“Progress, AND Perfection”

(Thanks to Kyra from the MSN Body for Life Women Group for making me think about this stuff with her journal post today.)

A woman on the BODYFORLIFEWOMENOFCOLOR Yahoo Group once accused me of being a rigid perfectionist who held others in the BFL support community to unrealistically high standards and myself to even higher, more impossible ones. She meant it as a slur, but in all honesty, I don’t see why it is wrong to expect people to put forth their best efforts when they start a program like BFL and do their damndest to eat on plan and hit their workouts every day. People rise to the standards that are set for them. Place the bar low, and you will perpetuate an atmosphere of low expectations and frequent, hastily-forgiven cheats and incomplete workouts. Raise the bar high and set an example with your own tenacious efforts week after week, and maybe those around you will step their acts up as well. Does anyone remember the 1988 movie Stand And Deliver about the high school math instructor who decides to teach calculus to a classful of delinquents and potential drop-outs? He raised the bar of minimum expectation to “You will all pass the AP Calculus exam,” not “I’ll be happy if I can get half of you to pass Consumer Math with a C-.” That’s what I’m talking about.

Because her own personality and outlook on life was so different from mine, that BFLWOC member couldn’t fathom that someone could actually ENJOY doing things right the first time and every time, and take pride in–not suffer in neurotic misery from–being well-informed, precise, conscientious, and in no need of handholding during the initial BFL process. Perhaps she would have liked me more if I’d kicked off my membership in the community by asking the same repetitive newbie questions that so many others did, gone into a public “Where are my results? This isn’t working!” freak out in weeks four or eight, or screwed up beyond having 10 M&Ms a day during the Great Black and White M&M Invasion at my office last year. Sure, I could have done those things, but oops! I actually READ the BFL book before starting the program, explored the BFL, Hussman, and Skwigg’s websites for more information, lurked and read archives in the various groups long enough to have most of my questions answered, knew how hard I could push myself in the gym thanks to being an ex-Army girl, collected nearly two hundred authorized recipes, hooked up my Palm with two great diet and exercise tracking programs to log my progress, and, oh dear, I didn’t have a single eating disorder in my medical history!

How dare I go into BFL physically, mentally, and emotionally prepared? What gall I had to get through my first 12 weeks so easily with my non-standard calorie tracking instead of playing palm-fist pattycake with the other newbies!

Hehe. Sorry, but that’s who I am and how my brain is wired, and I wasn’t about to fake being an incompetent, clueless dilettante who didn’t have the initiative to do her own research before appearing on the scene. And I wasn’t going to pretend that I was struggling when I actually found the BFL program to be laughably easy to maintain.

“Progress, not perfection” is a valid and true saying when used on the rare occasions when you slip, but it is used as a crutch by so many women who basically don’t have the internal strength and drive to do what needs to be done that I roll my eyes every time some well-meaning BFL’er uses it to console a wheenie (weak-willed whiner) who crawls back to the BFL fold for some touchy-feely coddling and sympathy after they’ve blown yet another meal/day/week/month/year.

BFL in a nutshell–read the book, write down your goals, clean out the junk in your refrigerator and pantry, stock your kitchen with authorized foods, get access to necessary workout equipment, take your starting photos and measurements to reinforce your commitment, and FOLLOW THE RULES. Finis.

That’s all you have to do, and yet somewhere between elementary school and adulthood 75% of the fat-loss hopefuls out there seem to have forgotten that rules apply to BFL as well as things like driving and football.

Maybe my military experience in basic training taught me to trust in the process without looking at results–I spent 8 weeks just trying to survive each day by following the rules set down by the U.S. Army. Was I thinking about how much weight I should be losing every week with all of the exercise I was suddenly getting? Hell no. I just wanted to get through the day without bringing the snarky attention of the cadre on me, and the best way to do that was to do what I was supposed to do and NOT SCREW UP.

Doing the right thing day after day doesn’t bring you the attention and mollycoddling that being a screw-up does on the women’s BFL boards, so maybe that’s why so many serial screw-ups can’t seem to get their acts together.

Ever notice this?

