How to let go of perfectionism, around work, around food, around the holidays, you name it. And it all comes down to one simple mantra of permission. This here’s a tale for all the perfectionists (and now I have Bust a Move in my head).
What Is Perfection?
Perfection is a funny thing. It doesn’t exist and yet so many of us Type A’ers strive for it day in and day out. We worry so much about being perfect in our work, how we present ourselves, our relationships and life that we totally stress ourselves out.
It’s true. Perfection can wreak havoc on our bodies. Trying to attain the unattainable. Worrying about what other people think of us. Trying to control something for which we have no control (life). It results in anxiety, tension, headaches, depression, etc.
And it can ruin our relationship with food. I work with many clients who are striving for the “perfect” body, the “perfect” diet and the “perfect” weight. In doing so, they try diet, after diet, after diet, lose the weight, gain the weight, lose the weight, gain the weight and ultimately destroy their relationship with food. They create food rules around which foods are good and which are bad that should restrict. They deprive themselves of foods that they used to love. They lose control around food. Lose trust in themselves around food. And this never-ending cycle doesn’t get them anywhere and certainly doesn’t result in perfection. Any of this sound familiar to you?
The first step to letting go of perfectionism is to understand where your perfectionistic tendencies are coming from. Often times, perfectionism and control around food stem from feeling out of control in another area of life. If you’re struggling with your relationship with food, you might also be undergoing a major life transition like starting college, getting married, having children, getting a divorce, moving, getting a diagnosis, etc. And since you have little to no control over these types of life transitions (and the emotions that accompany them), you try to exert control over the things you can – being “perfect” at work or eating the “perfect” diet. You avoid and bury the hard stuff, instead of feeling it and moving through it.
A Mantra to Let of Perfectionism
I get it. This is hard stuff. I have perfectionistic tendencies too, especially when it comes to work and my career. And when I was a teenager, it affected my relationship with food too. So I understand where you’re coming from and what you’re struggling with. There’s no easy fix to this. No button to press to turn off type A behaviors. But there is a mantra that I’m going to share with you that I’ve found to be very powerful in my own life lately in dealing with perfectionism. And I’m calling it a mantra because I’ve found it to be so profound in my life. But you can call it a phrase. An intention. Whatever you’d like.
This idea is not my own – it came from Sheryl Paul, a therapist who’s work I greatly admire. She said they key to overcoming writer’s block for her was every time she sat down to write something, she would first give herself permission to write the worst paper/blog post/essay/etc. she had ever written. She was essentially giving herself permission to fail. I love the example she used too in describing this shift to give yourself that permission. She said imagine you had a young daughter who was getting ready to perform on stage and before she walked out you said to her, “This has to be the best performance of your life! You have to sing perfectly and not miss a note! Everyone is watching you. I’m going to be very disappointed if you don’t succeed.” You would NEVER want to say those things to a child, right? It would destroy them, they would feel so much pressure and anxiety, they would probably choke. But these words, this story, this dialogue is the one we tell ourselves every day. Why is it NOT ok to say this to a child or loved one but OK to say it to ourselves?
It’s not ok to say to ourselves and to overcome it, you have to start giving yourself permission to fail. Over, and over and over again. So now before I do anything that I’m feeling apprehensive about or feeling that I want to get perfect or am worried about how other people will perceive, I say to myself “I give you permission to do the worst XYZ you’ve ever done.” To teach the worst yoga class you’ve ever taught. To give the worst presentation you’ve ever given. You get my drift. And you know what? It’s helped me relieve that internal pressure to perfect and to be okay with making mistakes, stumbling and being less than perfect.
Give Yourself Permission to Eat
I loved seeing the parallel of this mantra to our relationship with food. When it comes to intuitive eating, the work is all about granting yourself permission to eat any food you desire or crave. And trusting your intuition to grant yourself that permission. I started thinking what if we tweak that mantra to apply to chronic dieting to say, “I give myself permission to be the worst dieter,” creating a space where all foods fit and ultimately moving towards “I give myself permission to let go of dieting” and “I give myself permission to eat what I want, honoring my hunger and fullness.”(me granting myself permission to order (and eat!) nachos last weekend because I was craving them even though I had planned to eat my peanut tofu bok choy rice bowl for dinner)
Inviting in Joy
Once you let go of something, you open up space to invite something in. When we let go of perfection and the fear and anxiety that’s intertwined in that, we can invite in enjoyment, gratitude, joy and fun. Because all those things that we want to perfect or control can be enjoyed, if we allow it. For example, that child will approach her on-stage debut with excitement, joy and fun just as we can approach our presentation with a sense of gratitude and enjoyment for the opportunity to reach others with our message, allowing us to have fun with it! It’s the same thing with food. When we stop trying to control what we eat, we invite in real, pure enjoyment and satisfaction of eating. We can celebrate food, as food was meant to be.
(me inviting in enjoyment and fun savoring these honey sesame fritters in Greece)
As we approach the holiday season, ask yourself where are you noticing your perfectionistic tendencies creeping in? Can you give yourself permission to buy the worst present, to cook the worst ham, to break your food rules and to allow yourself to enjoy and savor your favorite holiday foods?
This is my last Mindful Monday post before the holidays so I want to wish you all a warm and joyful holiday and thank you for all your love and support throughout this year. I love reading your comments on my Mindful Monday posts and hearing your stories and I can only hope I’ve inspired or helped you in some way.
Lots of peace and love. See you in 2017!
Ps. Be sure to check back on last week’s post about why acceptance is pure bliss to find out who won the Mindful Monday giveaway!