By Kathleen Trotter
When it comes to health, “perfection” is a dangerous mirage; striving for the elusive simply sets one up for failure. Buying into the myth of “perfect” allows us to justify both procrastination and self-sabotaging thoughts and behaviours: we can continually put off starting until we find the “perfect” week to be active and/or the one “miracle” diet or workout … all of which will conveniently never materialize. Striving for ephemeral “perfect” allows us to justify unproductive choices. One missed workout or small indulgence makes us feel like a “failure,” which too often inspires “fork it, who cares” behaviour.
The good news is, you don’t have to be perfect to adopt a healthier lifestyle, lose weight, improve your cardiovascular fitness, etc. Far from it. People who successfully adopt a healthier lifestyle aren’t “perfect” — because perfect doesn’t exist. No one is a robot. Healthier humans, however, are consistently aware; they indulge mindfully and they course correct quickly after a misstep. Consistency is the goal!
Embrace two realities.
First, consistency is key. The mediocre workout you do regularly is better than the perfect workout you never do. Your workouts don’t have to be “the best” workout to be valuable. Something is always better than nothing. When it comes to health, we often put off for tomorrow what can be done today — we don’t do what is possible today because we want to do what is perfect tomorrow. Voltaire may have said it best: “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.”
Second, when you fall off your fitness horse, don’t spiral. Instead, take the opportunity to LEARN about yourself, your habits, and your values! Use your falls to make your good days even better.
Notice that I say “when” NOT “if”?
You will fall. We all fall. You are only human. You will make choices that don’t serve you. I know I do. The key is to course correct as quickly as possible and learn from the experience. Have a growth mindset. All experiences are just “data.” Analyze your choices.
Let me put it another way. We all have better and worse days; we all have days where we are more and less aware; we all toggle slightly. The goal is for our swings to be smaller and in a different paradigm. I’ll use myself as an example. I have days where I am more on my horse than others. I vacillate in my level of awareness. I swing, but my pendulum doesn’t swing as aggressively as it once did. What current Kathleen considers an “awesome health day” is different than what past Kathleen would have defined as an A+ day. What I consider a less-than-ideal day has changed. I work out 4-6 days per week vs 1-3 days per week. I have treats 1-3 days per week vs daily.
The trick is to aim for consistency and to make your pendulum swings smaller — to trend positive so that you are vacillating in a healthier paradigm. To do this you need use your slips off the horse as “data” so you get back on your horse a more informed rider.
When you fall off your “horse”: a game plan
Powerful questions. No weapons allowed.
When I fall off my horse, I take a moment to interview myself. The interview process is a great “reset”; it allows me to reflect on my choices and examine if they connect to my values and long-term goals. Here are a few of the questions I use.
- Was my goal/habit too ambitious? (If “yes” I tweak the goal and make it realistic.)
- Was my goal/habit not important to me? (Your habits should connect to something you actually care about vs something you think you “should” care about. For long-term compliance you need to care about the goal; it should be connected to a deeper “why” and/or value.)
- Was I unsuccessful because I have yet to address the benefits of my current behaviour? (i.e., what is your “unacknowledged resistance” to change? What benefit is your current habit providing? Maybe you are trying to stop emotionally eating without figuring out the root of your emotions. If you are getting solace from food, you won’t be able to stop emotionally eating until you acknowledge the benefit the food is giving you and find an alternative way to get that benefit. Therapy? Journaling? Meditation?)
- Is the life I am trying to live worth what I am giving up to have it? Are my health choices “worth it”? (For example, I used to train for Ironmans for hours on Sunday mornings. Now I do a shorter workout so I can be back early enough to spend the morning with my partner, James, and our dog, Olive. Sunday mornings are important for us. The choice to miss my family time is no longer worth the longer workout.)
- What are the 1-3 most important lessons I have learned from this fall and WHY are these lessons important to me? How do these lessons connect to how I want to live my life?
- Who am I when I am at my best? When was I at my best today? What choices can I make to be my best more often?
- What quote do I want to see on my tombstone?? What choices can I make today to “live” this quote? How can I learn from this experience to ensure that this quote ends up on my tombstone?
A few final thoughts
Never use analysis as a “weapon.” Holding your feet to the fire is not about judgment; it is about growth.
Powerful questions can highlight values and help you become more honest with yourself, but know that honesty is only the first step. The truth will set you free, but it won’t take you where you want to go. Use the answers to the above questions as “rules of engagement” for life — your “road map for action.” Action is the key word. For example, if you discover through questioning that you self-sabotage when you feel powerless at work, create a plan so that the feeling powerless doesn’t inspire a food binge or week of skipped workouts. Try an “if/then” plan. When I feel powerless I will do X — journal, contact my therapist, take a few deep breaths. Find alternative ways to serve that emotional need.
Also, embrace that no health plan ever goes as planned — no plan is ever executed perfectly. Deviations are an inherent part of life and thus you should have MULTIPLE back up plans. You will fall off your health horse; wobbles should be expected — we are all human. You will miss a few workouts or eat a few too many cookies. The trick is not to shame spiral when you do — don’t let two cookies turn into five cookies. Course correct quickly; be flexible and have MANY contingency plans so you can figure out alternative healthy meals or workouts when plans change.
Replace the unrealistic goal of “never falling” with “fall less often and less intensely — and get back up faster and armed with new information.” Stop waiting for the perfect day or week to be active and just DO. The small act you do NOW is much more effective than the grand gesture you put off until tomorrow. Don’t put off to tomorrow what you can do today.
Kathleen Trotter (MSc) is a fitness expert, nutrition and life coach, media personality and author of two books including her most recent Your Fittest Future Self. Connect with her on social media at FitByKathleenT or through her website KathleenTrotter.com