have the 6 pack abs, defined biceps, chest, legs and back.
When it all changed…
Okay so you are wondering why should you care about me wanting abs!
Well...it really is more about mindset.
I remember being dedicated and attempting to do 5-6x a week of training while working a new job. For my body, this was a big challenge.
The body did not respond as well as I hoped it would with the training and nutrition I was providing it. I thought that I was doing everything right! I was not happy with the slow progress and would get frustrated and annoyed with the process.
I remember the moment that changed it for me...my lower back started to ache and tighten up. I didn’t understand what this was - my body never “failed” me in such a way before (aside from some broken bones and muscle strains).
I was only 21 years old and already was having back pain as an athlete? I didn’t understand why this was. I had to take a few steps back and look at how I was going through life with my fitness and health.
I had to slow down, reassess and take a new perspective on what it meant to be fit and healthy.
Although I wanted to build more muscle and improve my overall physique I started to see things a bit differently.
For one - I started to do more yoga and made stretching a nightly routine to help with my back. Now remember for me this was a big change because I was always so focused on speed, power, and lifting weights!
More importantly however was how I started to give myself a break. There was no more super competitive sport I was playing so I didn’t need to stress so much about being perfect in my food and in my lifting.
I started to focus less on hitting exact calories and more on just feeling happy about the small things in life.
What I didn’t realize back then was that I was choosing progress over perfection.
I no longer felt it necessary to hit the gym 5-6x a week but instead made a rule to myself that I must move at least 3 times a week. This was enough for me at the time to still feel like I could make progress but also keep my sanity.
I began to also focus less on being perfect with my food intake but instead just enjoy what I ate while maintaining a weight that I felt comfortable with.
How it works for me today
Over the past 10 years I’ve somewhat mastered this laid back approach to progress. I don’t worry about the small things like indulging in a dessert or eating a burger with fries. I worry less about missing workouts and I focus more on keeping things simple.
Finding a balance between your mental and physical state is paramount. I can attest to this because it helps to drive you forward at all times, even if it's at a snail's pace. Progress is progress no matter what the speed, and that’s what’s important for me.
I still set goals to accomplish both in the gym and out of the gym. I want to still get stronger, build muscle, and overall feel better every year.
Yet that constant pressure of needing to be perfect isn’t there anymore, I’m free from those doubts. I no longer feel as though one day, or 3 days in a row of poor choices will have me heading backwards. I know that I can easily get back into the game, back into making small steps to becoming better.
One thing I’ve done over the past 2 years or so was to slowly introduce new vegetables into my diet. As I’ve slowly tried new things I’ve added new recipes and meals to my normal routine which helps me to feel like I’m continuing progress!
What you can do today!
Okay so enough about me and my story - how can you utilize this for your own life?
First and foremost I think it’s important to give yourself a break.
When we are too caught up in our emotions about disappointment in ourselves, we have a much harder time doing the things that actually will make a difference.
I’ve been down the road so many times and have failed because of it either on the field or in the gym. Just because you can’t hit that lift, eat clean everyday or get your stress controlled doesn’t mean that tomorrow will repeat.
Keep the long term goal in mind
A reality check is needed sometimes for all of us - what is it that we really want?
For me it was all about being able to maintain strength and fitness as I get older and more “worn down”.
What is your goal? Where do you want to be in 5, 10 years? That’s the big stuff and the important stuff. True life change takes time!
Celebrate your progress
We don’t celebrate ourselves and our victories enough. When you find that you’ve done something well for a week straight - do you recognize this?
Treating yourself to a little victory meal, taking an hour of time for yourself on a weekend or doing an activity that you know brings you happiness are all ways to support yourself and provide that much needed positive feedback.
This keeps the juice flowing, keeps you in the game and moving forward!