By K Scott-Dixon
Many of us wait for the “perfect time” with our health, nutrition, and fitness. But this all-or-nothing thinking — as in, “If I don’t do this perfectly then it’s awful!” — rarely gets us “all”. It usually gets us “nothing”.
Are you waiting for the “perfect time” to get started on new projects? To learn a new skill? To eat better? To exercise more?
If so, some of these phrases may be familiar to you:
When I get a different job.
When things are less busy.
When I find a workout partner.
When I find the right equipment.
When I feel less awkward in the gym.
When I lose 20 lbs.
When I get the right workout routine.
When my fridge is full of the right foods.
Tomorrow. Next week. Never.
Human beings are always “waiting for the perfect time”. But why?
For many, it’s a great distraction and justification. It helps us avoid the real—and risky—work of doing.
For others, perfectionism and avoidance serve as strong armor against potential embarrassment, criticism, and failure.
“I could ___ but ___” keeps us safe from pain.
Unfortunately, it’s also what keeps us from growing, thriving, and being who we know we have the potential to be.
That’s why all-or-nothing thinking—If I don’t do this perfectly then it’s worthless—rarely gets us “all”.
It usually gets us “nothing”.
There is no perfect time. There never will be.
Oh sure, there might be some magic moment in your fitness journey where the universe comes together… and you’re wearing your favorite t-shirt… plus your extra-comfy sneakers… and that song you love comes on… and your body is full of exuberant, bubbling energy… and your favorite piece of gym equipment is free (in fact the gym is empty today, hooray!)… and you bang out a set of ten reps like the angels are hoisting the barbell for you.
But that magic moment will be one in the zillion other less-magic moments that make up your real life.
Indeed, if we are talking about a moment as, say, approximately ten seconds long, that means you have somewhere between 2,398,377,600 to 2,556,165,600 potential moments in your life.
Which means that a single perfect moment is, well, a very very very small part of the whole thing.
Yes, celebrate that perfect moment when it comes. But sure as heck don’t wait for it.
Take your moments. Make your moments.
Just so you know, nobody is going to give you any moments. You have to take moments.
Hunt them. Chase them. Make them happen.
Scratch and gouge moments out of other times. Chip off tiny flakes of moments from the monolith of your day. Use your teeth if you must—bite off mouthfuls of those moments.
You are holding the chisel and the pickaxe. You are the miner of your moments.
This frustrates us, of course.
It shouldn’t be this way, we think. Everyone else’s moments just… come to them. Everyone else has enough time. Enough money. Enough motivation. Enough information.
But it is this way. For everyone.
This is how it is, with moments. Moments resist expectations like water resists the intrusion of oil.
However, there is a perfect moment. There is actually always a perfect moment.
That perfect moment is now.
Here. Today. The living, breathing sliver of time that you have in this precise second.
Because that is all you ever have: right now.
Just start. At the beginning.
Here is another secret. You don’t have to actually work to get to the next moment.
All you have to do is start.
And then, moments will keep moving, as moments do.
One moment will stack on top of another and before you know it, you’ll have arrived at your destination.
But I can’t! you say. I can’t get started! That is the problem, you see!
No, it’s not. If you can’t get started, you’re just jumping too far ahead.
You’re not starting with starting. You are trying to start somewhere in an imaginary middle.
For instance, let’s say you choose to start with reading about nutrition.
That can be a good start—if it keeps you moving on to the next moment.
But it is not a good start if it keeps you stuck in your chair, clicking through a blur of blogs and charts and plans and testimonials until it’s time for lights-out and you haven’t made a single good nutritional choice today.
So maybe, starting for you shouldn’t be reading.
It should be something else, like walking to the fridge and picking out a shiny fresh apple and eating it.
Or making a shopping list and putting it next to your car keys for tomorrow.
Or reading a menu from the restaurant you’re about to visit, and picking out the salad option in advance.
Starting means initiating action. Starting means committing to a choice of some kind or another. This is how you know it is a true start.
Starting is when you drop the coin into one pinball machine, not when you stand there looking at the all machines in the arcade, deciding which one to play.
Starting is when you lift up one foot and put it in front of the other, not when you stand there debating which road to take or wondering if you should have worn different shoes.
For some folks, starting needs to be an even smaller action. Starting might be just lifting the foot. Or shifting their weight to one leg.
Putting the first foot in front of the second foot might require some help. Which is OK.
As long as something is moving, that’s a start.
Push through. Embrace resistance.
Many people who are just starting out assume that because they feel resistance, they have failed.
That because broccoli tastes bitter when they first try it, and because they accidentally overcook it, they just can’t eat vegetables.
That because they forget the printed list of exercises on the kitchen table, they can’t work out once they get to the gym.
That because their legs ache on the ascent, they are not ready to climb that hill.
No. That’s just how it feels sometimes.
Starting will often feel like resistance, at least at first. Like grinding the brain’s gears.
Give it time. Push through. It will switch tracks, eventually.
Remember: You don’t have to fight the resistance of the entire trip.
You just have to push through the resistance of the first few moments.
Get support. For now.
In order for a rocket to leave the earth, it has to fire extra-hard against gravity. It needs a boost.
In order for a heavy train to get moving, it might need an extra engine.
We can start—and stay moving—on our own. But it sure helps when someone gives us a push or a pull.
Someone who can call us on our procrastination and perfection. On our information-cruising and waffling.
Someone who can snap us out of our all-or-nothing trance with a gentle nudge and reminder.
For a while, we can even affix ourselves to this someone or something else, like hooking that extra engine to our front. As we go along, we can unhook superfluous cars that we realize are weighing us down. We grow lighter, leaner, more mobile.
Eventually, we don’t need that extra engine any more. Our train is now whizzing along just fine on its own. The scenery blurs past the windows and we are heading on a grand adventure.
But in the beginning, we had to start.
What to do next.
In the end, if you’re constantly saddled with “waiting for the perfect time”, these tips might help:
- Revise your expectations.Recognize that there is no perfect time and there never will be.
- Carve out time, even if it’s imperfect.Nobody will give that time to you. You’ll need to take it.
- Just start.Find the smallest possible thing you can do right now, in the next 5 minutes, and do it. Now you’ve started!
- Do something, anything.Action is a “vote” in favor of a different, healthier, fitter life. Vote early, vote often.
- You only have to get through this moment.This moment of starting will be the hardest. Luckily, it won’t last long.
- Expect resistance.It’s normal. Push through it. Resistance doesn’t mean this won’t work. It just means you’ve started.
- Get support.Whether it’s a friend or family member, workout buddy, or a coach, find someone to fire up your booster rockets until you can fly on your own.