Quest for Perfection. Desirable or Unattainable?

Question: How do you draw the line between striving to attain perfect fitness and excellent health without being a compulsive or perfectionist in the process? Can this be done? We all know that perfectionism is not a desirable human trait because to be perfect is to not be human …or “To err is human” How do you walk this line?

Answer: That is a really great question. If you’re a serious competitive athlete or bodybuilder, I think you have to have a little bit of “compulsiveness” or “perfectionism” in how you approach your training. That’s just a part of the nature and personality of successful competitive athletes. No one gets to the Olympics by living a normal, balanced lifestyle do they? You don’t become a bodybuilding or fitness champion by being “normal” either. Athletes, especially bodybuilders, are a unique breed and many of them lead lives that aren’t totally balanced. Training dominates their lives at times. Frankly, if you’re going to set your sights for high levels of athletic achievement, then you’re going to have to be willing to pay the price and make some sacrifices.

For most people however, I believe the way to walk the line between attaining excellent health and fitness and going too far and being overly compulsive or perfectionistic is to focus on progress not perfection. It’s self-defeating to try to be “perfect.” None of us will ever be perfect. Always needing to win or constantly comparing yourself to others is also self-defeating. But it’s not wrong to constantly strive to improve yourself. In fact, I believe that if we’re not moving forward, we’re slipping backwards. There’s no such thing as standing still – we must continually grow and strive to actualize our potential – this is a part of our purpose here as human beings. The Japanese have a word for this – they call it “KAIZEN,” which roughly translated, means “constant improvement.”

In my own bodybuilding career, my aim has changed from a perfectionistic, Lombardi-inspired “winning is everything” attitude to “competing against myself.” My goal is no longer first place. I don’t care who I beat or who I lose to. I really don’t even care if I get a trophy anymore. My goal is to be better than I used to be. Every time I step onstage, if I look the best I have ever looked, then I’ll feel like a winner no matter where I place.

I used to be soooo dreadfully serious about my training that it started to become a chore. Now, as a result of my new outlook on things, I have a lot more fun bodybuilding than I ever did before. It’s because I’m not so attached to the outcome – I’m just enjoying the journey.

John Wooden, the winningest coach ever in college basketball, put it better than anyone:

“To me, success isn’t outscoring someone, it’s the peace of mind that comes from self-satisfaction in knowing you did your best. That’s something each individual must determine for himself. You can fool others, but you can’t fool yourself. Many people are surprised to learn that in 27 years at UCLA, I never once talked about winning. Instead I would tell my players before games, ‘When it’s over, I want your head up. And there’s only one way your head can be up, that’s for you to know, not me, that you gave the best effort of which you’re capable. If you do that, then the score doesn’t really matter, although I have a feeling that if you do that, the score will be to your liking.’ I honestly, deeply believe that in not stressing winning as such, we won more than we would have if I’d stressed outscoring opponents.”

One Response to "Quest for Perfection. Desirable or Unattainable?"

  1. James Peter  April 13, 2012 at 9:03 am

    It isn’t logical to seek perfection, but thank goodness that some people try. When the Ms. Olympia winner is crowned, we don’t know if she was trying for even more and ran out of time, or whether she’d hit her personal best, but either way, we enjoy the result. The Greeks called it ‘forms’; the perfect is not physical but only in our minds. Thus the ‘form’, the ideal, is only a dream, something that can only be attempted. So, to those who try for the perfect, keep on trying, but also know that you’ve accomplished a great deal already.

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