Stop Trying to Be Perfect
Perfectionism is on the rise, it's destroying your happiness and your fitness. As a recovering perfectionist, I feel very comfortable saying this…
Don’t beat yourself up about being perfect.
Nobody who absolutely had to be ‘perfect,’ ever really accomplished anything worth accomplishing anyway. Without some risk, there is little reward. If you got through the rest of your life perfectly, where would the excitement lie?
I didn’t realize this until I had a couple of my own big failures in life, but failures are necessary in the grand scheme of things, you grow from failures. If you spend the majority of your life avoiding them, you're missing out on learning opportunities.
I’m not saying, plan to fail, but rather accept adversity. There will be bumps on your road.
There is a high likelihood that you might not be perfect or highly successful in everything you do, so embrace that fact that these will be learning experiences.
Being perfect is not necessary in the grand scheme, nobody gets better when they are already running at 100%.
There is no incentive to do better than or stay at 100%, if you are always at 100%. There is no where to go, but down.
Not only that, it is entirely unrealistic to aim to be perfect all the time. Many of us will wear it like a badge of honour, without understanding it's destructive path.
Know anybody that got 100% in every class, from Kindergarten to University?
How about perfect in every subject they took in a semester or over the course of a year?
Neither do I…
Very few ever people give up on school because they don’t achieve ‘perfect.’
Yet, you’re going to give up on your new diet today just because you ate a few measly carbs? Didn't consume enough protein? Or you forgot to eat some vegetables?
Or you're going to just fall off the wagon entirely and miss the rest of your training this week because you had a bad workout or missed a workout?
If you live to 82 and workout twice a week but didn't start exercising until your were 22, you'll have theoretically had 6240 workouts. Do you think missing one out of 6240 is going to have any meaningful difference?
And don't get me started on the math for meals, but it's probably 3 per day, every day, for 82 years. That's a lot of meals!
Now that you understand the significant of minor mistakes. Why is it that a ton of people every year give up on their weight loss, or health and fitness goals/dreams because they don’t hit 100% on their nutrition or training habits?
It's simple. The human brain is great at rationalizing our own behavior. It's all or nothing, and if you screw up once nothing is easier than doing something.
100% Perfection Isn’t Reasonable, Being Consistent Is
A Better Frame of Reference
This is the mindset that changed my approach to fitness (and life really) entirely and it's been changing the mindsets of my clients too. It leads to less anxiety about the process, less worrying, less depressive thinking, less self-destruction, less binging, less over-training, and is just generally better for everyone.
Instead of being perfect, think about your consistency in the frame of reference of what else is going on in your life at this moment. What level of consistency can you commit to? Think about it on a scale of 1-10 and you're looking for 8-10 when you read through my numbers below.
If you have young kids, a full time job, and you volunteer, you might need to drop something to hit higher levels of consistency or simply commit to a lower level of consistency. If you have the summer off, don't have a lot on the go and have plenty of time to commit, then go for 80 or 90%.
Imagine you hit 90% of your weight loss, fitness or nutritional objectives this year. If you got 90’s in all of your school classes, you’d be ecstatic and you’d be at the top of your class.
Plan for some mistakes and you’ll feel a lot better about the process and the outcomes.
This would be a phenomenal achievement, some people might even call you a fitness genius. Not only that, you’d also achieve incredible success!
Aim for 90% of doing the things things you know you should and I guarantee you’ll see great results. And you can still be 10% off of perfect.
In all honesty, this level of commitment for most people isn't that doable, or when it is, it's only for specific periods in your life. Pre-kids, low-stress job, you have time off, pre-serious relationship.
You should understand your current values before committing to this. And this is likely the level of commitment you'll need for truly extraordinary goals like competing in a bodybuilding competition, becoming a fitness model or actor and participation in elite sport.
80% is Honours Roll
Once you get the weight off, this is how I generally choose to lead my fitness lifestyle. It gives me 20% breathing room to enjoy life, while maintaining the physical body I like having. Sometimes I dip a little here or there too, I get sick or go on vacations.
It's important to note you don't have to stay in any one of these consistency zones. You can float between a few depending on your life circumstances. The goal most of the time is to avoid falling to 0% – that all-or-nothing mentality is a dream killer.
And the results you can expect in this range? Still phenomenal! There is a reason the Pareto Principle (80/20 rule) is so heavily written about.
This isn't a range for maintenance even, I’ll guarantee you’ll see results if you do 80% of what any good fitness professional or book asks of you. Yeah it won't be quite as impressive a change as the 90% group but you won't be far off.
This is an excellent way to maintain a pretty fit lifestyle and 20% is a LOT of buffer room. If you have 5 meals a day, that means one of those meals can be a little off. If you train 5x a week, missing a workout or having a bad workout isn't a big deal at all.
I used to say this was the ideal cut-off for most people in fitness and weight loss for seeing really good results. If I could just get all of my clients to this level, I'd be one of the best fitness professionals around. Drop below this level and I wouldn't be willing to stake my reputation on guaranteed results but in the years since I originally wrote this, data tells me otherwise.
You can still make pretty good progress on less than this, but I still think this is the target than 80% of you should shoot for. See what I did there?
50-79% is Enough?
