I’ve written about how being a perfectionist never gets you anywhere, learning to embrace rest and imperfection, and I reviewed the book by World-Champion triathlete Chrissie Wellington, where she examines how perfectionism can be either destructive or beneficial for athletes (including herself).
Clearly, type-A and perfectionist tendencies are a theme for me and for many other runners. Why are we this way? (a question I ask myself mostly ever day.. haha..) Running requires discipline, hard work, and attention to detail.
I was not born with type-A behaviors (like I was a huge procrastinator in high school, had to be forced to run on the weekends and ate pizza right before my races)… I molded into this person when I realized what it took to be successful at the collegiate level.
In my opinion, you’re probably a type-A perfectionist runner because:
- You were drawn to running because it’s a great expression of these tendencies you already had
- Running molded you into this person when you recognized that it brought you greater success
- You’re highly motivated and are willing to do whatever it takes to meet your potential
- You’re afraid to fail.. and that fear makes you hone in on every small detail of your training and life
Or maybe you’re super neurotic for your own unique reasons. I’m not saying that perfectionist tendencies are ALWAYS a bad thing. The most successful runners aren’t those that miss a few days of running at a time, sometimes get enough sleep but it’s not a priority, and are just kind of all over the place.
We KNOW that consistency, hard work and planning are essential for running success and injury prevention, but we also have a tendency to take things too far— ending up doing TOO much mileage, never allowing ourselves to rest, and becoming unhappy and perpetually unsatisfied with our racing results because they’re never good enough.
Perfectionism is dangerous
One of my favorite authors is David Foster Wallace. I HAVE NOT finished reading Infinite Jest (his 1000+ page book that millennials carry around with them but never finish reading), but I’ve enjoyed many of his essays and especially his commencement speech This is Water, which mostly talks about your ability to decide how to approach the frustrations that will inevitably cross your path in day-to-day adult life (it’s just a really good thing for anyone to read).
Anyway, he said this thing about perfectionism and how it affected his writing in the beginning of his career:
“Perfectionism is very dangerous, because of course if your fidelity to perfectionism is too high, you never do anything… It’s actually kind of tragic, because it means you sacrifice how gorgeous and perfect it is in your head for what it really is.”
So if you’re too set on everything you do being perfect, there’s a chance you’ll never do anything at all. All because you’re too scared that the thing you do won’t measure up to what you’re capable of doing.
I think a lot of runners can relate to this. In running, if we hold our standards too high, we are prone to pushing our bodies harder than they are ready to go in training. We end up injured, over-trained, tired and just unable to meet our potential.
OR we put success on such a high pedestal that we mentally psych ourselves out before/during/after races and never really give ourselves the change to reach those goals because we make them out to be so grandiose and essentially unattainable.
just do your best… really
As with most things I discuss, I’ll come to a “compromise” as our main solution. You’ll have to compromise your ambition and NEED for perfection to be slightly more forgiving and less strict with your training and life. The moment you tell yourself that you’ll “do your best” instead of “be the best”; you remove SO much pressure from yourself.
It’s so cliche—the “just do your best” speech— but we have cliches for a reason. They’re effective and true. Here are some more tips for managing perfectionist/type-A tendencies in list form:
- Force yourself to sleep in
- Take a day off even if you don’t need it
- Take a day off because you know you need it
- Let go of the Garmin sometimes
- Run by feel instead of pace or EXACT mileage
- Have fun running. Like everyday in some way.
- Be genuinely happy for other runners’ success
- Do things outside of running
- Listen to your body instead of your mileage plan for the week
- Be flexible
In a lot of ways you’ll have to force yourself to shake things up and deviate from a strict schedule. Doing so will teach your brain that you won’t lose fitness by taking a day off or cutting your run short by 0.18 miles instead of adding on. Removing the pressure from yourself to be perfect will allow you to enjoy running, celebrate success and just be a more free and happy runner in the long run.
More stuff on the topic:
Nick Symmonds on being happy and having longevity in running: