Believe it or not I have a streak of perfectionism in my personality. I never really thought that I have perfectionist tendencies. I mean I am not a top knotch housekeeper for one thing. I keep a tidy and clean house but I don’t fret too much about it being perfect. I don’t overly fret over germs either. I keep my hands and body clean but I don’t freak out about every exposure to germs. I always say, “Oh well. Chalk it up to immune system boosting.” I don’t always finish books nor do I keep perfect records. When things don’t go as planned I usually shrug my shoulders and move on. Life happens. Ride with it.
But, I in recent weeks I have come to realize where I am very much perfectionist and honestly, it can be down right crippling. I set very high standards for myself. In the past, when I adopted a new diet plan I expected myself to follow it perfectly and when I didn’t I was an absolute failure and not worthy of a better, thinner life. When I found or bought a new exercise plan and I didn’t finish every workout as written on the prescribed days I was in no way an athlete and I might as well be a slug on the couch.
Over and over and over again I have gotten an awesome idea and dove right in with a reckless abandon. There would be so much passion for my direction that anyone could smell it. I would live and breathe my new thing. But, then slowly over time the passion would wane and fall apart. Life would happen and get in the way and my attention would go to different things. I would justify the change in plans by saying that the first thing just wasn’t for me and I just haven’t found that perfect thing for me. IN reality, I would be telling myself that I just couldn’t finish any project and I was a failure and not deserving of anything good.
That self-talk is a booger, isn’t it? I have no doubt much of these negative thoughts have to do with my bouts with depression but they also come from my perfectionist tendencies. I expect to do any plan, challenge, or project to completion, perfectly, and as planned. Because of these impossible standards I place on myself I fall apart most of the time. I am my own worst enemy.
For example, a little over a month ago I started what I was calling the “1K Words for 100 days Challenge” and for exactly twenty-six days I had not one break in my streak of writing one thousand words every weekday as per my challenge. Then some life events happened and I missed a day here and a day there. Rather quickly I lost all interest in writing not because I didn’t have things to say but because I honestly thought I couldn’t be a writer because I couldn’t manage to write a thousand words every week day. How crazy is that thought process? See, the perfectionism coming in?
Over the last year or so I have learned more about grace and how it is A-okay for things to not happen exactly as planned. But, what makes it different is how I face it. Do I turn inward and say, “Sarah, you are a total and complete failure. Why don’t you just go curl up in bed and do nothing because you are capable of nothing” or do I say, “Sarah, this didn’t work. That’s okay. Why? What can we do differently?” This especially goes with how I eat. Is it practical at all to expect myself to eat a certain way all the time for the rest of my life or even for a few months? That is why I have ‘failed’ at so many diet plans. I left no margin for error or for living for that matter.
Now that I accept grace in my life I do indeed eat the way I want most of the time because I allow room for treats and unexpected events. Now that I don’t try to follow a workout plan perfectly I can allow room for random trips to the pool to swim laps just because I feel like swimming or trips outside to workout because it just feels so good out there. Because of this margin of grace I find that I can stick to my workout plans 110% better. And while I do believe that challenging yourself in order to build a new habit is a good thing like I did with the ‘1K Words for 100 days” I don’t think it is a good thing to self-sabatage yourself by expecting perfection and not allowing any margin for error. Not so ironically, with a little bit of grace in my writing schedule I want to write more and I am not paralyzed by my perfectionism and I believe I write better because I am not just writing words for the sake of writing words. There is purpose and there is depth. That being said I am still attempting to write one thousand words every week day. But, if life happens it happens and I hit the reset button and start again the next day.
When I was more in the perfectionist frame of mind (and I still revert back a lot) I was crippled and paralyzed by everything being just right and because of that I did not let my creative juices flow. I did not allow myself to grow and spread my wings. I was stuck on the ground because I had to stay put in what I expected to be just right. I could not allow myself to dream or to pursue those dreams. I was stunted and stuck.
Now that I have given up on perfectionism and have embraced grace I find that I am so much more productive and achieving goals is so much easier. I am not paralyzed anymore but free to make mistakes, learn from them, and move on. I am free to eat what I want, move how I want, and write what I want. I am not held back by this thing called perfectionism. I am free because of grace and the beauty of not being perfect. I am a beautiful mess. I am writing my own story complete with the victories and failures.
What about you? How do you deal with perfectionism?