I am a recovering perfectionist. It’s an ongoing struggle, but every day I get more comfortable with not being the best at everything. And every day, I feel a little happier because of this attitude. Here are my thoughts as to why.
From an early age, we are taught that 100 percent is the best. Those three numbers represent the perfect indication of success. We are encouraged to give 100 percent of our efforts and to be the best we can possibly be. Some people (myself included) misconstrue this message to mean anything less than 100 percent is unacceptable.
All-or-Nothing Thinking Can Derail Your Health
As a wellness coach, I often see clients mirror these perfectionist tendencies. For example, some may think their diet is ruined because they ate a donut for breakfast and therefore make poor eating choices for their other meals. Others feel it is pointless to lace up their running shoes unless they have time for a 5-mile run, and stay in and watch TV instead of going for a 2-mile run.
Cognitive-behavioral therapists call this type of thinking an all-or-nothing cognitive distortion. It’s an unhealthy perspective for one simple reason: No one achieves 100 percent of their goals 100 percent of the time. No one.
For perfectionists who struggle to make healthy lifestyle choices (whether it be avoiding the vending machine at work or exercising a certain number of times per week), not achieving 100 percent of a goal can be discouraging, if not downright depressing. This is unfortunate because many people fail to give themselves credit for the healthy choices they do make.
The 65–85 Rule as It Applies to Fitness
My road to recovering from my all-or-nothing thinking patterns began with a simple rule:
Aim to be successful 65 to 85 percent of the time.
I can just imagine the looks of disbelief from my fellow perfectionists. Give me a moment to explain why the 65–85 percent successful rule is such a beautiful thing.
- It takes away the pressure. True perfectionists understand the crushing pressure of attempting to achieve that 100 percent mark all the time. Eliminating that pressure can actually make working toward the goal enjoyable.
- It allows for life to happen. Kids get sick. You become injured. We must overcome any number of hurdles on a daily basis to eat healthy and exercise. Unfortunately, some hurdles are bigger and longer, and require more time and effort to overcome. By aiming to be 65–85% successful, you have a built-in cushion to accommodate life’s curve balls.
- It is a good indication your goal is not too easy or not too hard. If you are 65–85 percent successful at your goal, I believe this means your goal is challenging enough to promote healthy behavior changes without being too difficult.
Personally, I believe adopting this 65–85 percent attitude has been one of best decisions of my life. I don’t beat myself up if I occasionally eat too much chocolate because I know I eat pretty darn healthy most of the time. If I only have time to run 3 miles instead of 6 because I feel unusually tired, I congratulate myself for getting out the door in the first place.
I’ve found that I’ve actually become healthier (and most importantly, happier) by letting go of my perfectionist thinking. I hope reading my thoughts will persuade you to try to do the same!