How Having A Perfectionist Mindset Is Working Against You And Your Goals
Do you struggle with putting unnecessary pressure on yourself to execute your plan perfectly?
To the point where when you do encounter a setback, you are guilty of just throwing in the towel altogether and telling yourself you’ll start over again on Monday?
You aren’t alone.
More often than not, the first step toward goal attainment isn’t even taken due to self-sabotage as a result of striving for perfection leading to inaction. Although achieving perfection appears glamorous and brag-worthy, the truth is that it does more harm than good. In fact, it works against you and diminshes your opportunities to learn and grow.
In this episode, listen to Paul and Micheala as they explain how the all or nothing, perfectionist mindset is actually working against you and your goals.
They both share how this toxic mindset has shown up in their own journeys, and walk you through tangible action steps to take to make that mental shift so you can learn to strive for consistency over perfection and ultimately, become more successful achieving your goals.
- Learn the true impact an off-meal or off-day has on your progress in the grand scheme of things to better comprehend the power of consistency over perfection.
- Perfectionism breeds self-sabotage, which is obviously counterproductive to your goals. But if you reframe or redefine perfect, you’ll be better equipped to consistently implement actions that work for you rather than against you.
- A perfectionist mindset takes up a hell of a lot of brain space and literally depletes your actual energy, calories wasted, because you can’t make up your mind or you’re stuck in the state of inaction.
- A perfectionist mindset actually reduces the number of opportunities we have to learn and grow; the moment we stop learning and growing is the moment we start dying…
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Hey everyone, welcome back to another episode of The 5% Way Podcast with your host, Paul Salter and myself, co-host Micheala Barsotti. I am excited for today’s episode because this is something that I struggled with a ton throughout my early years getting into health and fitness and Paul, I’m sure that you can relate some point in your journey as well. We’re talking all about the sneaky all or nothing, perfectionist mindset. This really tends to show up when we’re mistaken and think that we need to be perfect in order to achieve results. Unfortunately, this mindset is extremely toxic and tends to really work against us because as long as you strive for perfection with the process, is the longer that you’re really going to continue to struggle. You have to learn to ease up a bit, and as humans, we want to always do the best we can. Sometimes we confuse doing the best we can, with needing to execute perfectly. There really is that difference between giving your best daily and expecting to be the best in everything you do. It’s just not going to happen.
Paul, before, or as we dive in here, I would love to kick things off with you explaining a little bit more about the perfectionist mindset. Maybe even share with us ways that it showed up in your life.
Yes. Happy to. This one takes me way back the story I’m about to share, and it’s going to have a lot of relatability. What I want to challenge you to do, is just listen closely because we’re going to dive into, after I share this story, Micheala shares a little bit more about her own battle and experience with this perfectionist mindset, about how this mindset works against us. I just want you to see and hear, and perhaps even feel just, it makes me cringe thinking about what I’m going to share and just how much it just really proved to be even more challenging during this period of my life.
When I first got into body building, I was the rip old age of, I believe, 19. I still remember to this day sitting in class, the class was ethnomusicology. I had no interest in any aspect of that class, but actually, it introduced me to country music at a time I wasn’t even into country music and now I love it. There’s there’s the silver lining. Anyway, I die aggress. This is when I first stumbled upon body building and really went down the rabbit hole of just consuming anything I could about nutrition and exercise and supplementation related to body building. You see these people, these men in particular, walking around at 3%, 4&, 5% single digit body fat. I couldn’t help but immediately think that I had to be absolutely perfect. I’m not blessed with the most outstanding genetics to look like these guys. I had no room for error, so to speak, when it came to missing a workout, missing a meal, a macro, a calorie, a supplement that the perfect time, et cetera.
Sadly, or for better because it’s got me where I am today, but for the next three or four years, I let bodybuilding consume my life with the underlying belief that I had to be absolutely perfect with my macros. I wrote a post that ruffled a few feathers a couple months ago, talking about my marriage to MyFitnessPal. I literally was married to MyFitnessPal. I had that app opened 24/7. I took it with me everywhere I went. That’s even actually if I went somewhere, I was so concerned with trying to be perfect, nailing my macros, that most of the time I didn’t live life.
I was too caught up in managing my macros rather than making memories. It became incredibly draining. I had no social life. I spent all of my time either in the gym, in the kitchen meal prepping, or just by myself because I was too fearful to go live life to the fullest because I felt if I missed one single workout, mismanaged my macros, even down to a gram, a bite or a calorie, that all of my hard work was for nothing that. I would’ve just undone weeks or months of hard work in that singular moment in which I was not perfect.
