Is that a negative title? I’m trying to be more positive. Although, I think of myself as a very positive person because I’m tough and get through difficult things but sometimes say out loud exactly what the honest truth is about something being difficult. Sometimes this comes across as negative. But it’s not, because I then use some positive mental mind tricks to get through the honestly hard thing. Here’s the truth. I have a problem not writing about all things at once. Because it feels like an injustice to ignore some topics that should be covered and completely commit to one thing. That’s why this intro is suffering.
I learned in my English classes in undergrad how ridiculous it is to write an essay about a small topic (like one book) by starting with a large grandiose generalization. For example, starting an essay with “In the world we live in today…” Or whatever. Or any large generalization about how the world works or how things are or could be.
I’m a perfectionist. Which means I have a hard time saying something is done until it’s “perfect”. This doesn’t mean that everything I do is perfect. Nothing I do is perfect. It means I have an extremely hard time getting things done in an efficient way because I can’t just do it once and be happy with the results. I have to do it knowing it’s going to be the best possible thing I’m able to produce. Nothing is small. Nothing is just what it is. It’s always something more. This makes it difficult to be productive. Because I do everything like 5 times more than it should be done.
So, like in writing an essay. I would do the reading assignment we were supposed to write about. Then I’d read it again. Then I’d start an outline for the essay. Then I’d think about it for a few days. I’d wake up in the middle of the night to think about it. I’d write about 5-6 pages then decide I needed to start over. There were many many iterations of every essay I’ve ever written and my thesis ended up getting overly complicated. Complicated to the point where I wasn’t really saying anything anymore. The fear of not including all of my good thoughts meant the any one good thought I had was lost in a jumble of conflicting ideas.
Unless I procrastinated the essay or didn’t do the reading, in which case I would totally wing it. And guess what. The times that I put the procrastination-level effort into the thing, those are the times I was most effective in my writing. I didn’t have time to do it over and over. I didn’t have time to make far too many arguments in one single essay for fear of leaving something out. I simple wrote it and turned it in.
My perfectionism has always over-complicated things and made it extremely difficult to make decisions. Because no matter what the decision was, I always feel it could be have been better.
How does this apply to running? Well. I think many runners are perfectionists. Or at least, start out that way before realizing its unsustainable. We are in a sport that demands mental and physical toughness, attention to detail, and the determination to be the best. Not just our best…but better than everyone else. We’re hard on ourselves because we always think we could have done better.
Here’s the thing. The best runners I know are not perfectionists. They don’t overthink training or racing. They show up, do the running assignment, slowly get more fit, and slowly get faster. Until one day, they are really fast. They are fine with eating a box of donuts but also know how to push themselves really hard in a run or workout. They are able to sleep in until noon when they’re bodies need the rest. Essentially, the best runners I know don’t feel the need to overdo their training and under-do their rest because they are just doing what they have to do, not trying to make everything perfect.
Here’s this quote from David Foster Wallace about the effect of perfectionism on productivity/creativity:
“You know, the whole thing about perfectionism. The perfectionism is very dangerous. Because of course if your fidelity to perfectionism is too high, you never do anything. Because doing anything results in…it’s actually kind of tragic because you sacrifice how gorgeous and perfect it is in your head for what it really is. And there were a couple of years where I really struggled with that.” -Listen to this interview with DFW from a few years ago.
In running, if you put the pressure on yourself to be perfect in every workout and race….you’ll end up over exerting yourself. You’ll enter into a cycle of failing at a workout (because every one does at some point) and then trying to make up for it on the easy day and getting more tired and then failing again. It’s a vicious cycle, and like DFW said, you’ll end up never doing anything.
So if it’s of any help to any type-A/OCD runners out there afraid to take an easy day or drink a milkshake… the best runners I know make it simple. They run what they are supposed to at practice. Then they rest. Then they do it again. The anxiety of failing and the self-inflicted guilt and punishment following failure doesn’t exist.