On Paralysis, Starting, & Cookies

Richard J. Anderson, of Sanspoint, on developing a superego:

All it takes, one thinks, is one misstep, one moment of weakness, and you’ll have to start over from scratch–so why even bother? In other words: fear of imperfection leads to paralysis. The expectation of perfection is, in many ways, a built in escape clause.

This is a huge point. Regardless of what self-imposed challenge you’re currently undertaking — diet, exercise, changing a habit — you cannot let the fear of imperfection prevent you from ever accomplishing anything.

Richard uses the perfect word here: paralysis. I had the idea for this website more than two years ago, and yet I could never bring myself to actually start the damn thing. I second-guessed myself so often — “Who would possibly care what I have to say?” “Do I even have anything to say?” “Why don’t I just leave it to someone else? Someone smarter.” — to the point where I was almost content with daydreaming about what my website could be rather than actually realizing it. Imagining the site was exciting, but if I started it and failed, I would only have disappointment to show for it.

Richard quotes Robb Wolf, author of The Paleo Solution:

Oftentimes people strive to be perfect just so they can “fail” and give up.

Most of the time, perfection is unattainable. After years of excuses, I finally told myself there would be no “perfect” time to start a website. If you spend all your time waiting for the perfect opportunity to try something new, you’ll probably be waiting a very long time.

Fear — both of failure and success — is a paralyzing force. If you remain paralyzed, you won’t fail, but you also won’t succeed. Starting is the hardest part. For me, it was one tiny little link post. That’s it. Just a block quote and barely a sentence of commentary. But it was enough to get me started, and the second post came much easier.

Once you’ve started, of course, you will have missteps. Richard has a great way of looking at these setbacks:

The path is always there. You can step off the path, you can go miles off, get hopelessly lost, and wander barefoot in the desert for forty years, but the path will remain, and you can always find your way back.

Again, this is essential, and it’s a comforting perspective that will help you sum up the courage to begin.

When people try to change their diet and eat healthy, and they accidentally eat a cookie at 10am, they think, “Damn. Welp, the day is shot. I’ll just start again tomorrow.”, which results in a day of junk food. There are two points here. The first is, yes, you can start again tomorrow. But starting over tomorrow everyday is not a path to success. The second point, and the better perspective to have, in my opinion, is that one cookie is not as bad as two, which aren’t as bad as three. This isn’t an excuse to have two cookies. Rather, if you step off the path, as Richard says, it’s important to recognize it immediately and step back on as soon as you can. It’s better to have one cookie than to eat an entire pizza for dinner. One unhealthy bite is better than one unhealthy meal.

Striving for perfection is a good way to go insane. Mark Sisson calls this the 80/20 Rule. The idea is that if you’re reaching your goals 80% of the time, you’re doing pretty damn well.

Even though 100% compliance isn’t the exact everyday expectation, 100% commitment is the intention.

In whatever it is you’re trying to achieve, you can’t be perfect all of the time. Missteps will happen. But if your commitment is strong, and you keep everything in perspective, it will be significantly easier to recognize that pesky 20% when it happens. You can always step back on the path; the key is, after that bite of cookie, are you going to do it tomorrow, or right now?