‘Perfection’ is an ever-shifting goalpost

The quest for perfection is futile

I was flowing from downward facing dog into plank when I caught a glimpse down my T-shirt, of my tummy, just hanging there like the unwanted extra that it was.

With half an ear I heard the yoga teacher imploring us to just “be in the moment”. Of course, what she meant was to let go of all the thoughts and stresses weighing us down, but in that moment all I was really “being” was angry and disappointed. For a few moments I forgot how far I had come – from 107.4kg to 69.8kg – and could only focus on what I had not yet achieved.

But such is human nature. And ever so often we have to remind ourselves that the quest for perfection is futile because perfection is subjective and an ever-moving goalpost.

The best is the enemy of the good

It was French writer and philosopher Voltaire who wrote that “The best is the enemy of the good” and never before, than in my efforts to lose weight and get fit and healthy, have these words rung more true.

And here’s a reality check: the images of “perfection” we’re exposed to will only make you feel unfulfilled and unhappy with your own progress. Just recently I received an email with an offer of a trial license for software that could help me improve my Instagram posts. Here’s the rub. The software was not designed to sharpen an out-of-focus image or adjust an overexposed picture; it came with presets to help “create symmetry in the face”, slim down the waist and smooth out wrinkles and blemishes.

Erm… no thank you.

While I do care about my Instagram feed and the number of followers I accrue, I also care – deeply – about the messages I send with each picture I post. And one of these messages is simply this: don’t worry about being perfect, just try to be a bit better, healthier, fitter, stronger than you were yesterday.

And if you fall. Get back up.

There are no shortcuts

The other thing about health and fitness social media feeds is that many of them make getting fit and eating healthily seem easy and like fun, fun, fun all the time. But the truth is, it’s not always easy and there are no shortcuts. No matter what your goal is, the best you can do is your best and be as consistent as possible.

In the studio in which I do yoga – which happens to be the same room I was appointed editor of Cape Community Newspapers in 10 years ago when the whole of Newspaper House still belonged to Independent Newspapers – there is a sign that says “just keep showing up”.

It could also say, just keep trying. Or, just keep going. Just keep at it. Because that’s the key to making a successful lifestyle change, whether it’s eating healthier, or getting into an exercise regimen. Small steps add up to big change.

And so, in the spirit of not pursuing perfection, why don’t we look for a silver lining each time we are tempted to criticise ourselves or our progress. Yes, my flabby tummy bothers me… but it’s circumference is 40cm less than it was last February. Yes, I can just about run 6km before I feel the fires of hell burning in my chest… but last year I could only run for a minute before having to take a break. I may not be perfect, but I’m no longer pre-diabetic, I no longer binge on junk food and I’m healthier than I have been in all of my adult life.

What, you’re not perfect either? Who cares!

Chantel Erfort

I'm a yoga teacher and health advocate who runs and enjoys the outdoors. Having previously lived a sedentary, unhealthy lifestyle, nothing makes me happier than being able to share the benefits of including some movement, mindfulness and healthy eating into one's life.