4 min read

Perfection, consistency & the paradox of control

Perfection, consistency & the paradox of control

So recently I've been falling slightly behind in my gym workouts. Not as consistent as I'd like, not progressive overloading as I wanted.

After doing a lot of thinking and talking with a friend a while ago I seem to have pinpointed one of the root problems: my strive for perfection.

Our futile strive for perfection

The concept is quite simple and probably a familiar one: Perfectionism, or setting a high bar of expectation generally, can be detrimental to the execution and implementation of certain actions.

We have high expectations of an outcome, and to make sure that expectation becomes a reality we delay our action until we are almost certain the result will be similar to one that we have wanted.

Playing the devil's advocate here, I might even suggest that sunk cost fallacy has a place here! The longer we delay our action, the more important it seems that we get the action right when we eventually carry out the execution. If not it will feel like our time spent waiting has been wasted.

The longer we wait, the higher our expectations. This in turn makes us wait even longer, and we slowly turn from delaying to outright avoidance.

"the best is the enemy of the good" – Voltaire

We have all been there- but why does that happen?

I think one possible explanation for this is our need for control, or at least an illusion of being in control, over our own lives.

We imagine a perfect scenario and expect the external reality to comply exactly as we imagined. I want to hit the gym 6 times a week with my 'push-pull-legs' program.

But life gets in the way and plans go array, and our Apollonian ideal is crushed. I went bouldering and my back is sore, so I skip Pull day; I played football so I very conveniently skipped leg day too. Oh and the days I spent travelling across continents - can't really hit the gym when you're on a 30 hours flight schedule can you?

The temporary gym I use back home. Not even a bench press rack & the maximum weight dumbbell is 16kg only. That's a lottttt of dumbbell bench presses you know...

Therefore to avoid the disappointment of reality, we fail to take action in order to retain the illusion of control. I start avoiding working out because I cannot get on track for my training program, because I don't have the most optimal gym equipments.

Nietzche distinguishes the Apollonian which represents logic and order, and the Dionysian which represents passion, instinct and chaos. (At least that's my amateur-ish interpretation)

But in these scenarios, I think we can all agree that any action is better than no action at all. I would probably benefit more from doing weight training with super light dumbbells, or even just doing pushups, rather than waiting until I get ahold of my schedule and back into the most optimal gym.

Perfection in the gym: a case study

So how should we go about fighting this need for perfection? After talking with some friends I think here are some good mental guidelines to follow:

  • Prioritise 'showing up', or simply quantity, over quality. Our need for perfection is tied with the quality we expect our actions to yield. If we start shifting the focus to just showing up instead, we can probably get better results than always waiting for the best moments. In these scenarios, stop benchmarking yourself against a set quality but simply focus on showing up and being there.
  • Start viewing the action you want to take as an end itself, rather than a means to an end. For working out, this means stop viewing your workouts as a way to get your ideal result (getting shredded, becoming healthy etc.), but instead appreciating your workouts as a thing worthy of doing in and of itself, even without any long-term goal in mind.

These are probably the most noteworthy guidelines I have for now.

A meme I made which I think sort of encapsulates the idea (I think it's quite funny no?)

See past your expectations and high standards and just throw yourself into the activity. Appreciate it in and of itself alone from what it contributes to the greater picture. As cliche as it sounds, learn to love the process, not the destination. Or as Albert Camus might say,

"The struggle itself ... is enough to fill a man's heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy".
Nirvana gym in Ibiza, Spain. One of the coolest gyms I've been to!

So there's that. Writing this made me want to hit the gym now. Ttyl and happy working out!


Jason πŸ‘ŠπŸΌπŸ€Ž