By Rob Archangel, 180DegreeHealth.com staff writer
Last week the the Stoner and I caught up, and I mentioned the idea I’d been keeping close to heart recently, that “persistance is better than perfection.” I don’t know where I heard it first, but Google turns up plenty of hits for that or similar phrases. He liked it and suggested I share a few thoughts on that theme.
Matt has this great expression: “The perfect diet is very unhealthy.” I think you can read that a few different ways:
- the belief in a perfect diet is itself unhealthy
- a diet that is ‘perfect’ is immune from revision or criticism and long term leads to imbalances that we don’t adjust for so long as we remain fixated on its “perfectness”
- a diet that may even actually be perfect for one person may not be for anyone or everyone else
And so on. It’s a provocative statement, and I like it because it prompts some reflection and reconsideration.
Anyway, I’d been thinking about it in relation to my own diet and health escapades. The major points were: skinny kid turned fat pre-teen, turned orthorexic teenage over-exerciser and undereater, turned ethical vegetarian/vegan, then Weston a Price-y locavore, then low-carb paleo devotee, and now creeping back toward normalcy with a Chief/180 style work hard, play hard, eat hard, largely intuitive and unrestricted diet and joyful movement-based exercise plan. In the last several months since working with Chief, I’ve started to see some gains in strength and energy levels that are novel to me, though with regular fits and starts. I see a general upward trend in strength markers, in muscle gain and fat loss, and in general feelings of vitality, but the gains often come at a modest clip, and sometimes stall or even backward slide. A major difference between now and previous go-arounds is that I haven’t quit.
I first started weight training in high school, stopped, then re-started in college, stopped, and intermittently repeated the pattern in the years since. So much lost time because the gains didn’t come fast and hard and I thought it wasn’t worth it. No crying over spilled milk, but I now remind myself that real growth happens on a slower time scale than we’re accustomed to.
Matt’s been talking about television recently a bit, and one of the arguments against it that Jerry Mander takes is: the very nature of the medium demands action. You highlight the moments of greatest impact when you’re creating television shows, not the quiet, contemplative and inward-focused moments. Over time, those of us who watch TV become habituated to this dramatic action orientation; we crave it, are depressed when we don’t get it, and often create it in our lives so they don’t feel dull or tedious. It’s a huge shift to neurologically habituate from slower natural patterns to sped-up, modern-life, mass media (Matrix) patterns.
When it comes to our own health and fitness goals, our bodies still operate on that slower scale, and if we don’t adjust our expectations away from TV-style fast results, we might be inclined to quit as I frequently did. This is a mistake. Don’t fall for it. That’s the point of this post.
I’ve been playing lots of basketball recently and the pattern applies there- my vertical has gone up and down, my jumper has been more or less on target, and my ability to read the floor and anticipate action doesn’t get uniformly better every day. But the trend line is moving in the right direction. Life is like that, and it helps us appreciate what we do achieve.
Malcolm Gladwell talks about the 10,000 hours it takes to become really good at something. We don’t become great in a matter of minutes, even days or weeks, but months and years. That effort is regenerative for us, is part of flow, that optimal experience; it incites neurological and cellular regeneration, and keeps us engaged and alive. It’s the basis for our sense of pride, satisfaction and accomplishment. That’s not to say: don’t be prudent when taking up a new practice, don’t adjust as needed, or definitely continue to do something you hate because you think you have to. But also don’t despair; when trying something new, consider giving yourself adequate time to see it through before bailing. Perfection is an avatar not worth chasing. Much better to keep going, warts and all, toward your goals.