Monday, June 06, 2011


I'm having another battle with the Perfectionism Monster! And so I need to write about it, because it really does help me. It's a bit rambly, this post. I tried and tried to wrestle into some semblance of decent essay form, but it just wouldn't. Hooray that blog posts are not meant to be polished essays! :D (At least mine aren't, in case you hadn't noticed.)

So I was talking to Kelly the other day about CrossFit and paleo stuff and our progress on our health goals. I am not even really sure how this came up exactly, but I said the words "I'm fit" and it felt like a complete and utter lie.

The interesting thing is that I noticed this feeling and the connection to my words in the moment and was able to talk to Kelly about it some (then and since). I talked to Diana about it at ATLOSCon, too. She caught me qualifying my statement with mostly and decently, as in ("I'm mostly fit") and I'm thankful she called me on it.

I'm making good fitness progress at CrossFit and I'm enjoying CrossFit immensely, too. I feel great and I can do all kinds of physical stuff that there's no way I could have survived in the not-so-distant past. I am fitter today than I was last year. So what the hell is my problem?

Here I go: I'm fit. I am fit and in decent shape. Nope. Still feels off (though it's getting better).

Why? I think it's because I have more weight to lose and muscle to build and sizes to decrease. Because I don't look really like someone who is fit, I don't think.

So because I haven't yet met my goals 100%, it seems wrong to say that I am fit. This makes sense, in a way. But I know me, and when I start thinking of things in terms of 100% or "all or nothing at all" that's a clue that I need to see if the Perfectionism Monster is taunting me. And it is.

Thinking this over, I have realized that my definition of 'fit' and the idea of what I should look like and weigh and measure when I am 'finished' with this transformation is off-kilter.

Fitness is an outcome, but it's also a process. And there are different kinds of fitness goals that can be rational values for different people. I'm not aiming for Olympic-level fitness here--just regular live-my-life-and-be-healthy fitness. I think I have achieved that, even though there are gains still to be had.

And I will never be 'finished' being fit. If I get to my ideal weight and some (undetermined) level of physical accomplishments--there are still things I will do to stay fit. I am not doing CrossFit with the intention of dropping it the second I am 'finished' getting 'fit.'

If I look at my fitness accomplishments, I can see evidence that I am fit. (I have to do this, to make these little lists to help me see things more objectively. Lists. Love 'em.) For example:

Eight months ago, I could barely run 400 meters without wanting to die. A month ago, I ran in a 5K and didn't stop once and it took less than 36 minutes to finish.

Eight months ago, I had to step up on a 12" box because I couldn't jump it. Five days ago, I did a WOD (workout of the day) which went like this: 21 deadlifts, 21 20" box jumps, 15 deadlifts, 15 20" box jumps, 9 deadlifts, 9 20" box jumps. Oh yeah--those deadlifts were 135 pounds each. And I completed the WOD in less than 9 minutes.

Eight months ago, I could barely push the 35 pound bar up over my head a few times. Two days ago, I did a WOD with a total of 60 55 pound push presses. Yesterday, I did a 100 pound power clean. And my arms are still functional today (though a bit sore).

Now, I'm not saying this is any kind of insanely awesome level of fitness. Plenty of people ran faster and jumped higher and lifted heavier than me during the same workouts. But I do think it qualifies as semi-decent level of fitness, don't you?

However, the real test of my level of fitness isn't how much I can lift or how many reps of a particular exercise I can do. The real test of my level of fitness is what I can do outside of the gym.

And here are some things I can do: I can carry Sean (or Morgan) on my shoulders for half a mile or so to the car at Stone Mountain. I can run and climb on the playground with my kids. I can lift and carry 5 gallon bottles of water to the dispenser (those are 40 pounds) and I don't worry that I'll hurt myself doing that any more either. I can take three kids and approximately 200 pounds of pool toys, towels, and equipment to the pool, go swimming myself, and then lug all of that equipment and those kids back home after (you moms know how hard that is!).

Basically, I feel completely confident that I'll be able handle any physical thing that routine living can think to throw at me. And then some. I really want to start hiking regularly, but that might have to wait until the weather cools down.

