Nowhere is “Perfection the enemy of Progress” more than when making lifestyle changes for health.
So, I’m here to tell you: You don’t have to stop before you start! What does that mean, exactly?
See if any of these things, I often hear sound familiar.
- “As soon as I quit smoking, I will start to exercise and watch what I eat.”
- “I just want to lose some weight and get my diabetes under control, then I’ll hire a personal trainer.”
- “I couldn’t imagine drinking lemon water and give up my coffee in the morning.”
- “There is no way I can drink eight glasses of water every day, I would miss my diet Coke too much.”
- “I can’t afford to buy all fresh, organic vegetables, canned are cheaper and I can stock up.”
As a society, we are constantly bombarded with messages touting the extremes.
A quick scan of any newsfeed would make it appear that there are only two choices in the nutrition department: the super-sized, chemical laden, cheap and easy, fast food meal or the grown-in-your-own-garden, eaten raw and in-season-only organic nuts and seeds meal.
The physical activity department choices are: sitting in sweatpants, in front of the TV with a remote in each hand or running a marathon while lifting weights on your way to your nordic ski competition.
How about the choices for emotional health and spirituality? Meditate for an hour every day except during silent retreats on mountains, then meditate three hours a day, or live a life of ignorance with the rest of the apes.
REALLY? Are these the only choices? NO!
Obviously, I exaggerate, but it’s easy to forget that there is a whole lot in between these extremes. And that “in between” is where most people live. The every day, in between, may not be glamorous enough for the media, but that’s where life happens. There are a select few, who can thrive at those extremes, but for most of us, even a glimpse of the images leads to feelings of discouragement and self-defeat. The irony is that many of the images are actually created and shared with intent to inspire.
So where does it all go wrong?
We can get off track when we see health and wellness as an all-or-nothing endeavor. And we can really go wrong when we link two or activities that don’t really belong together. It’s a mistake to assume that two practices are mutually exclusive, meaning we can do one OR the other like Drink diet Coke OR drink water, Smoke OR exercise when in reality the items are completely separate.
How can we make it right?
You can start to exercise, even if you haven’t quit smoking yet. You’ll be able to drink water and diet Coke until you kick the habit. You can start your morning with warm lemon water and have your cup of coffee. If you are overweight or have a chronic illness, it’s even more important to work with a professional, to customize exercise and prevent injury. You may not be able to buy everything fresh and organic, start with items that have the biggest health impact.
Exercise doesn’t have to mean an hour at the gym. Go out for a walk and feel good about it. Meditation doesn’t have to mean sitting on a cushion in a darkened room, simply pause for 30 seconds before a meal and set an intention to nourish your body or, right before you go to sleep tonight, think about one thing that went really well today.
We sabotage our own best efforts towards progress by measuring those efforts against perfection. What’s truly important is that each day we move a bit closer to our own personal best and then acknowledge our progress with gratitude.
Just get started, the stopping will take care of itself.