If someone posts about their perfect WEEK, they might get one or two perfunctory “Way to go!” replies from the polite members who are thoughtful enough to read and respond to every writer, but if someone else posts a “Help!!! I’ve fallen face-first into a vat of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream and Oreos and have been swimming around in it for the past week taking huge gulps and washing them down with double chocolate chip Frappucinos!” message, a dozen sympathizers will jump in and write long, drawn out “Progress, not perfection” homilies, “You can do it!” pick-me-ups, and other assorted balms to the screw-up’s ego.

Oh please. I’ll make allowances for the complete newbies who have just found the program–you have an allotment of three free whines to use as you please on any given message board as you ease your way into your new lifestyle, but that’s it. Use those begs for support wisely and only when you are in true need, because at some point you will exceed your sympathy quota and be seen merely as an emotionally high-maintenance BFL tourist with no real desire to succeed.

My attitude about it? Call me a bitch, but here it is:

You screwed up. Sorry, but that’s the unvarnished truth at the heart of your cry for help. I don’t care if you screwed up. No one else cares either, no matter what they say. Women are good at automatically doling out the bleeding heart words without investing more than a passing thought to the source of the misery. We do it as easily as we draw breath.

The only one who *should* care is YOU. This is your body. This is your life. This is your health. That is your self-made flab hanging off of your arms, belly, and thighs. You knew the rules, and you chose to ignore them. You could have limited the damage to one messed up meal or missed workout instead of letting it snowball into several. Suck up the knowledge that *you* dropped the ball and move on with your life and your program.

Accumulate as many good rule-following days as you can, because no one else is going to get you to your goal. Here are your choices: Follow the rules and meet or exceed your original goals, or ignore the rules, soak up some more false sympathy, and wonder why at the end of 12 weeks your “after” photos still look like “befores.”

Your life, your choice.

If you decide to follow the rules, realize that plugging away at your workouts and meals day after day and racking up a string of perfect or near perfect days will garner you almost no recognition at all during your challenge. It’s not fair, but that’s how it goes. In an ideal world, the men and women who quietly get their shit DONE would be the ones receiving 15 heartfelt and sincere “Awesome job!” replies to their progress posts, and the attention-seeking wheenies with their umpteenth teary confessions of failure would get a single, well-deserved “Take that Snickers bar out of your mouth and get your lazy, shamming ass to the gym.”

This isn’t an ideal world, however, so be prepared to seek daily perfection in unrecognized anonymity for 12 weeks or more. *You* know you are doing the right thing and following the rules, and that should be enough, but if it’s not…just smirk with well-deserved pride at the end of your challenge when you post your phenomenal 12 week results photos and bask in the waves of praise and envy that will be pouring in from all directions while the wheenies are still reporting their latest round of self-pitying screw-ups.

This post has been reference in the following blogs:

23 thoughts on ““Progress, AND Perfection”

  1. Maggie
    Posts like these are one reason I adore your blog! I love your no nonsense, no excuses approach to fitness. You are an amazing inspiration. Thank you.

  2. Thanks Cathy! 🙂 I figure this post is either going to get me kudos from like-minded women like you, or a slew of flames from the folks in the other camp.

  3. I NEVER post comments even though I read a couple fitness blogs, but I needed to respond to this one. It is phenomenal. I have added it to my favorites for those days when I want a pat on the back for racking up a string of perfect days. Thank you for saying what not many will.

  4. You couldn’t have put it more perfectly, Maggie. It really is a mental commitment to meet goals and unfortunately not everyone is willing to make the commitment. Glad you’re around to remind us of those things! Kinda reminds me of the “Merry Christmas Bob” article posted at Squigg’s site…Thanks for the brutally honest post!

  5. Wow, Maggie.
    You know, I admire your personal approach to fitness, and I love how it works for you, but your strategy doesn’t work for everybody. While I’m disappointed about weak spots in my diet and my exercise routine, I don’t beat myself up about them, and I’m not so rigid as to disallow any relaxation of the rules in the rigorous routine of making my body better. I think one of the special things about BFL and other similar communities is that REGULAR PEOPLE can do them. You don’t have to have superhuman strength, undying enthusiasm, and willpower of steel in order to make considerable changes to your body and your life. I thought that’s what the appeal of BFL was. Otherwise, I’d participate in a bodybuilding forum where everyone expects perfection, rather than on a site that I feel is better balanced between finding your own comfort level within which to achieve your goals. I’ve never thoroughly checked out the Body For Life site, but it sounds like somewhere I’d feel really at home, just like at John Stone Fitness forums.

