Perfectionism Is Making You Miserable
Originally published at stronginsideout.com.
I used to say I was a perfectionist as if it were something to be proud of. I’ve always been an overachiever. I’d be so delighted when I could perform above and beyond.
But when I fell short, I’d crumble.
My worth was directly tied to my actions. If I wasn’t 110%, I was a total failure.
From the work I’ve done over the past year and a half, I’ve realized that perfectionism (or all-or-nothing thinking) is the root of much of our suffering.
We’re raised to believe that you are the ideal or a waste. You’re a supermodel or you’re disgusting. You can do 50 pushups perfectly or you’re a pussy.
It’s not our fault that we think this way. We didn’t decide to do it. We arrived at this belief from years of conditioning.
So how do we de-condition you, and why should you even want to when most of our society thinks this way? That’s what I’m here to talk to you about, babe. Read up.
Why perfectionism is making you miserable
If you’re only happy with 110% effort, you will not be happy or healthy all the time. You will disappoint yourself, probably chastise yourself for not being able to be the best at everything and crash on the regular from trying so hard all the time.
Sound familiar? That was me for 30 years of my life. It led me to intense unhappiness, addiction and issues with food and body image.
You absolutely cannot give 110% all the time. It’s impossible. And if you try, you’ll crash, then beat yourself up for not being able to maintain that unsustainable lifestyle.
Chances are that your perfectionism flip-flops with total overwhelm. When you’re not giving 110%, you’re hiding in your house, eating all the food and avoiding life as much as possible. This happens because you think that in order to do anything, you have to do everything, and that thought keeps you from getting back up. It’s an enormous amount of pressure that you put on yourself, Love, and I’m here to tell you that you don’t have to do it anymore.
Why you feel like you’re not enough
The drive to be “better than” everyone else comes from a place of needing to prove (to yourself or others) that you are enough. It’s that perspective that’s keeping you in a cycle of overdrive-crash and binge-restrict.
Perfectionism is a flawed interpretation of reality. This perspective comes from a place of lacking self worth. We don’t believe we are worthy unless we excel at what we do.
Your worth is not your actions. You don’t have to earn it. You are worthy as you are just because your heart is beating.
Holding yourself to ridiculous expectations, looking to surface fixes to increase how much you matter, and telling yourself you’re nothing if you can’t live up to it all is making you effing miserable.
Imagine a life without perfectionism. Imagine being happy with who you are at your core even if you want to strive for more. This is where the difference between heart-centered acceptance and perfectionism lies.
If you’re a perfectionist who doesn’t live up to high expectations, you feel worthless. If you’re centered in acceptance and self-love and you fall short, you realize that it doesn’t make you any less enough and so you don’t get that feeling of crushing defeat when it doesn’t go your way. It doesn’t mean you don’t deserve what you’re after or that you at your core are flawed. It just means it didn’t work out this time.
Separating “I failed” from “I’m a failure”
We perfectionists conclude that if we fail, we are failures. If we are not all, we are nothing. If we are not the best, we are the worst.
Perfectionism doesn’t allow for gray zones, but what perfectionists don’t realize is that the gray zone is actually the bridge into the joy we’re after.
The first step toward healing perfectionism is aiming for slightly more balanced thought process when you catch yourself in all-or-nothing thinking.
Using the Extremes Exercise to come back to reality
A few posts ago, I shared The Extremes Exercise with you. Today, we’re using it again to bring you back to reality.
Let’s work through the example of losing weight. As a perfectionist, I tell myself that I need to lose 20 pounds, so naturally I’m going to aim for 2.5 pounds a week because that’s the maximum healthy amount to lose (or so every fitness magazine tells me). What that requires is a drastic decrease in calories, a mega increase in time spent exercising each day and for me to think of nothing but this weight loss every hour of every day.
Looking at that goal, Coach Amy would lovingly encourage you to look at each part of that equation to find a slightly more balanced way of going about it. Let’s us the Extremes Exercise to bring it back to reality. Here’s how we do it:
- Look at your perfectionist goal.
- Consider the opposite of that extreme.
- Where can you find balance (or at least at a slightly more balanced thought process)?
Using the example, here’s what I’d come up with:
- Perfectionist goal: lose 2.5 pounds per week.
- Opposite of the extreme: don’t even try and eat everything in sight while not exercising at all.
- The balance: Knowing that losing even 1 pound a week takes a ton of effort, aiming for half a pound every week with room for flexibility would be a great balance.
- Still too low for you über-perfectionists? The slight more balanced version: Aim for 1 pound a week instead.
By allowing for balance, I let the pressure off of myself to do it all and so I actually increase my chances of success. When you know you don’t have to do it all at once, you feel more encouraged to do anything at all and so you do! As a perfectionist, “slow and steady wins the race” is probably a motto you’ve never lived by before, but maybe it’s time to start.
The same rule of balance applies to people who want to start eating healthier. If you completely cut out food groups or over-restrict calories, it’s highly likely that you’ll rebel with a binge or period of overeating the foods you’re restricting. Aiming for balance, acceptance and flexibility is the surefire way to create a life of health in moderation.
Start slow with this exercise. Just like anything else, you don’t have to do this all at once!
Freeing yourself from perfectionism
Perfectionism isn’t anything to be proud of. In fact, it’s one of the main reasons you feel like you’re never enough no matter how much weight you lose, status you gain or money you have. If you don’t heal the stuff underneath all those desires, you’ll never feel truly happy.
It’s my wish for you that you are able to feel love and acceptance for who you are now instead of waiting to achieve X, Y and Z before you’re worthy of it. There will never come a time when you are more or less worthy.
Your worth is a constant. It’s available to you now and yes, it will be available to you when you reach that goal, too. Want to know a secret? Accepting and loving yourself now will make getting to your goals much less painful (and probably get there faster).
Waiting to live your life until you have more is a waste of the days you’re living up until then. I hope for your sake and the world’s alike that you wake up to your worth now.
If you’re interested in learning more about how to find balance in your life, cultivate self-love, heal the binge-restrict cycle and finally be free from the burden of not being enough, check out my course to heal the relationship with food and body image, The Phoenix Method. The completely reworked course concentrates on resolving the deep, core issues that drive you to overeat in the first place. Click here to check it out — we close enrollment Friday night!
Amy Clover is a speaker, writer and mental health advocate. This post was originally published on StrongInsideOut.com, a site devoted to helping you become stronger than your struggle through fitness, mindfulness & positive action. Join the email list to get weekly inspiration + goodies >> Click here.