Should you quit if it isn’t perfect?

Let’s assume that you worked through my 20:18 exercise and set yourself three goals for the year. Let’s also assume that having done all that reflection, you’ve ‘closed the books‘ and have set to work on achieving those goals.

It’s been going brilliantly. You’ve been to the gym every other day for the past fortnight and walked 10000 steps on the intervening days.

Then last Saturday, you’d had a rough night’s sleep and hit ‘snooze’ when the alarm went off at 0630 in time for you to get to the gym. An hour and a half later, you finally woke up properly and realised you’d missed your class. You idly scroll through the gym timetable on your phone, nothing grabs you attention and you think ‘never mind, I’ll do my 10k steps today and do a class AND then swim tomorrow.’

The day goes on. You decide to get some household stuff done before you go out for your walk. Then it’s lunchtime. Then it rains and you think ‘it’ll brighten up later.’ A friend calls round – you think about suggesting a walk with her now the sun’s shining. She’s brought a bottle of wine with her though so you settle down for just one glass and before you know it, it’s dark.

You wake on Sunday and drive to the gym. There’s a sign on the door saying it’s closed today due to unforeseen circumstances. You could go for a walk in the park but you’re not really wearing the right kit. You go home, make pancakes with the kids, and the day slips by in a happy haze of family time.

As you go to bed that night, your partner asks if you’re heading to the gym tomorrow morning.

‘No, what’s the point? I’ve missed two days now. This is never going to work,’ you sigh.

And you give up.

In his book, Finish: give yourself the gift of done, Jon Acuff writes about this phenomenon, saying:

‘This is the first lie that perfectionism tells you about goals: Quit if it isn’t perfect.’

Working with coaching clients and from discussions with friends, I think that a lot of people fall into this perfectionism trap: if I can’t do it perfectly first time, I won’t do it at all. As soon as we ‘fall off the wagon’ of our new behaviour, we’re so frustrated with ourselves that we deem the whole thing a failure and scrap the idea.

In terms of achieving goals, Acuff says that the single most important day is the ‘day after perfect’: the day when we fall off the wagon. We can give up on our goals or we can see it as a blip rather than a failure, dust ourselves off and get right back on the wagon. Acuff tells us that we have to move forward imperfectly and reject the idea that the day after perfect means we have failed.

When my clients talk about their disappointment in their lapsed goal-achieving behaviour, I often ask them this: what’s stopping you starting again? It leads to some interesting conversations and sometimes to a fresh start.

This is the lie that perfectionism tells you about goals - quit if it isn't perfectPhoto by Estée Janssens on Unsplash

Today’s pebble for you to ponder: do you quit if it’s not perfect? What’s stopping you starting again?


Turning over pebbles is the blog of Thinking Space Coaching. 

Do you want to make progress with your career or your life? Why not email me to see how we can work together?




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3 Responses to Should you quit if it isn’t perfect?

  1. Pingback: Five ways to top up your wellbeing | Turning over pebbles

  2. Pingback: Minute by minute, step by step – how continuous small improvements can lead to big change | Turning over pebbles

  3. Pingback: Is it possible to be scared of success? | Turning over pebbles

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