  6. Hey guava,

    My point in this post wasn’t to bash or criticize those who are making healthy changes that fit into their own lifestyles, but specifically the men and women who are only paying lip service to following any kind of program at all and only use the support community as a sop to their needy egos. “I need help, I need support, I need someone to make my meals and move my limbs for me at the gym, I need, I need…” without any solid attempts at making the changes and doing the things that need to be done. I know I’m not the only one who has noticed this phenomenon. There are women who have been members of certain boards for months or years…and still haven’t completed a single 12 week challenge. They can answer questions about every aspect of the program, but they cannot bring themselves to set an example and EXECUTE, not even at 50%.

    If someone has to modify or tone down their chosen program, whether it’s BFL or another plan, I am ALL for it–as long as they are true to their goals and personalized plan. If all you can manage on your work/school schedule is 5 meals a day and three workouts a week, make that your plan and stick with it. That isn’t screwing up. That is making a consistent, positive change and racking up your own perfect day. Screwing up is finding excuses to completely blow off the meal plan that you write down and the workout that you scheduled in the morning. Screwing up is reporting only your failures because you know that a dozen women will rush to tell you that you are okay, you aren’t alone, you aren’t messing up, you are are still doing BFL even though you haven’t actually eaten on plan for a full day yet after 6 months, and are lucky to make two workouts a month.

    “Progress, not perfection” only counts if you are making progress.

    I’m not letter perfect day to day with my diet as any of my blog readers can see, but I don’t dwell on a missed meal or an occasional unplanned cheat either. That’s not the type of “perfectionism” I espouse. What I think is missing in many of those that fail–not slip, but FAIL–time and time again is the ability to have more good days than bad, and the actual willingness to believe that this is a permanent lifestyle change, not a 12 week diet.

    Yes, the appeal of BFL is that “regular people” can do it even if they have to modify the rules to fit into the lives and schedules. Again, that is not the point of my article.

    As you said, “superhuman strength, undying enthusiasm, and willpower of steel” aren’t the keys to success. Consistency is. A true desire to change is. Enough wisdom to balance healthy eating and exercise with the demands of regular life is. The actual execution of your stated plan, no matter how modified, is.

    So that’s my core belief. Anyone who executes their fitness plan with a healthy attitude is on their way. It’s the dreamers who can’t finish because they never really START who need to wake up and ask themselves if they really want to change or if they are only looking for some attention and a few virtual shoulders to cry on.

  7. Maggie – I totally agree. I also gain so much more out of “hanging out” with committed folks that challenge themselves as it feeds my own aspirations as well as showing “the world” it can be done (even by “regular” people). Today’s attitude is a watered down approach and grading on a curve. As I give my all, I’d much rather someone that calls it like it is notice I’ve earned a B+ than tell me I made an A so that my ego is appeased.

  8. Thanks for explaining.

    I think it’s important to provide support to people that are having a “bad day” or even a bad week, but I have to scratch my head at people who report that they’re going to start lifting weights “in three weeks”, or people who have been planning to lose 60 pounds for six months now and haven’t managed to even take off 5 or 10 of them. I still wouldn’t call it screwing up, but it’s a false start. Obviously, they’re not emotionally ready to transform themselves, and, for that, I pity them. If they were happier about themselves, if they believed in themselves, they’d manage to achieve. I think that’s one of the things that they are trying to gain by being part of a support group. Count yourself lucky that you don’t require as much support as other lost souls.

    Lots of people would give anything to have your drive and determination. You amaze me.

  9. AMEN Maggie! Why should you have to apologize for you success. And besides, we all know you are just trying to improve on your own personal best. You aren’t in competition with anyone else but yourself. So once you have met your goal WHY NOT set the bar higher. I so agree with everything you had to say. I have been reading Dr. Phil McGraw’s book “Life Strategies.” Everything he has to say is great, but one thing in particular that he said is “BE committed, DO what it takes, and you will HAVE what you want.” He then goes on to say, ” You can know a hundredfold more today than you knew a week ago, but if you don’t do anything about it, you aren’t any more effective than you were last week, in your unenlightened state.” And my all time favorite quote of his ” When you chose the behavior, you choose the consequences.”

