Progress, not Perfection

Life is messy - progress not perfection graphic. Orange circle with words in side. Dark green circle in background.

As we (thankfully) ring in 2021 its time to have a chat about New Years resolutions and, really, goals in general. Have you ever picked a resolution or goal and attempted to jump right in, expecting yourself to execute that goal perfectly from day one? How has that worked out for you in years past? Are you still making the same resolutions year after year?

Many clients I work with want to go from 0 to 100 with their nutrition and expect perfection right out of the gate. They want to go from fast food at every meal to instantly prepping homemade meals every night.  While its true we often start off with heightened motivation and willpower,  eventually that motivation wanes, willpower runs low and quite frankly, things just come up that make it hard to stick to your goals (hello COVID-19?!). If were talking specifically about New Year’s resolutions, research shows that most people have dropped their resolutions by mid-February. Why? There are many reasons and schools of thought surrounding the reason we drop our resolutions so quickly. The one I’d like to discuss today is expecting perfection. 

Expecting perfection in any area of our lives is often unobtainable or perhaps is obtainable for a short period of time with consequences; such as giving up things in our social life or disregarding other important parts of our life in order to achieve those goals. 

Many times, our goals are misaligned with the lifestyles we lead or are so far-fetched we need everything to run perfectly in order to meet the goals we set. Unfortunately life is messy; things come up last minute that interfere with our routine and the ability to keep everything in “perfect” working order. 

What should you be aiming for instead when setting a goal or resolution? Seeking progress over perfection! Consider taking a step in the right direction versus a total overhaul of whatever area of your life you are working on.

How do we achieve progress? By taking smaller steps than you might think! Here are my top five tips for progress instead of perfection with habit creation in order to reach your performance nutrition goals:

1. First and foremost: Be kind to yourself. Instead of beating yourself up for mistakes, consider the situation a learning experience. If you don’t reach your goal initially or make a “mistake” (and you will!) – picture a big red STOP sign to stop any negative talk, take a deep breath, and give yourself a little positive affirmation:“I am new to this and it’s going to take me some time but I will get there”.

Making mistakes is part of the journey for anything you want to achieve in life, and that includes nutrition. Make the most out of those mistakes by figuring out what you learn from it and what you can do differently next time to reach your goal.

2. Start Small & Be Specific! Another thing I often see are goals to “get stronger” or “eat better”. These goals are too vague and set you up for failure. How will you know if you are meeting these goals? What steps are you going to take to meet these goals?

Let’s say for example you want to include breakfast as part of your day to fuel your afternoon workout but have never been a breakfast eater. What steps are you going to take to get you there? Such as: when and where am I going to eat breakfast? What foods do I need to have at home or in my car? Is there anything I will need to prepare ahead of time?

Starting small might mean keeping some dry cereal in your car, locker, or workspace as an option you can eat earlier in the day. As you go along that cereal might turn into a bowl of cereal with milk, then you might add fruit, and perhaps one day that habit grows into creating a breakfast you sit down to eat before heading out for the day. By breaking it down you are better able to conquer smaller bites and incorporate them into your day in a SUSTAINABLE manner versus jumping in with no plan. 

3. Remember your habit! A sneaky tip provided by B.J. Fogg is to pair your new resolution or goal with something you are already doing every day; such as brushing your teeth, showering, or driving to work. What pairs well is different for everyone but this can be a way to plant the seed of a goal or new habit and remember to do it at the frequency you desire.

Let’s use the eating breakfast to meet your fueling goals one step further. You have decided that you need to incorporate that breakfast by bringing baggies of cereal with you to eat on the go, but how? You’ve packed that dry cereal but often leave it in the car or on the counter at home. What can you pair it with? Can you pack it in the lunch you are already bring with you? Can you set it next to your car keys? What are you already doing to help trigger a reminder to bring that breakfast along? A good example might be “I will place my bag of cereal next to my coffee so I don’t forget it.”

4. Have a back up plan. Remember when I said you would make mistakes? Inevitably you will come up against an obstacle or barrier that tries to keep you from reaching that goal or changing a habit. Instead of giving up, here is where the backup plan comes into play, called the “IF, THEN”. Think of some obstacles that might come your way OR if you make one of those mistakes ask yourself “what can I do better next time?” then include it as your personalized IF,THEN statement.

“IF I forget my cereal on the counter, THEN I will pick up a banana in the cafeteria on my way to class.” “IF I am not hungry for my cereal at breakfast time, THEN I will save it for my next snack.” and so on.

5. Give yourself TIME. Consider your current habits. How long have you had these habits? Probably most, if not all of your life.  Just like you didn’t develop your habits overnight, you likely aren’t going to change them overnight either. On average it takes about 66 days to create a habit, but the range is anywhere from 18-254 days!! It’s also important to let that one small habit settle in before you start adding something else in. Overdoing it can lead to overwhelm and dropping habits entirely especially when life gets in the way, which is why you see so many people fall off the wagon with their resolutions by February. 

Take action! What is one step you can take now to prepare yourself for a goal or habit you would like to modify or add? Pick ONE tiny thing you already know you want to work on and go for it! 

TELL ME: what are some ways you aim for progress instead of perfection?

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