That mindset really was the framework for all of my decisions and actions for, like I said, a very long period of time. I look back at that time during my life and just see so much missed opportunity. Again, I’m very grateful for the experience, but I just see so much, I don’t want to call it wasted, I’ll go back to the word potential opportunity when it comes to having different experiences, making memories, meeting new people, and learning new lessons, cetera, because I was so consumed with perfectionism.
The one other thing I’ll add Micheala too, is this was almost 12 years ago. Social media was very popular, but it’s not what it is today, especially Instagram. Instagram was not around then or if it was, I wasn’t on it. Now it’s so easy to just get these filtered images of people’s end destination. Whether it’s their perfect physique or it’s pictures of their bank account or their travel or their luxury possessions, we see that and that’s all we see. We assume that we have to be all in, all perfect, or we can’t even come close to achieving what everybody else on the internet is achieving. That is really just conditioned us, like dug us deeper if you will, into the hole of this perfectionist mindset.
Yeah. That’s really where my perfectionist mindset kind of came in to play, was when I first got started with my health and fitness journey, I made the mistake of thinking and putting this unnecessary pressure on myself that I had to be perfect with everything I did. If I was going to be in the industry and be a trainer and be a nutrition coach, then I have to be doing everything all the time, because who’s going to want to work with me if I’m not doing it.
I created this mindset where, again, it was just so much pressure on myself. With that, over the years, I also adapted the identity with my friends and my family as the healthy fit girl. I was always the one to be expected to order a salad at a restaurant. Let’s say for instance, it’s Christmas and I’m at the dessert table and I’m grabbing a brownie. I can’t tell you how many times somebody would call me out for it. In the moment, I would stop dead in my tracks because they meant nothing by it, but for me, it was that immediate guilt and pressure and shame as if I’m doing something wrong. This guilt and pressure and shame, it all stuck with me throughout any time I made a decision that was off track, I could hear those voices. It was just something that, again, it was very self inflicted, nobody ever anything by it, but it was these expectations and standards that I held myself to for so long.
Yeah. I’ll say before we start diving into how just depleting and detrimental this mindset is, one of the ways I’ve learned to really articulate in my growth as a teacher, a coach and an educator is, we all really have a much easier job, or not all, most of us, with numbers and imagery. When I’m teaching it from a nutrition perspective, it’s like, “Okay, if you eat, let’s say four meals per day, seven days per week. Over two weeks, that’s 56 meals and you have one, I’m using air quotes right now, bad or off plan meal. That’s 1.7% of all of your total intake over those two weeks. In the grand scheme of things, it means absofuckinglutely nothing. It’s one tiny fucking percent.” We let ourselves, I mean, this is both Micheala and I speaking from personal experience, only focus on the 1% when there is so much else to be enjoyed and focused on and experienced, we let the 1% consume us.
Yep. Yeah. Let’s dive into ways that this mindset works against us. Paul, can you kick us off with the first one?
Absolutely. How many times have we all thought about, “Oh, I’m so excited to start or do this. I’m going to wait until that elusive perfect time.” This has happened. One of the personal examples as of late is, if you’re familiar with the 75 hard challenge, this is something I’ve completed twice. As I’ve record this episode I’m like, I don’t know, day five or something, but I’ve been talking about doing it a third time for almost a year now. I kept waiting for that perfect time. I remember like, “Oh no, I’m going to Mexico during that 75 day stretch,” or, “Oh no, I’m going here. Oh no, I’m going to have an opportunity to travel here.” I just kept making excuses, excuses, excuses to the point it just fostered inaction.
When we continue to wait for that perfect moment to start like, yes, we hear there’s no perfect moment to start, that doesn’t always make it easier. What I can help you hopefully reframe with this is, when you start in the midst of chaos, you are thrown into reality from day one, which means you are forced to adapt quicker. One of the most common scenarios we see this play out, is people waiting to postpone, feeling better, looking better, doing more, et cetera, to take care of themselves until after the holidays. The fucking holidays are coming every single year, that time of year, for the rest of eternity. If you can learn to navigate those holidays now, you’re going to be set up for success for the rest of eternity. There’s never a perfect time. This mindset really traps us in a state of inaction and just leaves you really scratching your head months, years, decades later, reflecting on how many potential opportunities for change and transformation you missed out on, because you were waiting for something that doesn’t exist.