Another thing--I also realized that I have, to my very great surprise, an idea in my head that I must be really thin/skinny/tiny in order to be officially fit. And guess what? I will never be really skinny even if I wanted to be. I will get smaller as I continue to make progress in gaining muscle/losing fat (I hope), but waif-like dainty skinny is something that is not within the realm of possibility for me because of my body type (and possibly my age?).

I'm just sayin'--anyone who is as short as I am with feet as huge as mine is not ever going to pull off dainty. :D

I think I subconsciously accepted skinny/thin/tiny as the standard for what my body should look like. I think that's an error. I want to be at a healthy weight (I'm getting there!), but I also want to be STRONG. Which means muscles, not thinness, and that also means a heavier weight than what the BMI/weight calculators tell me.

I am just fine with that, but because I've identified this incorrect premise, I need to be on guard that I don't accidentally hold this idea of small & thin = fit as the standard for what I need to achieve. (Please note: I'm not saying you can't be small and thin and fit! I'm just saying I can't be. If you are small and thin and fit, then rock on!)

So this has been a good thing for me to think about. And write about.

I am able to be happier and live my life better today because I have achieved the level of fitness I've achieved. So to that end, I can honestly say "I am fit." I will get even more fit as time goes by, but the fact that I will be fitter then does not negate the fitness I have today.

Hear that, Perfectionism Monster? Just because I'll be more fit tomorrow doesn't mean I'm not fit today! So there. :P


Arthur Zey said...

You think you've got it bad? Ha! I think you need to work on your perfectionism, because your perfectionism is far from perfect.

Here's a real look at perfectionism:

Intellectually, I know that I'm fit. I know that I'm good-looking. I know that I'm muscular.

And yet, I don't feel fit, good-looking, or muscular.

For whatever reason, I have this idea in my mind of what constitutes being fit, good-looking, and muscular (and this is all, no-doubt, informed by some intensified/warped view of masculinity), and falling short of that--no matter how much progress I make--makes me feel slow/fat, ugly, and thin. Yes, thin and fat at the same time.

Instead of just being proud of my ability to do 47-inch box jumps, I can't think about anything other than how undefined my body looked in that video.

All this perfectionism certainly makes me miserable a lot of the time, but I do derive a great deal of enjoyment from the actual improvements that I make. I wonder if I would actually prefer to not be so obsessed. Would I be happier? Or would I just be deferring my misery by reducing my motivation to improve myself?

Ugh. I'm glad today is a gym day.

Jason Dixon said...

Thanks so much for sharing your journey, Jenn, both physical and intellectual. It helps to see how you think through these premises. It's inspiration and demonstration all in one post!

Josh J. said...

I loved your post. You are totally right that fitness isn't skinny-ness or anything like that (nor something you get and then just have)- it really is fitness to meet life's physical demands with relative ease. And all your progress is so cool! That WOD sounds like it would kill me, but I guess that's why you build up to stuff like that.

I haven't had to battle the perfectionism monster so much (though sometimes), mostly because I've had such drastic results in a short time-span when I really didn't think I could lose weight even so recently as January. I just felt like I'd be an overweight blob forever. Now, I'm definitely not fit, but I can at least see the beginnings of a fit person when I look in the mirror.

My accomplishments:
I started a broadly Paleo diet on Feb. 23rd, and I have gone from ~260 to 220 pounds since then. Before, I could never ever have gotten up Stone Mountain, but last week I did (though it was really really hard), and that is so cool! I no longer get tired doing daily life activities, and I am much more comfortable in my own skin then I was before.

My fitness goal is "modest": To be, for the first time in at least a decade, not overweight. I've been overweight since elementary school, and probably clinically obese since late middle school. For my height, according to BMI, the upper limit for a "healthy" weight range is 180, so I am currently about halfway there. I'd love to be able to get there by my birthday, but I absolutely want to get there by New Year's. It still seems like a dream-like goal (I have no idea what I'd look like then), but one that is achievable.

Hopefully I don't have too much trouble from my own all-or-nothing streak as I get closer to my goal and the work gets harder.

@Arthur: Dude, that video was ridiculously awesome. And I would kill to look like you, and so would most guys in America, so don't be so hard on yourself.

Arthur Zey said...

@Josh: That's nice of you to say, and I definitely appreciate the compliment, but it's cold comfort to my psychopathologies (?)--I just have some subconsciously-integrated views of what constitutes the male ideal that are...extreme. :-/