So you’re not perfect. It’s okay. Perfect isn’t cool!
Ever hold yourself to a standard of perfection, only to find that it kept you stuck, stalled & living in a state of constant worry? Good News: Perfect isn’t cool! And striving for it can actually be a form of self-sabotage.
Last week I was on vacation with one of my “besties” in sunny 80-degree Florida! It was a planned birthday trip, combined with a respite from winter in Maine, and a much needed soul recharge to visit a close friend.
The Tampa weather was warm and sunny and it felt amazing to be walking outside every day. I walked 2-4 miles most mornings for outdoor cardio and we walked the beaches as much as possible. Truthfully, I couldn’t get enough! We ate healthy, too. My friend, Mary, is a dietician and an amazing cook who makes the best salads! Plus, I was on a personal mission to eat grilled Gulf shrimp and Grouper as often as I could.
The combination of eating healthy on vacation and moving outside in the sunshine every day totally lifted my spirits. Not to mention, the added psychological benefit of laughing and spending quality time with one of my closest friends. I came home focused and re-energized. Just the way it should be after vacation. Right?!
Reality set in when I returned to a very windy and cold Maine, and resumed the task of making a new life where I have yet to establish a solid routine. Transitions are hard for me in general, but I know this and was determined to continue my momentum upon returning home.
Fast forward a few days and, well, I am struggling. So what happened?
Well, life! Nothing too crazy, just normal stuff. Can you relate?
Excuses? Not really. Just life. My big life transitions are challenging me right now. But, I am not perfect and it’s okay.
S h _ _ happens in life to take us off track even when we have the best of intentions. The key is what we do next…after we slip and fall, after we get off course, or after we fail. That’s what this blog is about.
What do you tell yourself when you make a mistake or slip up on the path to a goal? When you’re not perfect? What is your very next action? … Do you beat yourself up? Throw in the towel? The “story” that runs through your mind during that pivotal moment can make all the difference.
I am not perfect, but I am in control of what happens next!
It took me many years to come to terms with the fact that I not only wasn’t perfect, but that it was in my striving to be perfect, that I was self-sabotaging and holding myself back. Yep, it wasn’t in the falling off the plan or getting off course that I was failing, but rather how my mind processed it and what I did next.
Once I learned to accept that I was perfectly imperfect and would inevitability struggle and even screw up, something shifted. I was able to see that healthy striving is quite different than being perfect, and that slipping and falling is the most important part of the journey. It’s in the resilience we develop along the way, and the learning from the screw ups, that we grow to become a better version of ourselves. It’s when we pick ourselves back up and restart that we can confidence and forward momentum.
This is why I’m such a strong advocate of approaching health and wellness through the mindset door. It’s what you tell yourself during times of struggle that influences your next move, and it’s that move that makes ALL the difference in your long-term success. It all starts with mindset. And holding yourself to a standard of perfection is one of the most dangerous (and common) mindsets when it comes to healthy living.
Perfectionism can be the thief of joy – and momentum & success
You likely know the famous Theodore Roosevelt quote: “Comparison is the thief of joy.” I believe it also rings true of perfectionism. I am much happier when striving and failing, than not striving at all. And I’m much more interesting, fun, and have more fun, when I’m living as my perfectly imperfect but authentic self!
Brene Brown, one of my favorite authors and teachers, says calls perfectionism the 20-ton shield because we think it will protect us from being hurt, but it actually protects us from being seen. It was in Brown’s work that I learned the difference between healthy striving and perfectionism. Healthy striving is an internal mindset “I want to do this and be the best I can be,” while perfectionism is being driven by fear of “what other people will think.” Perfectionism actually keeps us from being brave and often from having success at the very thing we want most!
In her book, Rising Strong, Brown describes what happens when something hard occurs in our lives and our emotions get the first crack at making sense of it. “We think that we’re rational beings…but emotion is driving, and thought and behavior are in the trunk going ‘hey!,'” she says. “When our emotion takes over, we often tell ourselves a “story” that reduces ambiguity about what happened. A story or tape runs almost automatically trying to make sense of it. Internal tapes like: “I’m not good enough” or “who do I think I am?”
According to Brown, people that have the greatest capacity for rising strong after something difficult happens are those that learn to stop themselves in the process of making up a “story.” They say: ‘Wait a minute, what is actually going on here?’ They ask themselves, ‘What am I feeling and what’s really true?.”
This is exactly how I learned to restart after times of struggle. Talking to myself is how I reset during times like these past few days when I fall off the healthy living path and/or struggle to stay consistently on track. The difference between my old life and my Lori-in-the-equation life, is that now I’m able to stop myself in the moment and think about what is really going on. Thus, I can change the automatic tape from that OLD inner voice driven from emotions like fear and unworthiness, to a healthier new tape that supports me in moving forward.
The old internal tape used my “slip up” as evidence I couldn’t do it or an excuse to throw in the towel. It went something like this: “See, this is proof, you can’t do it… you can’t stay on the plan and thus you won’t ever lose the weight.”
By contrast, the new Lori-in-the-equation tape goes something like this: “Ah, Lori, you’re stressed right now where so much in your life is unknown. You’ve been here before. A few days off track is not a deal breaker and it’s NOT the end of the story. You can totally do this. You know the way!”
That new tape doesn’t allow fear, shame and limiting beliefs to completely take over. It’s based in fact and logic vs. emotion, and allows me to gently acknowledge my slip, forgive myself, and simply restart without beating myself up for not being perfect. Of course, I don’t always get it right. I STILL struggle at times with those emotional and limiting belief tapes that want to run my life when I am scared, hurt angry… But it is getting easier with practice and it does work when you can be kinder and gentler with yourself and not hold yourself to a standard of perfection.
A lesson from a recovering perfectionist
So you ate the thing and fell off your healthy eating plan! You didn’t make it the gym at all this week. You’re feeling tired and cranky and yelled at the kids. It’s okay. You’re not perfect! Don’t use a misstep to get you off track, or worse, give you a reason to throw in the towel and quit.
Instead know this: First, you are not alone! And, secondly, if you find that you’re beating yourself up internally all the time — know it’s your emotion taking over and try to stop and catch yourself in the moments and insert a new tape – heck, use a version of mine if it works for you! My friends, you are not perfect. This journey will never be perfect. And it’s absolutely okay. YOU are okay!
This quote from the Universe came across my email and actually sparked today’s blog. I want to share it in closing.
“How adventurous would life be, Lori, if you were “challenge free?” If you had the perfect body, the perfect self-esteem, everyone adored you, and you won the lottery every Sunday? Not.
Now, what if, painful as they may be temporarily be, you could choose a life during which challenges might arise whenever you’re thinking needed expansion, on the sole condition that the challenges could be overcome no matter how daunting they may at first seem?
Everything makes you more,
Therein lies the challenge and the beauty. That’s the secret.
Here are some related blogs on the topics of perfectionism, resiliency, and the restart:
- The warrior within (Jan. 2019)
- Embracing the whole, beautiful and imperfect me, swim outfit and all! (Jan. 2017)
- Resilience. The key to happy, healthy & whole (May 2016)
- There is nothing wrong with imperfection (April 2015)
- A beautiful resilience (Sept. 2015)
- I am not perfect and it’s okay (July 2013)
- Celebrating progress not perfection (May 2011)