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Are You an Exercise Perfectionist?

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Updated November 01, 2005

Being a perfectionist can be a double-edged sword. While that perfectionism can motivate you to work harder, it can also get in the way of enjoying the process of reaching your goals and celebrating your successes. In fact, many perfectionists spend more time feeling like failures than feeling good about their accomplishments.

A perfectionist will often:

  • Set unreachable fitness goals. This might mean scheduling too much exercise, trying to lose more weight than is healthy or reasonable, or creating workouts that are too intense for your current fitness level.
  • Accept nothing less than perfection. If you only define success by eating perfectly every day or completing every workout as planned, without allowing for any flexibility, you might have set rules for yourself that are too rigid.
  • Kick themselves if they miss a workout or eat more than planned. A little guilt is normal, but if you feel extremely depressed or ashamed at every mistake (even if it's unavoidable), you're probably too hard on yourself.
  • Constantly worry about failure. If you feel that your actions define your worth, you're bound to feel bad about yourself sometimes since mistakes are inevitable.
  • Ignore success. If you kick yourself for losing five pounds instead of ten, or for only running three miles when you 'should've' run four, you probably have trouble seeing anything you do as being worthwhile and useful.

You can learn more by taking the quiz, Are You an Exercise Perfectionist?

How to Ease Up on Yourself

Using your perfectionist tendencies to your advantage is great, but if they're standing in the way of living a happy, successful life, it may be time to ease up on yourself.

Set Realistic Goals.

Take some time to look at your goals and decide if they're genuinely reachable or if they're set too high. If you can only run one mile but you keep setting your goal at four miles (and not reaching it), how helpful is that goal? Make your goal to improve on what you can already do rather than what you can't do. You have to crawl before you can walk...or run. Learn more about Setting Realistic Fitness Goals.

Listen to yourself.

What do you say to yourself when you don't reach a goal? If you're like most perfectionists, you probably say things like--'What a loser!' or 'I'll NEVER get this right...I suck!' That kind of thinking has more power than you think. If you don't believe me, take this challenge: For every negative thought you have about yourself, link a paper clip to another one. At the end of the day, you'll be surprised at the length of that chain. Instead of calling yourself a loser for missing a workout, try acknowleding that you're human and that you made a mistake. Then use your energy to figure out where you went wrong and what you could do better rather than kicking yourself.

Lighten Up.

As a perfectionist myself, I know that I can really be annoying. Just ask my husband how irritating I am when I make the tiniest mistake. Take a page from his book and learn how to relax and go with the flow more. Here's what I do: When you feel frustrated that you aren't being perfect, stop and take a deep breath to bring yourself back to the present moment. Then ask yourself how important your mistake really is and if it deserves all this energy and attention. Do you really need to freak out about eating an extra slice or pizza or can you let it go? The past is over...all you have is now.

Laugh at Yourself.

Perfectionists can be..well...kind of boring sometimes. We spend so much time worrying over every little thing, we forget how to have fun and stop taking life so seriously. We all make mistakes and many of them are silly. Cultivating the ability to laugh off those mistakes will do wonders for your stress level.

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