For sure. Kind of taking that one and adding on here, the next one is creating self sabotage. When you are chasing the perfect plan, how many times have you messed up, and now I’m using air quotes, messed up and you feel like you ruined everything so you’re just going to have to start back over on Monday, or, “I have to eat all of the stuff now, because on Monday, I’m starting at diet.” I’ve heard from clients before, they felt like their workout was a waste, oh, this one grinds my gears, their workout was a waste because they didn’t burn enough calories. It’s discounting all of the hard work that you have done leading up to that point, because that exact scenario didn’t quite as planned and also creating again, unrealistic expectations of the perfect way that it’s supposed to be.
It really does, when you think that you have to do something one certain way, it limits you. It boxes you in so that there is only a right or a wrong. That’s not the way that a healthy lifestyle works. There is no one way to do it. There is no right wrong, black and white, good or bad. It’s just, there’s always different decisions for you. I always like to say there’s a good, better, and best decision in every scenario. You always have the opportunity, and guess what, you get to choose. Sometimes the best choice in that scenario, is the good decision. Something that it doesn’t fit the guidelines of the perfect answer, but in that moment, it was perfect for that situation. When you kind of have that open mind and think, you always have control over your decisions. When you take the power and make the control or make the decision and own it, it feels a lot different. The guilt and the anxiety, it all goes away because you made that decision, even if it doesn’t necessarily really align with your goals.
Yeah, absolutely. A great point. Moving on to number three is, this perfectionist mindset takes up a hell of a lot of brain space and literally depletes your actual energy, calories wasted, because you can’t make up your mind or you’re stuck in the state of inaction. The way I saw this play out for me for so many years early on, based on the journey and story I shared at the beginning of this episode is, I would wake up in the morning and I’m thinking about food. I would be eating food and thinking about the next time I could eat food. I would just waste so much energy thinking about X, planning my day around my decision making around food in this specific example. It was all related to trying to be perfect. Again, it goes to focusing on, let’s call it the 1%. I couldn’t detach myself enough and make peace with the fact I could hit my macros 99% of the time. In all reality, it could maybe be 90% of the time. The point is, not perfect. I couldn’t detach enough to build a relationship with imperfection.
Instead, I expended more energy. I stressed more, worried more, and when someone’s trying to lose weight and they’re chronically stressed, that’s not a recipe for good, successful, sustainable fat loss. I just really fostered this environment that was counterproductive to even achieving perfection in the first place. Self sabotaging behaviors would creep in. Then the negative thoughts, the inner harsh critic would take over. It would just physically, mentally and emotionally drain me to continue to pursue something that is really not attainable, but most importantly, not enjoyable when it comes to living life to the fullest.
Yeah. Gosh, I can so relate to that. I think about, even for me, the anxiety I felt when I have a social situation, because I’m like, “If I don’t have complete control over how to handle that situation, I’m going to be a failure.” How many times are we put in situations where the plan, it doesn’t go the way that it was supposed to go. We need to be able to pivot and give ourselves grace to understand that it’s not always going to go perfectly. We say it often, but it’s part of the process to have these hiccups and speed bumps, and how you handle it is everything.
The last one of ways this mindset works against us, is understanding that these restrictive diet plans literally feed this mentality. Having these good and bad food lists, eat this not that, and if you happen to eat something that’s bad, you immediately think you’re a failure. You immediately ruined the plan. It’s understanding that the approach that you take, having structure and having a plan, I will always be a strong advocate for when it comes to your nutrition and your fitness and all of that. Structure so important, but your structure needs to also be flexible and it needs to be able to provide some leeway. Again, when those hiccups happen, you need to learn and have the skills to know how to pivot and still put yourself in a situation where you can make one of those good, better, or best decisions. Doesn’t all need to go to crap just because you messed up, air quotes again, in that moment.
Yeah. I just had a thought. This literally just hit me as I was listening to you. There’s the quote or saying out there, I’m going to butcher it, but it’s basically the moment we stop learning, we start dying. Perfectionism kind of like breeds us for the dying because every time we have a misstep or a quote unquote failure, that creates an opportunity to learn. We get to learn how to do something differently that is better, more efficient, more effective, more powerful. If we only latch onto perfectionism, not only do we miss out on so much of life, but we truly never create these mini growth moments, these mini growth opportunities in which we could actually do what we’re doing, but because of the growth opportunity, learn how to do it a hell of a lot more efficiently and effectively, which then opens up space to enjoy life and experience life even more. I think that too, is just something that can’t be spoken about enough.
