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Running in the wrong race

Posted May 01 2009 12:00am

I liked to think that this was another lazy assumption. Another medical tick box. Like the fear of growing up tick box or the high achieving academically tick box.

As I’ve said, nobody likes a label.

As I’ve also said, they’re quite helpful.

And, in my case, this one would get a big tick.

With the slightly more mature insight of a 29 year old, I can whole-heartedly agree that I am a perfectionist. I can also, albeit somewhat begrudgingly, confirm that it contributed to parts of my illness. At the very least, it was kept busy by it.

It’s hard to accept a label without de-coding it satisfactorily. It took me a while to translate ‘perfectionist’ from theory to reality. To really get what it looks like.


Running 4km is no achievement if you’ve set your mind on running 5km. There’s either hitting the mark or failing. Perfectionism is not very kind.

But if Fred runs 3.5km, he has not failed. Personal standards are wholly different to those applied to other people. Perfectionism is irrational.

But you have still failed. And you’ve failed in everyone’s eyes. Perfectionism plays on things like guilt and disappointment. So you don’t do it next time.

If John runs 4.5 km, the failure is doubly bitter. Perfectionism is close friends with competitiveness. And there’s no such thing as second place.

This isn’t such a bad thing if you’re training for a marathon. It might even be helpful if your perfectionist tendencies are limited have one clear objective – providing that the one clear objective is not losing weight or being thin.

Then, it’s definitely a bad thing.

And I can kind of understand why doctors watch out for it in eating disorders.

Perfectionism is not very kind: If you’ve decided that 500 Kcal is an adequate daily calorie quota for people then you will eat 500Kcal. Full stop.

It’s not exactly rational. If Jo Bloggs believes that 2,500 Kcals is an adequate daily calorie quota than he’s exactly right. But only for everyone else.

It makes you feel guilty (from that extra apple) and disappointed (you’ve let yourself down).

It’s closely related to competitiveness: Jim’s daily calorie allowance is 450 Kcals.

You can imagine what can happen when you get stuck on the wrong idea.


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