I looked at my running stats, I was ten miles short of where I wanted to be that month. I spent hours working out if I could squeeze in a few more runs. Of course, I would be able to but it would mean sacrificing something else. In the back of my mind a question floated around: will it matter in 12 months time? The truth is, I couldn’t tell you how many miles I ran last week, let alone a year ago. In this instance, no, it wouldn’t matter so what was I doing?
I was aiming for perfection. The problem is of course that perfection doesn’t exist. Only the idea of perfection exists. So often tied to a toxic goal – if I run x miles a month I will get faster/thinner/another toxic goal. I wasn’t looking at my progress and how far I’d come.
There’s nothing wrong with striving to do better, to want to be your best self. But your best self is unattainable if you equate it with being perfect.
Progress, not perfection
As I have grown older, and perhaps, a little wiser, I have come to realise that it’s all about progress, not perfection. Taking my running example above, not every run is going to be better than the last. In fact, I might get a load of hard runs in a row. There are so many factors
- I might feel slow, with legs that feel like they’re wading through treacle.
- I might be run down, dehydrated, tired from lack of rest
- The weather might have an influence
- I may not have fuelled correctly
- I might have done a hard gym session/run in the previous day or two
Lots of these things are within my control like nourishing myself through eating well, sleeping well and drinking enough water. And yet, so often I put myself last – getting everyone else a drink but not me, prioritising the other family members’ sleep – over my own. Many other things are out of my control.
When it’s not working the way I want, the guilt and little voices that say “you’re not good enough” or “you never quite manage it do you” or “might as well give up now” start in my mind. (This is true for all my goals, not just running ones!)
For me, this leads to three things:
- I give up. No point in trying if I can’t get to where I want to be
- I give myself a hard time
- I might try and prove myself wrong – emptying my cup along the way.
Assessing the goal
“A person who never made a mistake never tried anything new.” – Albert Einstein
It comes back to my goals, the factors that influence them and my values. Let’s break it down:
I haven’t reached my running mileage goal for the month. There’s time to do it but I’ll have to give up something else – realistically it’s going to mean running in the dark, late at night or super long runs on a weekend.
What was the goal? To run 60 miles this month.
How did you choose the goal? It was an arbitrary number. Chosen only to be more than last month.
What’s stopping you achieving your goal? Prioritising family time over running for 2-3 hours on the weekend. An active choice not to run 13 miles as training for a 6 mile race.
What’s important to you? I run for my health, not just my physical health but my mental health. Running gives me time away from the kids so that I am a better mummy when I am with them.
Are you achieving what’s important to you? Yes. Getting some time to run, be outside and get healthier.
Will it matter in 6 months time? No. This goal won’t but it will matter if I’m not running at all.
So what’s the real issue? The issue is that I’m giving myself a hard time for not achieving a goal that was arbitrarily set. I got caught up in trying to achieve it at the expense of what’s really important to me and the reasons I set the goal in the first place.
What will you do now? If I can run without emptying my cup or doing it at the expense of spending time with my family, I will. (I’m not going to give up.) I will reflect on what I have achieved (50 miles of quality training, still an improvement, nothing to give myself a hard time for).
How could you change your perspective? I could focus on progress, not perfection
By taking the time to reflect I can get out of my head and challenge those negative thoughts. We have to be prepared to push ourselves out of our comfort zone, to be willing to fail so that we might grow. This is where focusing on progress, not perfection comes in. Take a step back and observe your situation. Take as many steps back as you need to see the whole picture.
Running for me is a release, a hobby. Yes, I want to improve but I’m not going to be the speediest runner ever and neither do I want to be. I want to run out in the fields for fun, to go a bit further, a bit faster. That is enough. When I look back over a week, month or year of running stats, I see that I am indeed making progress.