Several years ago I had a friend who identified as a vegetarian, but every once in a while – when she’d had a bit to drink, mostly – she’d succumb to temptation and dig into some Chicken McNuggets or something. When I asked her about it, she made the point, “Well, if I eat vegetarian 99% of the time, that’s literally 99% as good as someone who eats vegetarian all the time. The reason so many animals die for meat production isn’t my rare serve of chicken – it’s the people eating meat at every meal. If everyone ate 50% of the current average, and there were no vegetarians at all, that’d actually be better for the animals of the world.”
It struck me that this is a great way to look at many kinds of lifestyle changes. Most of them are not all-or-nothing things! So rather than putting off a change in routine because you don’t think you’ll be perfect, do it anyway and just try your best. Maybe 100% perfection is not sustainable, but what about 95%? Or 90%? What steps can you take, right now, to build towards the better habits you want to have?
This applies to so many things. Obviously, it applies to dietary changes. Not only to things like vegetarianism, whole foods diets, etc. but it even applies if you’re counting calories to lose weight. Some people get turned off by the very concept because they don’t want to be that weirdo asking how many calories there are in every dish at a dinner party. (At least, in pre-pandemic times.) But how often do you actually go to dinner parties?! My own experience is that a weekly “cheat meal” (like a family dinner) is totally sustainable and will not derail your progress – assuming you count well the other 95% of the time. Maybe not if you take it as an opportunity to eat a whole cheesecake or large pizza by yourself, or if this “cheat meal” is happening every other night. But the occasional treat is fine, and good for the soul.
But this whole “95% is good enough” mentality works for so many other things too! If you want to learn a second language, daily practice is ideal – but don’t put off even starting just because you’re not sure you can find the time each and every single day. Most days will give you most of the benefit. Or if you want to start going for walks or runs regularly to improve your heart health – missing a single day isn’t a reason to give up on the whole routine, because again, doing it most days is good enough. It even goes for changing which services you use on the internet – maybe you can’t fully ditch Facebook, but you can log on less; maybe you can’t ditch all Google services, but if you looked into it you could ditch some (like use DuckDuckGo to search the web, or use Firefox instead of Chrome, etc.), and you can keep on just switching one at a time as the enthusiasm strikes you. The closer you can get to your goal, the better off you’ll be, but you don’t have to actually reach 100% to reap most of the rewards.
This isn’t to discourage you from striving for 100% if that’s what you’re capable of, obviously. Nor am I trying to tell you to half-ass everything just because it’ll be of some benefit, even if you could easily do better. The key point I’m trying to make is “do your best” – although not your theoretical best at some point in an undefined future, but your actual best now. That best effort can wax and wane in line with your mental health, physical health, finances, the time of year, etc. too, so don’t feel like you’re always obliged to be on the up and up, either. Do your best, but don’t beat yourself up if your “best” isn’t perfect.