How often do we head to a competition in perfect shape? Cardio is up, no injuries whatsover, well rested in terms of sleep and muscles, mentally fit as we can be, and no leftover twinge in that sprained ankle, pulled hamstring, or that torn ACL.
I wish I could say that I was in perfect shape for the upcoming Canadian Ultimate Championships in Sherbrooke but the reality is that I am not. At fitness practice last week I felt like my quads wouldn’t kick in during sprints, likely because my hamstring was pulled and my SI joint was locked because I hadn’t seen my chiropractor recently.
It’s a rare occasion when I am “perfect”! *insert sarcastic tone*
So let’s stop expecting perfection! It doesn’t serve us in any other domain of our life. Really, it doesn’t! Perfectionism is actually a huge problem in our Western culture. In fact, there is a great book written by Positive Psychologist Dr. Tal Ben-Shahar entitled The Pursuit of Perfect: How to Stop Chasing Perfection and Start Living a Richer, Happier Life. Ben-Shahar starts the book off with a wonderful story of when he won the national junior squash championship and felt utterly depressed and unsatisfied within hours. Why? Because he was chasing perfection and even with a great championship win, it was not good enough! It wasn’t perfect.
When we chase perfection, we chase something that is unreal, unattainable, and impossible. As a result, we are destined to fail before we even begin. When we chase perfection we set ourselves up for misery, disappointment, and low self-esteem. And when we delude ourselves into thinking that perfection IS possible then we risk ending up like Ben-Shahar even if we do win. When we are upset that we are not in perfect shape, we have already succumb to the brutal misery that chasing perfection offers.
How’s that for pump-up talk less than 48 hours before Nationals! 🙂
So how do we stop chasing perfection? It starts with a reality check!
Where are you?
What shape is your body in?
What can you do?
What can you not do?
Can any change be made at this point?
Do you have any more control over your situation at this point?
Be honest with yourself. Know where you are and what limits you have. Don’t worry about the limits you had before or will have in the future. Just get a sense of where you are right now. This is a reality check.
Upon checking into reality, consider that this is actually a very wise practice that people spend a ton of money at yoga studies trying to achieve. They are seeking to be “in the moment”. Knowing where your body is and what limits you have, is being in the moment. Its yoga and you just got it for free and didn’t have to sweat or contort your body.
The body is the one thing that does not escape the moment. It’s living in it. So no matter where our mind might be (e.g., on that throw we didn’t complete, on how our kids are doing back home, on that MCAT exam we’re about to take, on that new job that starts on Monday) our body is in the present moment. Our body is playing ultimate! Being in the moment means knowing full well how our body is feeling right NOW. Not how we want it to be feeling. Not how it was feeling last year or when we were 22. Not how it would feel if we had just done those extra sprints, if we hadn’t pushed it too hard in practice last night, or at the last tournament. Not if we were 10 lbs lighter or 20 lbs heavier. Not if we were taller or faster or didn’t eat that big mac or had that extra red bull. RIGHT NOW! All those other thoughts are just our minds attempt to chase perfection and, unfortunately, sabotaging our body’s experience in the present moment.
When we get on the field, when we warm up, when we line up, when we pull, when we run, there is nothing more to do, change, improve, recover, develop, strengthen, elongate, etc. This is it. The tournament is here. This one. Not the one next month. This one! Nothing else matters but every single moment of this tournament. Don’t waste your time wishing you were any different because all you will end up doing is wishing away the experience of nationals before you.
And it’s in each moment of awareness where the magic of athleticism happens. Where we are in the zone, naïve to expectations. We’ve been in that zone before or at the very least we’ve heard other great athletes describe it. It’s no mystery. It’s mental focus. It’s the place where we flow easily from moment to moment. It’s being in the moment.
I know I will be better if I keep my mind focused on what my body is ACTUALLY capable of doing. I know I will be better if my mind is focused on the moment in action! I won’t be better because I think I should be.
When we stop chasing perfection, that zone is possible! And the only thing that will matter is how we felt in our body and how our mind and body were in sync in that zone Whether our body is on the field or on the sideline. Whether our body is injured or not. Whether our body is tired or rested. Whether our body is fit or not-so fit. We will be living that richer, happier life, if we aren’t deluding ourselves with ideas of perfection or other unrealistic expectations.
So how do we actually achieve this?
Just go out and play dammit! And have fun doing it, not matter what body you brought with you!! Enjoy the moment!