Why perfection is a self-limiting belief and counter-productive for goals



I had twelve fricken blisters. Twelve annoying, excruciatingly painful blisters; twelve little swollen mounds of encapsulated liquid intent on ruining my life.

I sighed, staring at them glumly.

The fact none had popped was beside the point. They were there on my feet, in places I didn’t know you could even get a blister.

And that one between my big toe and second toe, which stretched down and around onto the ball of my foot – on both feet, I might add – well that was the mother*****r of them all.

Nasty bloody blisters.

It was the end of week two on my #WalkNZ adventure where I was attempting to solo walk the 3,000km Te Araroa trail down the length of New Zealand to show that self-doubt doesn’t have to hold us back from achieving something incredible.

And I was in a world of pain.

Twelve un-popped but excruciatingly painful blisters. Red and bruised shoulders that also boasted a delightful array of pussy pimples, all thanks to my 17kg backpack. Red and bruised and swollen hip bones where my hip belt rubbed. Legs and back muscles that screamed. A level of physical exhaustion from over exertion I had never experienced before. And a mental brokenness that made me want to quietly crawl into a dark cave and never come out.

I felt defeated. In two weeks the Te Araroa trail had taken its toll on me both physically and mentally.

And I was downright annoyed. How dare I feel this way!

How dare I not be able to cope. How dare I struggle. How dare I have this moment of weakness.

I should be better than all of this, I told myself. I should be able to do this. I should be able to keep up with the other walkers, with their super-fit trail legs and ultralightweight backpacks and lack of blisters.

It was obvious. I was a useless long-distance walker. I was not the lean, mean, hiking machine I had hoped I would be.

In hindsight, though, this perspective was crazy.

How could I feasibly be a lean, mean hiking machine given I’d done bugger all fitness training, never done a long-distance walk before, I’d bought my walking boots online without trying them out first and hadn’t hardened up my feet sufficiently, and my pack was way too heavy.

And yet, I had thought I’d hit the ground running and be the “perfect” walker right from the get-go.

How wrong I was.

But this mirrored my thinking for pretty much all aspects of my life: learning to play the piano – I didn’t want to practice, I wanted to be perfect as soon as my fingers hit the keys; colouring in – I had to stay within the lines; my career as a journalist – rookie didn’t fit in my journo vocabulary.

Walking the length of New Zealand was no different.

But as I struggled to come to terms with the reality that I wasn’t the instantaneously perfect walker I wanted to be, I realised the folly of my ways.

One can not expect to be “perfect” at the first attempt because not only is perfection an illusion, but life, itself, exists as a learning process and natural talent will only get you so far.

Take the baby learning to walk. They stumble, they fall over, they get up again. They keep at it, practicing over and over again, learning from their mistakes and slowly progressing.

Practice doesn’t make perfect. Practice makes progress. It’s the same with anything.

Because the point is, you have to start somewhere.

And that somewhere is going to be pretty low down on the scale of progression – or perfection, if you want to call it that.

It’s a start point from which to build from.

For me, my start was the first two weeks of the Te Araroa trail. By the time I reached the bottom of the North Island, I had progressed dramatically. I was fitter and faster and if I wanted to, I could walk 40km in a day.

I only got to that point by starting, by practicing and progressing a little bit every day and importantly not giving up.

By recognising perfection for what it is and understanding that life exists as a learning experience where we progress and grow, takes the sting out of needing to be perfect. My fear of not being perfect no longer has to hold me back or put limitations on what I can and can’t do. I can enjoy the journey rather than focusing on the destination (of illusionary perfection).

I still may not have been a lean, mean hiking machine – under my terms of what I thought that was – but I’d become stronger and more experienced. I’d moved forward from my starting point.

I was on a journey of progression – and if that meant 12 blisters, so be it.

2 thoughts on “Why perfection is a self-limiting belief and counter-productive for goals

  1. I’ve always thought perfection was over-rated. Your substitute word Progress is a good one because it includes the wealth of experience gained in that Progressive journey. Imagine the exquisitely perfect person who walks into the room and has achieved your goal without much effort because they were perfect at it. How boring. But imagine the person who stumbles in, clothes askew, blistered feet and announces they have NOT achieved their goal – yet – but boy, the stories they could tell. That’s interesting. The entire world is composed of Imperfection so the pursuit of perfection is a total waste of effort and an exercise in destructive self-delusion. You go and ‘enjoy’ your journey of progression, blisters and all.


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