This is an excerpt from Finding Mastery #121 with plant powered wellness advocate Rich Roll in which he discusses how to combat perfectionism and self-critical tendencies.


Michael Gervais: Let’s say high-performance is stop 1,000. I’m making up how many stops are on this train. 1,000. Mastery is 2,000. So the stop of 1,000, most people want to get off around 250 now, because it’s so freaking hard to be deeply focused, because when you’re deeply focused you know what you have to do? You have to gate out the thoughts that create constriction. To be deeply focused, in this moment, where all things amazing happen, high-performance, love, intimacy, vulnerability, all the amazing things happen in the present moment, as you well understand that, being your friend and listening to your thinking patterns.

So we have to gate out all the ones that create constriction that become noisy. So you think about the signal-to-noise ratio, the signal is where amazing things take place, and it’s always found in the present moment. And the noise are the self-critical thoughts, “Need to be perfect. This, that and the other,” and the noise of what others might think of us. Those are both noisy.


Rich Roll: So what is the process of muting the self-critical voice?


Michael Gervais: It’s not a mute. It’s a relationship with it. It’s a relationship with … and there’s lots of ways to do this, but it’s the relationship with, “Why am I doing that? Okay. Hm. That’s interesting. Oh, look. There it is again.”

So it’s increasing the awareness, being curious about why you would choose that thought, and then making a decision. As soon as I do have that thought, what am I going to do about it?


Rich Roll: Right. Well, I think it’s even deeper than that because, at least … and just speaking for myself, and I’ve seen this for other people … these behavior patterns that are perhaps leading us astray, can be part and parcel of our identity, and also what we imagine or project our crucial aspects of our success equation.

So I can easily make the argument for example, that my perfectionist standard, my control issues, that’s how I was able to even get here to this place where I get to sit here and talk to you. And if I let go of that, that’s very threatening. That’s terrifying, because that means that I have to come to this decision that that is in fact not what’s fueling my success. And just coming to that understanding is difficult, and it would then put me in a place of confusion and mystery.


Michael Gervais: Yeah. Okay. So what you’re hitting on is big time. It’s almost like what will be an easy example, is that, you know what? Okay. I have a headache, so the doc or someone that I trust told me to take aspirin … do you take aspirin for headaches?


Rich Roll: Yeah. If I get a headache. I don’t get headaches that much. Or Advil, or whatever-


Michael Gervais: No, I was asking that more rhetorical. Or Advil. Whatever it is.

You take something for headache. And it works and you’re like, “Oh, okay. Good.” And then at some point you say, “Man, I got a stomach ache.” You go to the doc for the stomach ache and they go, “You know what? Let’s do a little test. Oh, you got some ulcers. How often do you take the headache medicine?” “Well, I take it three times a day.” “No, no, no, no, no. You got to stop doing that. That’s too much.” “But it works. I don’t have headaches,” but now you have an ulcer.

So it’s a little bit like this system that got you here. And I see this all the time. The system that got me to a certain phase in my life, even this phase of my life, has worked, but there’s limitations. And I see it with world-class athletes that say, “What got me here, I’ve got two gold medals, I’ve got this that and the other accolades, but there’s another space that I need to figure out, because this is no longer working anymore.”

So it’s like now the question is, do you stop taking the medicine? Because the initial pattern was that you had headaches, so now you got to figure out how to not have ulcers and not have headaches.


Rich Roll: Yeah. That reminds me of my conversation with Kerri Walsh Jennings who you know well. That idea that, like in the context of athletic performance, the way that you become successful is you live this monastic life, and all you do is train, and then as you grow older, life gets more complicated, and if you want to continue in your career you have to provide the space to let other things into your experience and that can be frightening.

It’s like, no, the only way that I can win gold medals is if I live alone in a hut in the woods. And then to come into an understanding that actually you might even be better if you let go of that idea. That idea may have gotten you to this place, but it’s not going to take you through three more Olympiads.


Listen to full podcast here.


A graduate of Stanford University and Cornell Law School, Rich is a 50-year old, accomplished vegan ultra-endurance athlete and former entertainment attorney turned full-time wellness & plant-based nutrition advocate, popular public speaker, husband, father of 4 and inspiration to people worldwide as a transformative example of courageous and healthy living.