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If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you’ll know that I often take my writing inspiration from everyday conversations. One overlooked perk of being a physiotherapist is that I get to have candid talks with many people and I collect a variety of perspectives on life. When I listen closely, I can hear between the lines and start to see common threads in the human experience. These are the insights I like to bring to the blog.

Yesterday I heard three people talking about perfectionism and procrastination. These musings were in the context of entrepreneurism, but they apply equally to health and wellbeing. Let’s explore the topics together.

Perfection is not the goal

I am one of many people who grew up in Gen X and was recently re-classified as a millennial. I’m old enough to remember a life without computers and certainly without the internet. At the same time, I’m young enough that I’ve completed 13 years of university in order to do the work that I do. The millennial generation and its bordering neighbours have experienced lifelong pressures to be the absolute best. We strived to be valedictorians, first violin, and the next Steve Jobs. In a world that told us we were special until we reached adulthood, we worked hard to find our uniqueness after high school ended. In the world of entrepreneurs, I see this clearly in a Top 40 Under 40 list: those people are truly special.

When did it become undesirable to do the work behind the scenes? Why must we be the very best at something and stand out? I say this a bit tongue-in-cheek because I very much wish that I had the skills and mindset of those people on the Top 40 lists.

What would happen if we changed the goal? Why would we want to?

The world is full of colour

When we strive for perfection – in any aspect of life – we create a dichotomy. If we attain the goal, that’s a success; if we don’t, that’s a failure. Yes or no. Black or white.

But the world doesn’t work that way.

There’s a whole rainbow of colours that we can appreciate. For example, I won’t be on any Top 40 list, but the work that I do is valuable. I improve the lives of women, babies, and families. For privacy reasons I’m not able to share the details of my daily successes with anyone. These are my little secret joys – my pockets of colour that only I can see.

The impact on health

In the world of health, there can be a large chasm between black and white; failure and success. Leaping from one to the other can be impossible. After all, the journey in the opposite direction is often an incremental one. We don’t typically gain weight overnight but we don’t seem to have the same patience for losing it. We take months to develop adaptations to chronic pain but we’ll only accept a pain-free state as we take steps to heal.

By defining success so narrowly, we simply don’t take the small steps to cross that chasm. Anything other than perfection is considered a failure. And as humans, we can only fail for so long before we give up. Have you ever tried to lose weight, failed, and went back to your normal routine?

Next steps

Today, I challenge you to live out your day without judging your actions. It’s very difficult to do and it will take practice. (So if you end up judging your actions, try again tomorrow.) The things we do aren’t necessarily good or bad; they just… are.

If it helps, you can write down the activities in your day and consciously acknowledge that you assign positive or negative judgements to those activities. For example, if you write down that you were late for a meeting, you may view this as a failure. If you went to the gym, you may see this as a success. Try to let go and just factually state that you did these things. See how it makes you feel.

Join the conversation! Share with others on social media and comment with your thoughts and experiences.

See also:

Health: A different perspective

How to get comfortable with discomfort

Why being uncomfortable can be a great thing

Perfectionism and mental health


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