Aug 09

Perfection or Excellence?

 “In all that you do, be excellent!”  John Wooden, the greatest collegiate basketball coach there was, was quoted as saying this.  It’s such a great quote and in this field of health, fitness, and nutrition I use it literally daily when in conversation with clients and competitors.  So why do I say ‘Be Excellent’ instead of ‘Be Perfect’?  Good question.  Here’s my take on it…

Most of us think that perfection is the goal.  Well…it is, but seldom is it attainable, and when it is attained, it’s usually temporary.  When attempting to lose bodyfat and get in shape, being ‘perfect’ is so hard on individuals.  At best they can survive for several days or weeks, but after a month or so ‘perfection’ starts to wane.  Perfect is defined as “Without errors, flaws or faults, complete and lacking nothing”.  Perfection or being perfect is impossible to do forever.  That’s why it’s temporary at best.   I have yet to meet a bodybuilding competitor who has been ‘perfect’ his or her entire career!  They might be perfect for the final 4-6-8-12 weeks of their contest prep, but perfect for a year?  Highly unlikely.  Not that it’s impossible but highly unlikely.  Think about it…you go on a food plan and you absolutely, positively, never ever, never ever never ever vary or cheat.  Not once – not anything!  I’m hardcore, but that’s close to impossible for more than a couple of months.

That’s why I’d rather be excellent.  Excellence is defined as “Extremely good; of a very high quality or standard”.  Excellence leaves room for a margin of error.  Excellence leaves room for a mistake every now and then.  Excellence leaves room for a psychological or physiological slip.  But don’t get me wrong…excellence doesn’t mean that you get to eat what you want or exercise when you want when you feel like it.  Excellence is SLIGHTLY less than perfection.  A close 2nd if you will.  Let me explain.  In the game of football, you’ll hear the announcer say, “Peyton Manning threw a perfect pass to so-and-so – couldn’t have placed it any better.”  Yet the next time Peyton throws a pass he throws an interception or incomplete pass.  This goes on throughout the game.  At the end, the announcers  don’t say “Peyton played a ‘perfect’ game”, because he didn’t.  But they WILL say, “Peyton played an EXCELLENT game”, meaning the game he played was of a very high standard.  He wasn’t perfect, but he got the job done!  More often than not he completed the pass, faked the defenders, ran the ball well, and led his team to victory.  He did what he had to do, and he did it very well.

Linda-Carlton-seated-rowsWhen you have to choose between getting it done and getting it perfect, get it done. Don’t let the desire for perfection be an excuse for never starting or finishing something.  By all means, let perfection be your goal.  Just be sure not to let it become your excuse!  You’d be surprised at the number of clients I’ve had over the years who get frustrated and quit when they can’t be ‘perfect’.  “Why do you do that to yourself”, I ask them?  “Why do you put that kind of pressure on yourself to achieve perfection knowing full well you can’t?  And even if you did, it’d only be temporary.”  This usually occurs when the person is preparing for an occasion such as a cruise, a reunion, a wedding, etc.  Their mindset is slightly different – slightly weaker if you will – than that of the competitor.  The competitive mindset typically is stronger, especially for those that consistently place high or win.  The competitor knows that if he or she ISN’T literally perfect for a short while then they significantly reduce their chances of winning, much less placing well.  As I say all the time, “All things being equal, he or she who cheats the least will look and place the best.”

Be true to the highest standards you can envision, while at the same time being realistic about what you’re doing.  Do your very best with the time and resources you have.  Even if the results are not perfect, they will nonetheless bring great value.  As I’ve said to so many competitors prepping for their first show, “The worst feeling in the world is standing onstage looking left and thinking, “I could have beaten that person..” and then looking right and again thinking, “I should have beaten that person too…”.  It’s sickening.  You know you let yourself down.  You know you weren’t task-oriented.  Not only were you not perfect, but you weren’t excellent either.  While I refer to competition, this philosophy applies to all walks of life and all professions.  I don’t know of one single job in which ‘It’s okay to be sub-standard’ is acceptable.

Do your very best with the time, talent, and resources you have. Even if the results are not perfect, they will nonetheless bring great value.  Get it done, or, to steal a line from Larry the Cable Guy, “Git ‘er done”!  Achieving 95% of what you envision is much better than holding out for 100% and never getting it done.  On the flipside, achieving 50% or less is just as bad in my book as doing nothing.  How can you look yourself in the face and say ‘Good job’ knowing full well you could have done better?  I’ve gone into shows where I was 100% on task the final 2 months.  I placed 3rd, 4th, 2nd…and felt great!  Why?  Because I gave it my all.  How could I complain about doing my best, about being excellent AND for a short while, perfect?  I just ran into better competition.  John Wooden once said, “I’m not worried about whether my team wins or loses.  I want them to be excellent – to execute perfectly for 40 minutes.  If they do that, I’m satisfied.  I realize that even if my team executes perfectly they may still lose simply because the other team executes just as well and is better.”

We strive for perfection…we settle for excellence!  Peace…


The Dr.  “Tell me you will…tell me you won’t…don’t tell me you can’t!”





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