Remember the first time someone told you to “give 110%”? Maybe it was on a sports field, backstage, studying for an exam, or getting dolled up for an event. They were likely well meaning, just wanting you to be the best you can be. But the underlying tone with this message can be tough to shake: you have to go above and beyond what’s possible because your best isn’t good enough. We’re conditioned to believe that as we are, we aren’t enough. And no matter what we do, our best will never be enough. When 100% doesn’t give us the happiness we thought it would, then what? Even when we hit the goal we had been considering perfect, the goal post moves and we have to give that extra 10%. But is this unattainable goal ever the end result, or does this constant strive for perfection actually harm us in the long run?
The truth is, when we set the standard as being better than perfect we will always end up falling short. But also, what the hell even is perfect? If low carb is the standard, then are no carbs perfect? Is being perfect working out harder than anyone else in the gym? Or being the thinnest in the spin class? Then how are we supposed to have any energy left for work, family, friends!? Let alone, how are we supposed to be expected to take care of ourselves!? If being the most restrictive and/or working out beyond our limits is perfect then perfect will always lead to nutrient and energy deficiencies. Some people (society, jackasses, influencers abusing photoshop and trying to sell you diet pills, a well-meaning friend with a very different body type and metabolism than you, that voice in your head, etc.) will tell you burnout or exhaustion is the goal. They’ll say that consistently burning beyond your capacity will get you what you want. This isn’t actually true, and this can actually be very damaging to your physical and mental health in the long run. Constantly taking diets to the extreme won’t result in long term health, instead it will lead to a cycle of your body reaching exhaustion, no longer being able to sustain this extreme lifestyle, and going to the other extreme of binging on the foods the diet had previously demonized. The only place that going consistently at 110% leads to is burnout.
Burnout is our bodies natural response to giving too much for too long. The signs can include exhaustion, feeling drained, irritability, feeling out of control in other areas of our lives, socially isolating ourselves, depression, etc. In our society burnout has become a standard that is expected to be achieved. We’re told to “work to the bone” at our jobs. We’re told to sacrifice our physical well-being on the sports field. We’re told that taking any time for ourselves is “selfish” and taking time away from our children. If we have any energy left at the end of the day, then we must not have given enough in some aspect of our lives. But why? Burnout should never be a goal. It’s a state of physical, mental and emotional distress. Some people believe that the opposite of burnout is laziness, but it isn’t. The opposite of burnout is balance.
So, what happens if we don’t give 110%, or even 100%? What happens if we save some of our energy. What happens if we take a breath and stop not when we’ve hit our absolute limit, but when we still have enough energy left to take care of ourselves? What if we make the goal post something achievable that leaves room for us to breathe? The thought of that can be terrifying, like we won’t meet our full potential. Some might even read this and think “that’s an excuse” or “this is justifying laziness” but why? If we push ourselves to burnout then the next day we will be running on half a tank. But if we take that last 5% of our energy and put it towards taking care of ourselves, then we can show up the next day with a full tank to give to our work, our families, our workouts, and everything else that is important to us. Some might say that this is losing control. That giving into animal needs of rest and refueling is a sign of weakness. But if we give our whole selves to everything else around us, are we actually in any sort of control? If we let that voice in our head determine what we do or don’t need, are we actually in control? Or have we given up control to other forces and voices that don’t actually care about us?
Beyond the fact that 110% is unachievable, the other issue is that it is fixed. It doesn’t account for the fact that we are all different people. We each bring our own history, our own emotions and our own physicality to the situation. Even if we set the 110% goal specifically for ourselves, every day is different. We might not sleep well the night before. Another part of our life might be adding to our stress levels. Or we might be sick. We should have the control to not only set goals for ourselves that work for us, but also have the control to adjust those goals on the days that they don’t work for us. “Isn’t that just an excuse?” No, an excuse would be abandoning our responsibilities and blaming something else because we just didn’t feel like putting in effort. Adjusting our goals to make them work for us each day is giving us the space to be human beings while continuing to be able to wake up each day and put in effort.
What happens when we give ourselves the freedom to adjust our standards to what works for us that day and that time? Finding balance can be scary and challenging when you’re trying to do it by yourself. Having someone to help you figure out where your thoughts and goals stem from and how they may be harmful or helpful is important. That’s our role: helping you figure out the balance and habits that will help you avoid burnout. We want you to develop habits that will build long term physical, mental and social health so you don’t have to continue the burnout cycle. Balance takes time to build, especially coming off of the burnout cycle. The habits and mindset that lead to burn out can be challenging for anyone to change. The long-term well-being that comes with maintainable balance can provide benefits that go well beyond our relationship with food and our bodies. Schedule an appointment with a dietitian to learn more about how to change your mindset from consistently going to extremes to finding a balance that you can use for long term health.