Is Perfectionism Keeping You From Getting Fit?

Perfectionism and Exercise

Fascinating New York Times blog post on exercising. Turns out perfectionism is a barrier to many people’s getting in shape.


“One of the biggest misconceptions is that exercise has to be hard, that exercise means marathon running or riding your bike for three hours or doing something really strenuous.” That’s textbook perfectionism: setting unachievable goals.

“I think a lot of people look to exercise to help them lose weight, and when they don’t lose weight immediately with exercise, they quit.” That’s three perfectionist symptoms right there: short term thinking, over-focus on product over process, and over-focus on external rewards.

The interviewee, Gretchen Reynolds, has just published a book “The First 20 Minutes,” the title referencing scientific data that shows that, if someone is out of shape, just 20 minutes of exercise can yield huge health benefits. Perfectionists may well be suspicious of this advice, however, because they tend to be suspicious of success when it comes too easily. They expect everything to be a hard struggle, and are caught off guard when something isn’t.

I’m not surprised that perfectionism is a barrier to fitness because if you’ve got perfectionist tendencies they’re probably going to crop up in many of your important endeavors.

The article reaches a nice compassionate conclusion:

“The human body is a really excellent coach. If you listen to it, it will tell you if you’re going hard enough, if you’re going too hard. If it starts to hurt, then you back off. It should just feel good, because we really are built to move, and not moving is so unnatural. Just move, because it really can be so easy, and it really can change your life.”

Listening to, and trusting, yourself – that’s the opposite of perfectionism.

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