This topic has been talked to death, so I won’t go into all the pitfalls of perfectionism… instead I want to offer some thought to how we can detox from this ego-feeding, relationship-ruining, energy-guzzling creature.
I’ve come a long way in dealing with this, however I still have a long way to go. Perfectionist thinking still really bashes my confidence and depletes my energy. As part of taking better care of myself, I want to go gently – and that means letting go of the negative influence that perfectionism can have on me.
These are some of the ways I manage:
By learning to recognise when I’m being overly self-critical and look at where it’s coming from: often it’s a deep-rooted insecurity stemming from my childhood or more recent past which appears in a new guise. In other words; a new encounter may resemble an older, more painful one, and it’s important to distinguish between the two. (i.e – that yoga teacher is NOT your old ballet teacher; she won’t punish you for your imperfections.) Just acknowledging this feeling is the first step, and often it’s all that is needed.
After I’ve recognised where this critical voice comes from, and if deemed a negative rather than a constructive criticism, I sometimes like to mentally (or in the form of a prayer) return to sender. i.e I mentally wrap up that bit of criticism in a lovely package and hand it back to where it came from. For example, to quote an old, abusive teacher of mine: “you are taking up a valuable space in this school and you don’t deserve to be here” may transfer later in life as “you’re no good at your job and you’re taking up space that other candidates would have made much better use of”. I wrap up that statement in a pretty envelope and post it back; thanks for the advice, but it’s not serving to better my health or my relationships – (I may need to send this back many times, this one tends to boomerang it’s way back into my life) 😉
Learning to heal after a mistake with this mantra: “mistakes are a natural part of life and I am allowed, just like everyone else, to make a mistake.” Miles Davis even said “there is no such thing as a mistake” – powerful words from an extremely successful man; it just goes to show that mistakes, or unfortunate events are really what you make of them, rather than the mistakes themselves.
Accepting the process of learning; because this is the state in which we will always be: the sooner you accept that, the sooner the process itself becomes enjoyable, rather than the drudgery of chasing unattainable perfection. We will never reach that (imaginary) level of perfect, all-knowing, god-like perfectionism. No one will. I wouldn’t want to learn from anyone who considered themselves perfect – where is there room for the natural ebb and flow of change/chaos that ultimately rules our world? Being adaptable and open-minded is far more nourishing and exciting than being fixated on being “perfect”!
Stop saying “should”. This is a really hard one… it seems like a kind thing to do to give yourself a goal to better yourself, but using this word too often turns into a way of reinforcing a negative attitude towards yourself. I still have to stop myself in my tracks when I wake up and think “Right, today I should be really productive: I should get x, y and z done and I should try and fit in yoga with meeting this person somehow…” Instead, I try and steer myself towards thinking “I really would love to feel great today; I’m going to make room for x,y, and z to make this happen, and if I can realistically fit in my other plans that would be great.” Becoming more in tune with what truly makes you feel good and nourished as opposed to what you may be pressuring yourself to do/feel/think can shed some light on where your intentions are.
Throughout my time in School and University I struggled massively with anxiety, perfectionism and stress. During that time, two quotes (both from Shakespeare) came into my life – one was written on the beautiful roof of an examination hall: “To thine own self be true” and the other I found by chance: “Expectation is the root of all heartache.”
The thing is, with perfectionism, expecting to reach this miraculous final-destination is at the heart of the problem.
There is no final destination. We are who we are, and there is no use in trying to be anything else. At best, we can strive to be the brightest, fullest, most vibrant version of ourselves – that is how I interpret being real or true to yourself.
Once you reach that perfect dancers pose, there is always more to be learned. And to quote a fabulous yoga instructor I recently had the pleasure of meeting; “You can bend yourself into a pretzel, but it won’t make you a better person.” (Lisa Sanfilipo), and bending myself into a pretzel is certainly not why I practice yoga… (and I definitely can’t do that anyway.)
We are all complex, messy human beings. We can use technologies like Yoga and Meditation to align ourselves to our more peaceful, loving states, but the chaos of life will always present itself to us in some way or another, and relying on being perfect won’t suffice: we need to be adaptable, open, loving, kind, brave…
From now on I will aim to give myself the room to be less than perfect; in doing so, I am creating a safe and natural space for myself to grow, to be more flexible and creative, to stop holding on to rigid thinking.
I believe that if you are inflexible in your mind, you are inflexible in your body. I consider myself to be an open minded and pretty chilled person, but I’m not flexible in my body at all. I carry a great deal of tension in my hips and and shoulders, and I spend 7 hours a day sitting at a desk. Ideally this wouldn’t be the case, but I make do with what I have and try to stretch every 20 minutes. I see that part of the reason I’m inflexible is because there is a critical voice in the back of my mind… it tells me that I “should” stretch more or that I “should” be able to do more advanced poses by now. This voice, incidentally, keeps me stiff!! It locks my jaw, tenses my hips and stops me feeling grounded in my feet.
Here are some poses I use to consciously detox from perfectionist thinking:
Pidgeon Pose: a beautiful hip opener and great for releasing the glutes. In this pose I focus on releasing my jaw, and I imagine relaxing from the point of the first chakra, near the groin region, and letting this relaxation radiate outwards in all directions – like a radiant star – with each breath I take. Letting go in this area helps me practice forgiveness.
Tree Pose: a simple tree pose can alleviate stressful, anxious thinking: grounding your feet and trusting that you will balance does wonders for your confidence (as does picking yourself up when you do fall out of it!) I like to place my hands in prayer over my heart and reconnect with this chakra, helping me to be more open and tolerant.
Handstands: for a bit of leela, I play with handstands. They may not be the prettiest, but what’s important is they make me feel invigorated, refreshed, and delightful! Plus, it’s cool to see things upside-down now and then!
Savasana: for some, the hardest pose of all. I can relate, because I have struggled in this pose too. Something about lying still and not running away into constant action can bring up a lot of emotion. There’s also the temptation to forcefully relax: I have quite rounded shoulders and I try to push them back when I can, but Savasana needs to be about letting go of this, even if your Savasana looks less than perfect…