Imperfection is not Invalidation

July 25, 2022

By Meghan Greenwood

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All or nothing philosophy. While in theory, this seems like the gold standard for a lot of aspects in life – such as paying your bills on time, finishing your degree, or maintaining a faithful marriage – it does not apply to aspects of life that are built from habits.

Most humans, at one time or another, have attempted to improve their wellbeing. Everything from trying to boost our mood through a meditation practice to minimizing the junk in our house by organizing to losing weight through eating healthier. We’ve tried it all. 

If you’re one of those folks that can easily adopt a new habit, congratulations. According to the behavioral psychologist James Clear, nearly 80-90% of all New Year’s resolutions fail. And these failures often result from overcommitment. We assume we can tackle more than what we realistically are capable of…and when we struggle or fall off the wagon, we give up entirely.

Instead of all or nothing, we would be better off accepting a philosophy associated with Voltaire: “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.”

Even the smallest of changes is impactful. The ability to fall off and get back on track counts. The most minute differences add up over time.

For example, say you’re on a quest to lose weight. You go after the habit full force on January 1st, eating right and exercising at least the recommended 150 minutes a week. But then life happens. Work starts to creep into your gym time. Ordering takeout seems a lot easier than making those calorie-conscious meals. Even swapping water for coffee is starting to slip as you can’t maintain energy without your caffeine fix. And then, you throw up your hands and say, forget it.

Next time a goal seems too unattainable to even continue trying, set the bar lower and start small. If you cook once a week, it’s a win. Make it a habit by giving it a clever name, “Homecooked Thursdays”. If you take a walk for 5 minutes, it counts. Make it a habit by putting your sneakers close to the door so they’re easily visible. If you cut your caffeine by a quarter, it’s still better than before. Make it a habit by not refilling the coffee pot as soon as it’s emptied.

And if you slip up, even with these tiny habits, don’t give up. Imperfection is not invalidation. If anything, it is another chance to try try try again and see if something sticks the next time around.


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