In the Pursuit of Health, Should You Aim for Progress or Perfection?

Two pathsA couple weeks ago I did a “Midweek Kick in the Pants” post directed at those who read Mark’s Daily Apple regularly but were still on the relative sidelines in terms of making the leap to Primal living. Most readers were grateful for the call to action. Many, in fact, shared they needed the push and took the post as the sign (or message) they were waiting for in order to take the PB full throttle. A few, however, expressed some disappointment, saying the approach felt unwelcoming toward those who were earnest readers but not full “converts.” Although I responded then, I’ve given the issue some thought since and wanted to delve into an important underlying concept I see here: is progress enough when it comes to Primal? And what about the impediments that keep us from committing to the a new way of living? Are they merely excuses, or is it more complicated than that?

Let me say first that anyone is welcome here. Whether you’re a full-on Primal convert or a vegan skeptic or anything in between, I want MDA to be a large umbrella community open to earnest discussion and respectful debate. I’m not out to exclude anyone. If a reader comes with good intentions of learning or mulling or even momentarily considering, I hope they’ll stay. The fact is, I appreciate the point reader Colleen made in response to the post: “I come here for inspiration and to continue to improve. I come here for information and inspiration and recipes and help with my health problems. … Moving towards is better than away. Every change you make is positive.” I couldn’t agree more, in fact.

I often say “don’t let the perfect be the enemy of good.” No one here does Primal perfectly (including yours truly). I think the very nature of the Primal Blueprint rejects perfectionism right out of the gate. It’s a guide rather than a dogma. It’s flexible, open, modular. The basic principles hold and make a meaningful foundation for health, but the choices and transition are entirely yours to make and own. It’s part of the idea behind the 80/20 Principle, the dimension of the Primal Blueprint that suggests living Primally isn’t about chasing perfection but exercising the basic principles (particularly the nutrition) 80% of the time and consciously enjoying a certain pliability in the remaining 20% of your day/week. It means if you’re doing the Primal thing the majority of the time, making reasonable choices that don’t fit the core of the PB in that other 20% won’t undo the good you’re doing. (Making every fifth meal an assortment of candy bars or a loaf of bread would be unreasonable, but I think that probably goes without saying.)

Still, I know for some folks the 80% can feel too hardcore. I wouldn’t get too hung up on the number. Look at what you’re eating, how it makes you feel, how well it gets you to where you want to be health and weight wise, and decide if it’s enough for you right now. Are you making progress? Do you feel good?

On the other hand (and this was my point a couple of weeks ago), do you know whether you could feel better still? Are you where you ultimately want to be? These are the reasons to make the leap – to heed the call to action, to respond to the kick in the pants, to jump in the deep end of the pool. That said, the process is a very personal one. We choose our own timing and path based on factors others can’t truly know or judge.

At issue here, I believe, is the question of impediments. Are the impediments we claim hold us back merely excuses? Are they mere attempts at self-justification? Is it just inertia at work, or do some factors really muddy the water? Are there legitimate reasons, genuine complications that hold up our progress or commitment to living a different, healthier existence?

Ultimately, the very question is for each one of us to decide for ourselves. (Yes, I will hand it back at every turn.) We’re each responsible for our personal health. We each have the power to change or not change at whatever pace in whatever way we feel works for us at any given time. The only truth we accept is the physiological consequence of that choice – slower weight loss, lingering inflammation, more gradual healing, etc. I don’t have any delusions about anyone answering to me or the Blueprint philosophy. You answer to your own body and the patterns that govern it. The PB simply makes those patterns more transparent.

We go through personal crises that make even the smallest efforts feel enormous. We navigate convoluted health problems that make going cold turkey difficult and maybe even inadvisable. We struggle with emotional issues around food or other aspects of life or self-concept that aren’t easily contained. As much as we might want to dive in, there might be more to the picture for some of us. In those cases, I hope readers get the support they need around what is holding back their health and well-being. If MDA and its adjoining resources (e.g. the books, the forum, the other services) can be of help, then by all means reach out.

Is progress enough when it comes to the PB? Any effort is a step, and today that’s enough to be in the game. It’s definitely enough to welcome you here. If you’re literally starting at zero but don’t want to stay there, you belong here. Again, a 50/50 approach won’t get you to what an 80/20 will, but you’re on the path and moving forward. Commit only to what you’re truly ready and willing to commit to, but then bring your full attention to it. Feel the benefits. Record them for the days you easily forget and find yourself tempted to slip back. Imagine what another round of change could bring. Envision what that next step would look like – and what support and ideas would be key to that. What recipes could get you there? What coaching or workout partnership would help? What choices could put your over the top – maybe even without as much effort as you think? Progress, when we let it, can become its own momentum as well as reward.

Thanks for reading today. Tell me what your thoughts are on making progress toward a healthier life. What did your trajectory look like? What were your impediments along the way, and when or how did they finally lift in the process? Have a good end to the week, everybody.

About the Author

Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.

If you'd like to add an avatar to all of your comments click here!