We thrive and grow as a human species when we are learning, when we are stretched outside of our comfort zone. Yes, it might seem cool and our ego gets involved, but we’re like, “Oh, I’m fucking perfect. I don’t miss workouts. I don’t miss meals. I don’t miss bill payments, X, Y, and Z,” but it’s like, “Wait a second here.” You’re wasting so much of your life dedicating precious energy to trying to be perfect. You could probably take a step back or have someone else come in and audit your approach and be like, “No dude, you can do this a hell of a lot easier. Do it like this to save time, save money, save energy.” You’ve never had those opportunities to learn that, because you’re so glued to perfection or bust. Definitely it’s something to keep in mind as well.
Yeah. If you are struggling with the perfectionist mindset, living in that all or nothing mindset, the scarcity mindset, I encourage you to seek out accountability because it can be so beneficial for you in your journey to let this go. Having somebody else be able to A, recognize of the positives that you are having. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had a one-on-one with clients where they’re telling me like, “Oh, I messed up this week. It was a horrible week. I did this and this,” but then they carry on and they start to share so many other positives. They just completely discount those because of the one thing that they did that was bad or that wasn’t on plan.
Yeah. We’ve talked about the many ways perfectionism works against us. It breeds inaction. It leads to self sabotage. It depletes our mental, our emotional and physical energy stores. When we set up these perfectionist boundaries and action steps, it just breed further perfectionism, which ultimately does not allow us the opportunity to learn and grow.
Let’s talk about what to do instead. The first action step is going to seem like face palms, simply stupid, but just fucking start. One tiny action step goes a long way. The greatest amount of energy you will expend when it comes to taking an action step, is actually starting. That activation energy requirement is so huge but as soon as you get over that hump, the next action step, and the next one, are going to be easier and easier and easier because you’re going to be building this wonderful wave of positive momentum. You’ve got to just start. As we talk about, whether on The 5% Way Podcast on a previous episode, a future episode articles, or just Micheala and I social media as a whole, start super freaking tiny. Give yourself an opportunity to create a win and let the inevitable flooding of dopamine and the positive emotions associated with that win, really carry you into the next action step, the next win, and so forth.
Next something is always better than nothing. Such, again, a simple, simple concept, but really we need to remind ourselves of this more. You are only ever, first of all, one meal or one decision away from being right back on track where you were. Let’s say, for example, you only have 30 minutes to work out, but typically your workouts are 60 minutes. Well, go get dressed, go workout for 30 minutes, and get it done because 30 minutes is better than zero minutes. Rather than just throwing the whole day away because you can’t get in you’re 60 minutes of a workout, do what you can. You’re going to feel so much better after you do it. You are just building a stronger and stronger foundation of those habits because of the execution. It’s always about consistency and what we can do over and over and over again. The more that you just completely throw it away because you have a hiccup, you’re not going to be very successful. We need to push through and just do what we can with the time that we have.
That’s a phenomenal example. Yeah. That one we’re really hit me, landed with me well. Yeah, I like that a lot. Rhe next thing, what you can do is, mistakes are a great thing, kind of like I alluded to earlier. That was not intentional. That’s so funny that it worked out that way because I don’t even remember seeing this note when I was reviewing.
I added it.
That’s perfect. It’s like, mistakes are a great thing. They just create opportunities for you to get better. You essentially have learned what is working, maybe what is not working too well, and what opportunity there is to do things differently to improve. Mistakes are a good thing. Perfectionism just breeds self-sabotaging behavior, that’s if you even start at all. Otherwise, you remain stuck in that perpetual loop of inaction and negative self-talk with a harsh inner critic. Make the mistakes. That’s where you learn and you grow and you experience life. Don’t hold back because you’re afraid of making a mistake. That is really where the growth, the success, and the progress occur.
One of my favorite things now, you know Paul, that this past year I’ve really been trying to step out of my comfort zone more and taking on just a lot of the foreign land, if you will. It’s scary as heck and I make a lot of mistakes. I used to get really discouraged by it and it would turn me off and scare me and make me want to run away from the situation. What’s really inspired me lately, is learning from people that are more successful, learning their background and their journey to get to where they are. When you hear how many times they were told no, how many situations that didn’t go as planned, it just really makes you realize this is the path that everybody takes. It looks a little different for everyone. Don’t be fooled that this successful person that you see now, didn’t go through all of the hiccups and all of those challenges. It is part of the process. The people that succeed, are the ones that took those hiccups and they analyzed them and then they reassessed and they learn from them and they moved forward.
Yeah, It’s a great point. To tie it back into kind of what we began this conversation with. You see the people on social media with all the fancy luxury and materialistic goods or they’re showing pictures of their bank accounts or their physique, but I can guarantee you, they made many mistakes. The person showcasing and flashing all their money, probably has lost a hell of a lot money first before they learned how to actually make it. The person who is lean, healthy, fit, strong has failed countless reps in the gym, made plenty of mistakes on their diet. One diet failed, cheated on this, that, the other.