    You were right on the money on everything you said.

  10. Sheeesh… I hate to sound like an idiot,
    but you REALLY like to type don’t you???

    But seriously, I have to agree with your sentiments. I can’t stand people who want things out of life but constantly expect it to come from other people. If you want it, go get it!


  11. I’m one of those people who for the last 6 years have needed to lose weight (30+ lbs.) I’m one that has said I’m starting, then stop. That says I’ll do, then don’t. I did complete one 12-week challenge in 2000 and did very well with it. Then never managed to complete even 4 weeks of another one. Do I want to be fit? Yes. Do I want to get out of the size 16s? Yes. Then why the hell don’t I? I don’t know. I think I have set myself up as the family martyr. I don’t know why cause noone gives a rat’s butt about it.

    I loved this post. I needed it. I read it after I worked out this morning. I realized over the holidays that I really needed to do this for me. Not he hubs, not the kids, for me. Screw them. Sorry if the clock wakes you at 4:30am. That’s what I have to do for ME. So far I’ve had one month of good workouts, lost 7 pounds and had 3 massive free-for-alls that didn’t throw me off the wagon. I’m chained to the seat now.

    Thanks for a great post. I love it.

  12. Cheers! You had the guts to say publically what I think to myself every time I read a “here I am again, trying to complete another challenge, I have been on a two month eating binge…” yada yada yada.
    Good writing!

  13. Great Post Maggie,

    Try to make a sentence with only 2 syllabes for each word.


    Keep your awesome posts.

  14. LOL!!! I have SO been here!!! In this post and on this rant!!!

    If you want to read my version of it (just for comparison frustration) try either here: http://dancingblonde.tripod.com/id6.html
    or here was my rant from September on fitness….

    On the results of a year of trying to learn fitness:
    So here’s my soapbox. It’s sort of my own Magna Charta or Declaration of Independence. Not all of it, but the points that are rubbing at me today. The ones I feel passionate enough about today to share in a long and rambling blurb.

    Again, you are not required to take it or do anything about it; but understand that these things are tenets of my world right now, for right or wrong; and I deserve the same respect that you do, even if you don’t choose to use or believe the same tenets. (And no, I’m not really being specific, just pushing back at a culture that seems all about the individual’s rights at the exclusion of the groups rights – without realizing that the group is full of individuals.)