In school, many would say that 70% is a decent grade, but this is kind of the status quo isn’t it? Everyone else is the status quo, that’s probably the opposite of what you want to be.
But this isn't school. Thankfully. And there are plenty of average students who went on to accomplish cool stuff anyway.
50-79% will actually work better than you think it will. Especially for maintenance purposes. But even if you want to lose weight, gain some muscle, or both this can get you there. It's just a bit slower. You're never going to reach elite levels of performance or leanness with this approach but I'd venture to bet that you will be happier.
And while you can expect better results with 80 or 90% consistency, they won't be twice as good. More like 50-60% better. It's a logarithmic scale.
If you have the time (and hopefully you're on this planet a very long time) you can still get to a pretty good place without a ton of consistency. 50%+ will do. And you could subset this too, 75% will be better than 50% obviously, but I wanted to give you a cutoff point.
And when I'm talking consistency here, I'm talking relative to a pretty good exercise and nutrition plan. i.e. If you plan to train 3-6x a week but only consistently workout well 2-3x a week, you'll fall in this zone. If you only train once a week, you're going to have to be pretty consistent with that because the frequency is pretty low.
Same thing would go for nutrition. If you're on a meal plan – and if I'm being honest, I'm not big on meal plans for the average person but if you are ... – then I would expect that meal plan addresses all of your meals. If you have more of a skill-based goal (my preference/recommendation) then you are probably trying to apply it to most of your meals too.
If (for some reason) you had a goal only about on meal on Sundays, your consistency may need to be higher than this to get you there.
At its worst, this level might mean you stay where you are but I just haven't seen that happen in the real-world. Almost everyone sees a result in this zone, even if it isn't their 'best' result.
Something is always better than nothing. The idea really is to always try to do a bit better. Better is the goal, not perfection.
Adding It Up
Yes using this method, you’ll still have to keep track of where you are relatively speaking, but that’s a hell of a lot easier than counting calories, isn’t it? You have to track something and I'd recommend tracking this.
Tracking consistency is a 'yes/no' question. Print out a calendar, pick your days and mark 'Ｘ' for the days you miss and '✔️' for the days you hit.
Your consistency level is the days you achieve what you're trying to achieve divided by the number of days you could have done that thing. Simple!
Don't forget to also track your progress the right way, so that you can make changes based on the actual results!
If you eat 3 times a day like many, then you can have some free meals one or two meals per week and still easily hit 90%.
If you eat 5 or 6, then you might be able to have a smaller free meal three or four times a week and you’re still hitting 90%…
If you hit the gym three times a week, you can miss a workout if you’re having a rough day, once or twice a month and you’re still hitting 90%…
Think about that all for a sec and know where you stand. Everything can add up.
I’ve yet to meet anyone doing things so wrong all the time that I’d call them a 10%er or even a 30%er but admittedly some of us just aren’t doing enough of the things we know we should be doing.
If 50% seems like a daunting task though, it’s going to be really hard to put effort towards that.
Let’s say you’re a 40%er or a 50%er and you’re mildly to strongly unhappy with your current physical situation.
Bumping up from a 40%er to a 50%er is still progress. Bumping up from a 50% to a 60%er is also still progress.
Again the goal is to do better, not be perfect. Something remains better than nothing and sometimes seemingly small changes or improvements can make us feel like it isn’t worth the effort. A lot of little changes add up over time.
It builds momentum. You exercise once a week for a while and suddenly you crave twice a week. Exercise twice a week for a while and the next thing you know you’re at three times a week. Start eating a little more protein or a veggie at one meal, and suddenly you’re eating more protein and a little more vegetables at most meals.
Sometimes it’s worth just leveling up rather than hitting a specific consistency percentage. Develop your skills, take things up a notch, hold them there for a while, once you feel confident, expand the zone.
It isn't where you start, but where you finish. You have to learn that 50% is doable, before 60% seems possible. Slowly but surely you can work up to something harder.
On "Cheating" …
This isn't a test. This is life.
If you want to achieve mind-blowing results, you just need to hit your fitness and nutrition behaviour targets, 90% of the time, sure, but what about the other 10%?
Don’t call it cheating. Cheating makes it seem devious. Call it a free meal, or a free day if you want to save it up for a large period of time. Or even a fun meal or a fun day. Give it a positive spin.
The other 10% of your fitness or eating routine, shouldn’t mean downing an entire pizza, an entire bag of chips, or a pint of ice cream or an entire container of cookies or justifying something like gardening as your ‘planned exercise for that day.’
Err to the side of 'just enough' to make you satisfied, not enough to make you feel guilty. Keep it real. Ease up a little. Let your hair down. Plan the free meal or the free day if you can but maintain some control over what you’re eating. Eat things you think are absolutely worth it.
For me, that’s usually ramen, red wine, pizza or chocolate. Everyone has their flavour though. Pick the things you really enjoy and savour them.
Have a piece of cheesecake on Saturday evening, or a glass of wine on Friday night, maybe a cookie or two with lunch on Wednesday, but avoid feeling you have absolute permission to eat whatever you want a one day a week, or a couple of meals per week. That's a slippery slope.
Don’t give yourself permission to go buck wild, just because you’ve given yourself permission not to be perfect.
Don’t obsess with perfect, but be real too.
"The goal is to be a bit better, not be perfect."