They don’t post any of that because that’s not sexy. People aren’t attracted to all of the hardship. We want to see the good, the positivity as we’ve talked about before, it’s positive change that elicits action and change in our behaviors, those feel good emotions. If people were just posting on social media, “Oh, I failed this today. I lost $100K here,” that would be one hell of a depressing social media channel. It wouldn’t drive the engagement as much as posting all of the flashy things. We can’t compare our own journey to the end destinations we see plastered, and probably somewhat filtered, all over social media platforms.
So true. The last one, I already alluded to here, but whatever it is that you choose, just making sure that you own it. Going back to your good, better, and best options everywhere you go. This is a very common example, out to a restaurant. Let’s say you go out to a restaurant and you’re like, “I’m going to stay on track tonight.” Then the bread bowl comes to the table and then you’re like, “All right, I’m going to have one.” Next thing you know, you’re thinking in your head, you’re like, “I really want another one. Do I not?” You’re weighing out your pros and cons here, right? A good decision would be, “I’m going to go a little over tonight, but I’m going to enjoy the bread and then I’m just going to move on.” A better decision would be, “I’m going to stop at my one roll and that’s that. Then I’m going to stay on track.” The best decision maybe is, “I’m going to really aim to stick to my plan tonight. I’m just going to have a half a roll because that’s what fits with my meal and then whatever,” right?
There are all the different decisions that you can make. As I said before, there’s not one that’s better than the other, it’s really just making sure that you’re confident in the decision you make. When you tell yourself, “I’m not going to have any bread,” and then you go and have it, you’re setting up unrealistic expectations right off the bat, which is just already putting you in a position to hate yourself for the decision that you made. It goes back to setting those realistic expectations. If you’re going out to dinner and it’s your favorite Italian restaurant and you know they have bread, don’t tell yourself you’re not going to have any. Just own it. Own the fact that you made that decision and then get right back on track.
Yeah. I think sometimes not the best decision in hindsight, actually ends up being the best decision in the moment. It was kind of just really reinforcing that example, the best decision for you in your mind initially, might be not to have any bread whatsoever, but in the moment you feel so compelled and you’d rather not expend all your energy thinking about it. You might have viewed two rolls as maybe not the best decision, but in the moment, that not best decision becomes the best decision because it gives you your sanity and an opportunity to experience and enjoy the occasion.
Yeah. I wanted to share this too, when I was talking about creating self sabotage because I think this will really relate to some of you out there if you’re battling with this. I remember specifically, and this has probably happened more than once which is why I remember it, but I remember being at a family party and my aunt makes the best brownies. They’re like a blondies type of brownies. I love chocolate chip cookies, so put that in more chocolate together and boom. Anyways, this was one of the times where I was super strict, really struggling a lot with my relationship with food and I’m like, “I’m not going to have any of them.” I kept walking by the dessert table and grabbing like a crumble. I kept like adding a little bit more, a little bit more. Next thing you know, I think I ate half of the tray. I didn’t even enjoy it because I was just walking by and popping it in my mouth and getting it down quick before I actually realized what I was doing.
When you talk about self sabotage, wouldn’t it have been better to cut myself a piece of a brownie, sit down at the table with everybody else, and enjoy the brownie and be present and just like eat it slowly? When we have this perfectionist mindset, we think we’re being bad. Then that shame kicks in and we just sabotage ourselves in the moment, we eat super fast, and we don’t even enjoy it.
Yeah. I couldn’t agree more. I can relate to that too on many levels and many scenarios. I think the last thing I’ll leave our listeners with is, you don’t need me to do this, but I’m going to do it for you anyway, is you have our permission to not be perfect. You have our permission to be less than perfect, and guess what? You can still make outstanding progress not being perfect. The most important part is that by not being perfect, you are far more likely to sustain your results. This is your permission to not have to be perfect, even for yourself, if you’re the only one holding yourself accountable, know that that wiggle room is called opportunity for experiencing life to the fullest and also opportunity for growth. That’s where you should spend most of your time and energy, not on this pursuit of perfection because it does not really lead to the sustainable happiness or results you desire.
Well, we thank you guys for listening so much today. We really hope that you found this episode and discussion valuable. If you did, we would appreciate it so much if you share it with a friend who may also find it helpful. If you have not already, it would mean so much to us if you left us a genuine review on Apple Podcasts or wherever it is that you’re listening to us today. Thank you so much for listening, and we’ll talk soon.
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