    ***** I no longer want to waste my time with people who live in a permanent pity party. I will NOT take responsibility for people who refuse to acknowledge that the above statements about owning up to reality are their issue, NOT MINE. This doesn’t mean I don’t play well with others, but let me treat it like a financial deal. If you ain’t offering any interest, why should I invest? And believe me, there’s a difference between playing well with others and investing.
    ***** My rights are just as right as anyone else’s; however I do owe people the opportunity to convert me. This may not actually apply to religious door to door salesmen, but it DOES apply to people I have to interact with on a regular basis. If a number of people feed me the same message, I BETTER realize that it probably has a basis in fact in their universe and figure out what caused it, and what, if anything I’m going to do about it. I also need to understand that in a work environment, what people say to me may come from their position. That also has value and deserves respect – especially if it comes from more than one source. Your friend who is also a peer or boss MUST fill that role. It’s probably not a picnic for them to give you bad news either.
    ***** I know I’m not perfect. I’m far from it. But the one thing that I’ve learned lately is that how you feel about yourself is generally how people perceive you to be. It means that you don’t have to accept that you’ll always have a big butt or fat thighs or terrible skin, but don’t hate yourself or feel like you’re not good as a human because you aren’t on the cover of some magazine. It’s weird, sometimes, to take the person I’ve worked on being for the past while out into the “real world”. I’ve worked my ass off (literally) to become someone who is happy, healthy, self-confident and sexy. Of course, not every day is perfect. Sometimes I am convinced I’m huge, or grouchy and bitchy. But I try to just suck it up, because those days do pass. So –I- get to decide when I’m hot. Or adorable. Or just grouchy and broken. *shrug* If you don’t like it – why not start deciding how YOU feel? Isn’t that more important than critiquing someone else?
    ***** Nobody really has their shit together. Deal with it. On good days, we glide through happily; on bad days tiny things get over blown into huge insane mountains. We fake like we know what we’re doing, because we’re afraid to show anyone, most of all ourselves, that we haven’t a clue. But the fact is we don’t need to have it all together. Remember, no one else does either. But we should have a good idea of where we’re going. You’ll never get anywhere if you sit on the ground and wail. Read the section of Through the Looking glass where Alice is lost and the Cheshire Cat points out that as long at you keep moving, eventually you will get SOMEMPLACE. Absorb the lesson. Move on.
    ***** Self-worth isn’t a have or have-not issue. We are not destined for greatness or written in as filler for the big star. We have a wonderful machine that gives us control over the matter – It’s in your skull. Sure, most of us have had (sometimes extended) periods of ridiculously low self-worth. But that’s controlled by that brain in our skull. So stop buying what the magazines and adverts are selling, get off your ass and tell yourself how unique you are. Think I’m just being a hard ass? I don’t think so. I think that there’s plenty of proof that people take cues on how to relate you by how you feel about yourself. Act like you’re worthless, and people will act accordingly. Tell yourself to the point that you believe it – that you are awesome, and from there you can rock the world. You will need this to survive in life. Sometimes, self-worth is all that keeps you going when life just seems determined to beat you down. So when life just sucks, Make Changes – Get on your hind feet and WALK. Rock Bottom isn’t a fun place, and every time you are SURE you can’t get any lower, someone will ALWAYS be willing to help dig that new bottom out. So don’t wait, get up and get moving. It doesn’t really matter where; because if nothing else you’ll end up somewhere different than where you started.
    ***** Other people will have their opinion. I am required to play well in public spaces, and to realize that their opinions come from their reality, but I am NOT required to believe they have any greater truth than me. I have carved myself out a headspace where I’m pretty dang happy. It’s been a long, slow, painful process. Maybe it’s a result of the weight loss, maybe it’s a year and a half at a job where mediocrity is apparently success, maybe it’s a result of being thirty – whatever. I just don’t have the energy to second-guess myself or anyone else’s opinion of me.
    ***** Mediocrity sucks. If you do everything in your comfort zone, if you’re never challenged either personally, or professionally, how do you expect to grow? Don’t you remember the joy of doing that back flip off the swings for the first time? You didn’t know you could do that, and if you’d stayed in your comfort zone, you’d never have known how truly cool you are. So, do things that scare you. And the more you do it, the better you get at it. It’s not Rocket Science – it’s just like being a little kid again!

  15. I just wanted to say that I agree with your post 100%. I am one of those who has made excuses for my lapses, but I don’t share them on the Yahoo Women’s BFL site because I think they bring the tone of the site down. I think people need to be corrected and told that they need to remove many of their crutches. This is such a good post that I would want to put a link on the Yahoo site to give some people a dose of reality. But you and I know that it won’t go over too well. Hopefully people will learn and become more consistant and better people. Thanks again.

  16. Profound! I loved the comment about the snickers bar…I’m more of a Bens and Jerrys girl myself. But let me tell you–I have never read so much truth in one sitting.
    Your post is golden and should be “must reading” for every man and woman who are serious about Body for Life.

  17. Well (surprise, surprise) I happen to agree with your words too. It drives me nuts reading all about everyones slip-ups on the boards, mainly because I know what it is like to ‘suck it up’ and achieve a massive transformation in physique, while having a medical condition that does everything it possibly can to conspire AGAINST such a feat!! (Long story as to why, which I certainly won’t bore you with!:-) Anyway, often I read those wheenie posts and think to myself: if only they realised just how lucky they REALLY are (in that all they have to complain about is how they stuffed up again on BFL!) and imagine what would happen if they actually just got on with it?? LOL 🙂

    Anyway, each to their own I guess…


  18. Dear Maggie,

    I am on your side! I mean, I admire what you’ve done with your life and your physical condition. “Awesome job!” But while reading your harsh comments about the “wheenies,” I kept thinking of the words of the Zen monk, Tohimune, “Fear not the strong nor despise the weak.”

