Happy Herbivore Blog

May 9, 2014

Was I Wrong with my "Progress not Perfection" Mantra?

For two years now (maybe longer?) my mantra (in life, as well as with Happy Herbivore and reaching others) has been:

"Progress Not Perfection"

In fact, I spend long chapters talking about it in my new book (out next week), The Happy Herbivore Guide to Plant-Based Living.

I've been a firm believer in applauding the progress people make, rather than get hung up on where they might fall short.

It reminds me of when I used to run and train for marathons. I would say to myself, "Good job Lindsay! Look at you! You've already ran 12 miles! You're awesome!!"

I would never, under any circumstances, allow myself to do the math.... "You still have 14.2 miles to go!" because well...yeah...

Yet I found myself in an interesting... and sticky situation recently. Someone, or shall I say, a group of someones, said doing that sort of thing -- preaching progress not perfection -- does a disservice to everyone I'm trying to help.

They suggested that I encourage absolute perfection, and tell people they have to comply with the full 100%.

Their logic made sense and reminded me of Les Brown's famous saying, "Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you'll land among the stars."

The point was that most people won't ever reach 100%. So if I push for and preach 100%, maybe most people hearing my message will end up at 80-90%, which is fantastic! However, if I'm only encouraging 80-90% as the finish line, then they'll stop at 60-70% (and there you have my giant disservice).

"If you give someone an inch, they'll take a yard"

I get it, I get it. I read "If You Give a Mouse a Cookie..."

I thought about it... debated it over in my head... and then my daily (r)evolution email popped up and I remembered why I started it all in the first place.

I'm happy if you only reach 2%. I'm not here to judge you, just encourage you along... that's why I say progress not perfection! Because going from 2% to 3% is way more possible than 2% to 100%... and 2% is two times more than 0%! That counts for something! Plus 2% to 3% is still jumbo progress!

My friend Natala, over at Engine 2, wrote a great blog post on this topic, too. In her post, Natala addresses a growing trend that my other friend, Jeff Novick MS RD, calls nutrition elitism, a type of nutrition perfectionism. (Jeff has addressed this topic before here.). (Both of their posts are a good read--check 'em out.)

I've seen it happen on HH's Facebook page.

The other day I posted about a sale on Facebook: 10 cans of organic beans for $10 bucks at Kroger, and the first comments were about BPA, and about how bad canned beans are, that we should always cook our own... And then something about how you can't trust Kroger's organic label?? (See the thread here.)

(Image by Amanda Smith, 2014)

Those comments made me want to close my laptop and go home (I happened to be at Starbucks, juicing their free wifi). "Why do I bother?" "Why do I try?"

Speaking of Starbucks, a few days before the Kroger post, I'd posted about how thankful I was that Starbucks sold oatmeal, so I had a healthy option at the airport. (I was flying at 4am, after leaving a conference at 11pm the night before)... and again, the first responses were about why didn't I pack my own, and how could I support Starbucks, and blah blah. (You can read the thread here.)

Thing is, both times, I was just trying to help.

I'm trying to show people how easy and realistic this way of life is.

If you want to cook your own beans, cook your own beans. If you want to make your own oatmeal, go for it!

But please recognize that not everyone can or wants to.

(and judging them, or bopping them over the head, or bopping ME over the head, or pointing out a better and more perfect way, doesn't make us want to do it... it turns us off... scares us off... my thoughts were "Why do I bother?" "Why do I try?" and I know I'm not alone.)

I'd rather someone eat canned beans and Starbucks oatmeal than McDonald's.... so yes, I am standing firm with my progress not perfection.

One of the "public figure" things that still bothers me is something that didn't happen to me. It happened to my mom.

My mom (my mom!) shared a picture of her fridge on Facebook, super proud of all her beautiful veggies (she was newly plant-based at the time), and the first few comments bopped her over the head for putting potatoes in the fridge.

"OMG! Get the potatoes out of the fridge!" (direct quote)

This is not helpful. I get wanting to be helpful and share information, but there is a better way to do it, and it's all in the phrasing.

It's all in the delivery.

Another example:

I posted a pic of my cooked potatoes in a plastic bag (proud that I'd packed them for a plane flight) and some of the first comments bopped me over the head for using plastic. (You can read the thread here.)

Okay, I'm flying and I wanted something light that I was sure TSA wouldn't take...

Or when I posted a picture of my salad from the California Pizza Kitchen on the first day of the 28-Day Live Better Challenge. I was so excited to share that they always sub avocado for chicken in any salad free of charge.

And guess what? One of the first comments was about how the company that owns CPK has a horrible record of human rights violations and environmental issues. (You can read the thread here.)

Point is, no one likes an elitist (at least I don't) and you attract way more flies with honey (agave) than vinegar. (For more on this, check out my post Build Them Up (Why I'm not a Skinny Bitch)).

I think when we make these kinds of comments (and I'm not perfect, I know I've done it) it's to show off. Show how smart we are. To make ourselves feel superior.

Real winners build people up, they don't tear each other down... because it's not a competition.

Be gentle with advice. Nudge. Encourage. Applaud progress... don't get mad because people don't live to your standards of perfection.

Also as a reminder :)

UPDATE: (May 9, 2014, 3pm)

Thank you x 1000 for all the amazing comments here on the blog, the private emails, tweets, Facebook comments, etc. I am blown away.

Thank you, THANK YOU for your support + being YOU. I hope the message of "progress not perfection" rings loudly (including in our own heads) and real, loving change can be made... Together we are building a better world with compassion, kindness, acceptance, and NO judgment.

While I have read every single comment, I can't reply to all of them :) But know that you're in my heart forever and you mean the world to me.

Let's be the leaders of change, and continue to take a stand against nutrition elitism + head boppers!

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