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If you're a perfectionist, you know how hard that job is. You work 24 hours a day, 7 days a week with no lunch break, no vacations and, well, no pay. Perfectionism has its upside - You're focused, you're driven and you never stop. To some people, you're the go-to person in any given situation. To others, you're a pain in the rear but, either way, you get things done. The problem is, you may not get much satisfaction in your accomplishments because you're always worried they just aren't good enough.

Perfectionism can leak into every part of your life, especially exercise. We perfectionists get so worried about doing the right workout for the right length of time at the right intensity that we barely focus on how we actually feel about our workouts, much less enjoy them. If this sounds familiar, there are some things you can practice to liberate yourself from the constant need for perfection:

  • Live in the Moment: Living in the moment is one of those overused phrases that sounds good but, for perfectionists, may feel as impossible as growing another nose. However, paying attention what you're doing allows your worries ("Am I doing this right? Should I be doing something else?") to fade away as you immerse yourself in the movement of your body. Practice focusing on your workouts. When your mind drifts, bring it back to the exercise you're doing with a remind that this is your exercise time - it's about making your body strong and fit, so there's no 'right' way to do it.
  • Find Value in Every Effort: One of the worst side effects of perfectionism is feeling like a failure. Instead of thinking, "Hey, I went to the gym 5 times this week," you're thinking, "I only did 20 minutes that one day and I know I could've lifted more weight." Second-guessing yourself after the fact sucks all the enjoyment out of what you actually accomplished. Practice listing all the things you can be proud of rather than your mistakes.
  • Tune Out the Self-Talk: We all have voices in our heads, but the perfectionist's voice sounds a lot like the mean teacher I had in 3rd grade who never let me share at show and tell. When the Mean Teacher starts nagging, I find the best defense is the simplest: I tell her to shut up because I'm going to do my workout anyway...even if it's wrong, wrong, wrong. And then I stick out my tongue and sing nanny, nanny, boo, boo.

What about you? Are you an exercise perfectionist and, if so, how does that affect your workouts? How do you let go of perfection and find satisfaction in what you're doing? Leave a comment and tell us about it.

July 10, 2010 at 2:14 pm
(1) Shakib Shahriyar says:

Thanks for such a lovely post.

July 11, 2010 at 12:04 am
(2) Fitness fan says:

For me, it wasn’t so much perfectionism as obstinacy. I had a tendency to doing my workout exactly the same no matter what, the first two years I restarted my workout regimen in 2005. I also had a tendency to push myself to the max. It’s a bit unrealistic given the injuries, soreness, or not ideal frame of mind at the time of any workout. I should look forward to a workout; a workout shouldn’t be a grim and foreboding event because of an ailment or current mood. It is in a very real sense being enslaved to the workout, rather than being served by it.

My recurring inflammation and intense pain in my right arch forced me to take a more pragmatic approach and adjust the intensity and/or length of my workout on the elliptical. My periodic strained shoulder or elbow is now addressed with a similar approach to recovery during upper body weight training. The recovery period is now much quicker with a less drastic adjustment for both workouts.

It’s natural to experience an occasional strain or sprain with the level of exertion; it’s what I do as a result that is critical.

Thanks, Paige, for raising these practical and meaningful hints.

July 13, 2010 at 6:24 pm
(3) Kelly says:

Great post! It is really helpful for people to realize if they are exhibiting perfectionist tendencies in their workouts. Setting goals for yourself is a great way to drive yourself to achieve more, but everyone needs to realize that they are only human. Perfection is not always realistic, but give it your best effort (no cheating!) and you will see results!

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