When people embark on their New Year’s resolutions, many get into an all or nothing, perfection-over-failing mentality. Too often, we set unrealistic expectations for ourselves and become overwhelmed when we don’t meet them. This can lead to feelings of failure and disappointment and can even prevent us from taking action at all. Regrettably, this is a story out of my own book.  

I played soccer in college and had an image of myself as an accomplished athlete.  After college, I wanted to start doing triathlons which required a new skill set for me. I would train but never get up the courage to sign-up for an event because I had the misperception that if I was not top of the group, I was a failure at this new sport. 

Writing this now, it seems silly to me that I thought I had to be perfect from the start. Failure is part of the process of embarking on something new. We may make mistakes and have setbacks, but we can use those experiences as learning opportunities and leverage them to help us grow and improve. It wasn’t until a friend of mine said: “Let’s just go and have fun!” that the pressure fell off my shoulders. I signed up for my first race, and I finished! While I was not in the top marks, the fact that I accomplished something new was so rewarding.

So if we start a new task or habit with the all or nothing mentality, what happens when we aren’t perfect? With a perfectionist mentality, it’s easier to just throw in the towel and say, “Well, I fell off the wagon! See: I am not good enough!” This is actually a way that we can avoid taking on new challenges or starting new, beneficial habits. But what if we adopted a mindset that was instead more focused on consistency?  

I used to love going to the gym and getting in an hour’s workout. If I didn’t do an hour then, in my mind, it was not a true workout. Then real life happened. I had two kids, a full-time job, and a family life to balance, and getting in a full hour of working out was just not in the cards. I realized that being more forgiving and striving for a new motto— “Something is Better than Nothing”—allowed me to be more consistent. If I didn’t feel like a 20 or 30-minute workout or didn’t even have that time in the day, I would just do 5 minutes. Do you know what happened after those 5 mins? I always felt like I had 5 more minutes in me.

In summary, focus on consistency and progress, instead of perfection, and use your mistakes as learning opportunities. Be kind to yourself, and celebrate your successes, no matter how small! I challenge you to give yourself grace this new year and adopt a mentality that aims for consistency rather than all or nothing. You’ve got this! 

This blog post was written by Integrative Family Medicine of Asheville’s Sarah Schopbach, FNP.