3 Ways PRs at the Gym Can Help You Overcome Perfectionism

Written by an iTherapy Provider

3 Ways PRs at the Gym Can Help You Overcome Perfectionism

You can’t get a personal record every day. No matter how hard you try, you just aren’t going to be able to get your best results every time you lift. The same is true with the rest of our lives. You aren’t going to get full credit on every single assignment or get employee of the month every month. It isn’t feasible. There are ups and downs, and worse than that: plateaus. Maybe even months when the number on the bar just won’t change no matter what you do. Well listen up, my friends, because plateaus are where the learning happens.

Those inevitable plateaus and regressions are enough to make you stop trying. It’s hard to be putting everything you have into something and having nothing to show for it. It doesn’t matter if we’re talking about getting stuck at the bottom of your squat if you add even 5 pounds (who knew 5 pounds would make such a big difference, anyway?) or losing your temper with your parents even though you know how they are (and you’ve worked so hard on managing your anger!). Here’s the sad truth: if you stop trying during one of the plateaus and decide not to grind through it, you won’t get another PR.

I get that it’s frustrating. It’s disappointing. It feels like it doesn’t matter what you do, the gains you made just disappear, so what’s the point in working so hard? It starts to feel like a competition, and you’re losing. Like you are are incapable of making progress, and even though you’re unhappy with your anger problem, or your job, or your relationship, you start to feel stuck; trapped even. You think to yourself, “Maybe this is as good as it gets for me,” and you give up.

Knowing that you aren’t going to show up at your best and strongest for every deadlift, or every day at the office can be discouraging. It can cause you to miss opportunities, like going for that promotion, or asking that cute guy out on a date, or even just going through your life with some confidence. Instead, you question yourself, you give up on things that matter, and you languish in mediocrity. Okay, maybe that was a little dramatic, but you get the idea.
Imagine this:

Despite your best efforts, the dishes still tend to pile up in the kitchen. It will get so bad at times that it turns into a monumental task to clean the kitchen, taking time away from more important things (like re-reading your favorite fantasy book, for instance). So you make a plan, and you follow it beautifully, perfectly even! Every morning after breakfast, you will do the dishes from the night before and that morning. Lo and behold, it even works! And you cheerfully do the dishes with gusto, reveling in your now usable kitchen.

Until the day the dreaded happens.

You didn’t mean to wake up late, but that book wasn’t going to read itself! It wasn’t your goal to stay up until the wee hours in the morning, but now that your alarm is sounding for the final time, you know when your feet hit the floor that this is it, the jig is up, and the dishes are not going to get done. It’s over, and you watch dispassionately as your kitchen becomes unmanageable once again.

This just feeds your belief that you are not capable of change, and that any energy you expend to make new patterns is wasted. This is about more than the dishes, because it’s your belief in your capacity to do hard things, and to build the life you want, that suffers.

Over time, experiencing the same build up and let down, succeeding for a short time (getting your PR) and then struggling to reach that same height again can lead you to stop trying. You just accept your lot, try moderately successfully to convince yourself you’re OK with the way things are, and you get stuck.

Do you want to know a secret? The soul crushing disappointment you feel when you roll, confidently, into the gym only to fail utterly at replicating a PR (or even get close to it) can easily put you off weightlifting for awhile, especially if that off day turns into an off week or even an injury from overexertion. It is normal of feel pressured to either give up or push yourself past the breaking point.

So no, you can’t PR every day, and this means you will have off days, hard months, and sometimes you’ll feel like giving up. But it is possible to take your ups and downs as a natural part of progress and with some self compassion, you can celebrate the highs, accept the lows, and continue moving forward. If you take a lesson from weight lifting, you can understand that although not every day will be your best, your effort absolutely matters, so on the good days and the bad you can feel secure in the fact that you’re moving forward.

Feeling Stuck, Unable to Create Lasting Change?

You can live like this. You’re making it work, after all. But if you keep going like this, time will keep passing by, with you right here, scared to take risks lest you fail, and losing confidence and missing opportunities.

At the very least you find yourself wondering what could have been, if only you could have kept trying when your results were less than perfect.

Perfectionism leaves us paralyzed and exhausted.

You Can Stay Motivated When Things Are Hard

Even though perfectionism is making you feel stuck, you can stay motivated when things get tough. When we are trying to muddle through on our own it can feel hopeless, but with help from a therapist it will feel so much more possible. Therapy will help you organize and sort through the mess of feelings and motivations that impact your ability to take steps towards the life you want, so you can start making choices, instead of being stuck or reacting reflexively.

When we choose to ask for support so that we understand some of what is impacting our decisions and behaviors, it gives us power. It’s the difference between going to the gym and doing a bunch of random exercises because that’s what happens to be in front of you, and engaging in a thoughtful way with your workout. The first way you will definitely be making an effort and expending energy, but the second way your energy is much more focused, and that’s when we see results.

You can absolutely stay motivated even when results aren’t immediately forthcoming. That’s when change starts to really happen, and it’s how you can get through the plateaus and regressions to the next PR.

