Is Perfectionism Killing Your Results?

A while back, I sent out a survey to my clients and readers asking them about the biggest obstacles keeping them from reaching their fitness goals.  Here are some of the responses that I received…

“I do fine all week long, I eat really clean.  But as soon as the weekend comes, it’s like my willpower goes out the window.  I pig out on everything I can get my hands on.”

“…If I can’t get it perfect, what’s the point in starting?…”

“If I don’t have time to workout 6 days a week, then why start?  Because it won’t work anyways.”

I have to admit, reading all of the struggles that my community members were dealing with was upsetting for me.  It’s hard to explain, it’s almost as if I could feel the weight of them pressing down on my chest.

It triggered memories of my own similar struggles.  I used think this way.  It’s why I often call myself a recovering perfectionist.

Perfectionists vs. “Optimalists”

In his book Being Happy, author Tal Ben-Shaham explains the difference between perfectionists and what he calls “optimalists”.


There are several differences, but the biggest one is how they react to mistakes or perceived failures.

When perfectionists make mistakes — or fail, for lack of a better word — they view themselves as failures.  They internalize it.  They give up because they think they’ll never succeed.

“Optimalists”, on the other hand, use mistakes or failures as feedback to adapt, grow, and improve.

Is perfectionism stopping you from reaching your goals?  Is it holding you back?

Here are a few of the ways that perfectionism might be killing your progress…and what to do about it…

Perfectionism leads to inaction

Perfectionism is an excuse.  A crutch.  It’s a way to justify procrastination.

It’s a reason to avoid taking action.  A way to avoid mistakes.

For many of us, perfectionism is an attempt to control the outcome — which is impossible.

Perfectionists often remain in a perpetual state of of “planning”, “waiting” or inaction.  They don’t make positive changes or take action because they’re always waiting for the “perfect time” or the ideal situation.

There will never be an ideal place, time, or situation.  Those things don’t exist.

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What to do instead:  Just take action.  Any action, no matter how small.  Take it immediately.  Stop waiting for everything to be ideal, it never will be.  Just get shit done.  Good enough and done always beats perfect, because perfect never gets done.

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Perfectionists are defensive

Perfectionists get defensive when they encounter opposition.

They’re closed off to suggestion.  They refuse feedback because they can’t see that it might be them that can or should change, not others.

What to do instead:  When you’re feeling criticized or defensive ask yourself:  “Is there some truth to what this person is saying?”  You don’t always have to agree, nor should you let other people walk all over you.  Just remain open to suggestion and consider whether there’s some way you can use that person’s criticism to improve or grow.

Perfectionists fear failure

Fear of failure is normal.  Trust me, I get it.

It feels crappy, but it doesn’t mean that you suck or that you’re a failure.

Failure is simply a mistake.  It’s an indication that we need to change our approach.  It’s feedback.

Perfectionists fear failure because they internalize it.  They make it about them even though it’s not.

What to do instead:  Use failure as feedback.  Don’t be hard yourself.  Just look for the lesson in the struggle and learn from it.

Perfectionists don’t appreciate the process

Perfectionists have a difficult time feeling grateful for what they have or feeling satisfied with where they’re at.  They’re always striving to do more, have more, or be more.

They adopt “the grind” mentality.  For example…

“As soon as I lose 20 lb. I’ll be happy.”

“As soon as I accomplish _______, life will be better.”

The problem with “the grind” mentality is that it only allows for you to be happy when you attain a specific result.  And even then, it’s often not enough because there’s always the next thing.

Perfectionists have a hard time appreciating the process because they see it as an inconvenient means to an end.  They’re constantly chasing something, so they often remain unsatisfied.

What to do instead:  Embrace the process, view it as an opportunity to learn and grow.  Practice gratitude along the way.  Take a few moments everyday to write down one thing that you’re grateful for and one small win that you had.

Perfectionists have an all-or-nothing mindset

All-or-nothing thinking is something that I address over and over in my coaching programs because so many of my clients struggle with it.

They set impossible standards and rules for themselves and then they get caught up in self-reproach when they can’t stick to them.

Everyone eats junk food or misses workouts every now and again.  Even experts (*gasp!*).  And yet, perfectionists refuse to give themselves a break because they think they need to be flawless.

Taking the all-or-nothing approach to training, eating, competing — or anything else for that matter — just leads to misery and failure.  All-or-nothing always just ends up being… “nothing”.

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What to do instead:  Understand that there’s always a grey area.  Find this grey area and you’ll get results.  Don’t be so hard on yourself, show yourself some compassion.

Let good enough be good enough

The journey isn’t about being perfect, it’s about growth.

Perfectionists miss out on a lot because they’re constantly distracted by the need for a specific outcome.

Instead of focusing on the outcome, enjoy the process.  Take action.  Learn.

…And let good enough, be good enough.

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