    La Rue

  19. I think I prefer this one from Robert Louis Stevenson:

    “You cannot run away from weakness; you must some time fight it out or perish; and if that be so, why not now, and where you stand?”

    Modern culture seems to revel in excuses, “tomorrows,” and rationalizations for not getting things done. I don’t blame the wheenies for having weaknesses. No one is without obstacles and personal weaknesses.

    I just don’t understand why some people can’t simply acknowledge those weaknesses and obstacles, come up with logical ways to get rid of them or set them aside, and, as Katrina says, just get on with it.

    “Success is dependent on effort.” – Sophocles

  20. Dear Maggie,
    The petulance, the power, the drive, the strength of mind, the rigidity of true genius! No wonder in order to get their beneficial message across a buffer and interpreter are oftentimes needed between those with great minds and the common person.

    La Rue

  21. Hi La Rue!


    Well, there’s a *very* good reason I didn’t go into a career like teaching, though I did enjoy tutoring math and statistics in college.

    I have an unfashionable, archaic belief that people should try their best to excel in everything they set out to do and never settle for being one of the common herd. Is that so wrong or bad?

    Taking on a class full of deliberately obtuse high school kids would probably drive me insane.

    I do wonder sometimes if certain personality types are just better at getting through those first tough days and weeks of lifestyle changes required for programs like Body for Life on their own, and if men and women respond better to different methods of motivation. Men, certainly, seem to be more focused on taking action and getting to the nuts and bolts of their program. Point out that they are carrying more than just one spare tire around their waists to egg them on, then give them some nutrition guidelines, point them at the nearest gym, and off they go. Many women, on the other hand, will dawdle and overanalyze, obsess about the details instead of focusing on the core plan and doubt the effectiveness of the program. There just seem to be so many more debilitating anxieties, fears, self-esteem issues and emotional ties to food with women than with men.

    As a fitness professional, what have you found to be more effective in lighting a fire in the clients who just can’t get their acts together? Reasoning or cajoling? Tough love or sympathy? Upbeat, motivational talks and encouragement or plain-speaking and challenges?

    I read your excellent article “Exercise: There’s More To It Than Sweat” from your main page. I recognize many of the traits you listed there in myself–competitiveness, need for control, narcissism (Alas! Well, at least I can admit it…), joy in physical accomplishments, instant camaraderie with like-minded people, and more. These things drove me through my first few weeks of BFL and continue to drive me now that my goals and knowledge have expanded. The decision to change my lifestyle was as simple for me as seeing a series of photos of myself from 2003 looking distinctly chunky and admitting that if the Magic Fairy Godmother of Instant Fitness hadn’t visited me by the age of 29, I’d better do some research on my own and get cracking on the diet and exercise if I didn’t want to slide into matronly mediocrity by age 35.

    How do you help someone who possesses none of those self-starting traits to stay on track when all they have is a vague desire to “lose 15 pounds”? What can you do to truly convince them that fitness isn’t a 12 week, one-shot fix but a lifelong commitment?

    I’d like to think that my post isn’t truly negative at its core. Buried not so deeply under the “harsh words” in my post is a challenge for those who have been unfocused and wavering in their commitment in the past and present to wake up, get their butts in gear, and prove me wrong for labeling them as “wheenies.” To a certain type of person, this post will be a much-needed kick in the pants; to the other type, well, they probably won’t admit to recognizing themselves in my examples anyhow.

    I wish I’d been able to read my own words a year and a half ago when I was in my own wheenie phase and grasping at every trifling excuse to skip workouts and grab chocolates out of the company candy bucket. I wouldn’t have wasted all those months of training time or all that money on size 12 clothes that no longer fit me! If my post results in even ONE success story from a woman who otherwise would have fallen off the wagon with a whimper, not a roar, I am not going to shed any tears over the handful of deflated egos I leave in my wake. 😉

    What is this, really, but another blog entry among the billions of postings out there?


  22. Maggie,
    I’m with you….Progress and Perfection. Anything else is mediocre! I would love to say the exact same thing to these people who consistently fail themselves as opposed to being consistent with success. You said it all. And everyone should hear it loud and clear!

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