3 Ways PR’s Teach Us to Stay Motivated

You feel trapped by your own expectations of yourself and the results you feel you should see in your life. Weird as it sounds, you need look no further than weight lifting to learn self compassion and start to recognize your ability to create real changes. The goal to stay motivated even when things aren’t going perfectly is achievable. You’re already expending the energy, now it’s just about keeping the energy focused and remembering what you’re working for. Take a look at these 3 parallels between weightlifting and perfectionism to learn how to trust your ability to make lasting change.

Take a look at these 3 parallels between weightlifting and perfectionism to learn how to trust your ability to make lasting change.

1) Feeling discouraged by lack of progress?

Perfectionism is so painful, because it tricks us into thinking that only BIG progress matters. It makes sense that you’re feeling discouraged about your ability to make changes, when the only things you are counting as “changes” are huge, monumental tasks.

Weightlifting teaches us to make small, attainable goals and celebrate when we achieve them.

So when you first learned how to squat, would you not count it as a “real squat” or “real progress” until you were able to squat 135 immaculately? I mean, I remember when I first learned to squat, and I have to say there were a bunch of small victories before I even put weight on my back. And I know that I celebrate every single pound that I add to my max. I mean, that’s why we have a term for it, right? Because it means that you’re more badass now than you were mere seconds ago.

If you have more manageable goals, you can start to build trust in your capacity to achieve something. Tasks stop feeling like looming, inevitable failure, and start to feel do-able. Any procrastinators in the room? I’m talking to you. If tasks are less daunting, you can spend less time dreading and putting off, and more time doing just one small bit at a time. And then a break. Because everybody likes an ice cream break.

2) Feel like progress comes all at once and then. . .nothing?

It can be really exciting when you make a plan! Changes start happening fast and it’s easy to stay motivated as long as you can see progress, right? But (quite unfortunately) change that is that fast and that satisfying is just not sustainable, and that’s when you start to have issues feeling like your effort makes any difference.
Weightlifting teaches us that if we keep going even when we don’t see results, we are still building towards something.

Remember the good old days when you first got into lifting? The first time you put the bar on your back it was wobbly and unwieldy. The second time was much better. In the first few months you were making PRs of 10 or 20 pounds a week, maybe even more! It was exciting and motivating. But there’s a catch. As you know, once you got close to your actual max, things started to slow down. Suddenly instead of adding 20 pounds per week to your PR, your progress slowed to a stop and there were weeks or even months when your numbers didn’t change. But you kept going and every so often, you still get the pleasure of adding weight to the bar. And that’s why you celebrate, because you worked your butt off through plateaus to get to this weight.

With my clients I help you gain perspective, so that you can see past the immediate future, and recognize how far you’ve actually come. It’s really hard to give yourself context when you feel like you’re running in place. If you can step back and see that realistically it makes sense for you to be right where you are, and you are doing everything necessary to move towards your goal, it’s so much easier to stay motivated.

3) Sometimes you think you might be making progress. . .but how can you even tell?

From day to day things basically feel the same. Maybe the other day you did a little bit better with your presentation than last time. But honestly, it’s hard to tell. It’s hard to remember how you did last time to be honest. This time you might have used humor a little more effectively, but you stumbled over your words a little more so. . .How are you supposed to be able to gauge your progress? It’s frustrating and discouraging.

Weightlifting gives us concrete and tangible ways to measure our progress.

Last week you benched 185 for 3 reps. This week you benched 190 pounds for 3 reps. Is it a big difference? Not really. Does it make you feel like a badass? Most definitely. Sometimes it’s really nice to just have some type of real measurement to refer back to and say, “I have made progress.”

In some ways, having a therapist is like having another set of eyes to help you gauge your progress, and identify what is and is not working for you. This makes it so much easier to make sure that your energy is being put to good use, instead of working your ass of for little to no results.

Releasing yourself from the responsibility to be perfect can help you feel more confident, more capable of making change, and more excited about your future. You absolutely can feel free from the unreasonable expectations you have been throttling yourself with. The work I do centers around helping you recognize where your energy is going and, more importantly, where you want it to go, and identifying helpful benchmarks. You won’t be hitting your big goals every week, but being challenged to celebrate the deliberate actions you’ve taken to build the life you want. You will finally begin to see the meaning in the work you do that will empower you to break through the paralysis at last.

Original Post August 20, 2018 – 3 Ways PRs at the Gym Can Help You Overcome Perfectionism

Rebecca Newkirk has a degree in Psychology and Sociology from the University of New Mexico and a Master’s degree in Social Work from New Mexico Highland’s University. She has extensive experience working with trauma, the effects of domestic violence, and substance use issues. She believes in the strength of the individual and your innate wisdom that will guide our work together. Call 1-888-242-9345 or email rebeccanewkirklcsw@itherapymail.com  to set up a free 30 minute consultation. Visit Rebecca Newkirk’s Profile

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