[I]’ve written this post 1,000 times in my mind. Turned it over and over. Toyed with it. Picked it up and set it back down.
The site redesign isn’t finished, don’t want to make people come visit and see all the flaws.
Been away for too long to just post any old thing.
It’s not good enough.
Who the hell am I again?
What the hell am I actually doing?
I’ve asked myself the last two questions with an obsessive bone grinding repetitiveness the past five months. When I wake up it starts. Any moment of down time. And then gnawing against my insides as I move through the evening. Only sleep has brought relief from it’s prodding unanswered tension.
I still don’t have a complete answer. I’ve waited….and there wasn’t a singular mind blowing realization, a break through article, a person who I met that really changed things, or a parting of the clouds where a very bearded God pulls back the clouds and tells me what to do like he does for King Arthur in Monty Python. Damn.
I burnt out on this whole being a wife and mom to two little kids while simultaneously working from home gig (AKA being “on” all the time) in December. Hard. I could barely bring myself to cook let alone consider taking pictures of my food. The neighbors were legitimately worried about me. Kevin had to shake me out of my heap to get me to help him make Christmas fun for the kids.
So I pulled back. I redesigned the site (for the entire 5 months). I joined a gym. I played with the kids. I cleaned the house (sometimes). And I did some painfully deep soul work.
In my quiet times I’ve come to the realization that I have been struggling for years with deep deep perfectionism. And not the cute kind that you pause and wax romantically about in a job interview.
The kind that is so pervasive in every moment of every day that it stifles you from action, prevents you from trying things you are bad at, and beats you when you “fail” so hard that you swear you will never try again….until you do of course. Complete with in depth plans and spreadsheets so you will never ever fall off the bandwagon again.
Ironically, if you came to my house or talked to my husband you might not pick that as the most likely ailment.
I haven’t ever managed to consistently exercise more than a few weeks in a row, or keep the house reliably clean, or make sure dinner is on the table every day at 5 p.m sharp. My kids are usually running amuck with mud (or most likely food) in their hair, the outside of our house is in need of landscaping and cleaning, and my blog can go up to a few weeks without posting when I have a particularly bad round with this beast.
Perfectionism is fascinating in the fact that it can manifest itself in extreme results oriented actions or through equally extreme procrastination. For most people it’s a combination of the two and it’s often cyclical.
In these past 5 months I have faced the voices of self hate and perfectionism head on and I have learned a lot about overcoming them. I hope you find my thoughts helpful and I’d love to hear yours in the comments.
How To Overcome Perfectionism
(Hint: It’s A Journey Not A To-Do You Can Check Off Your List)
Recognize that self hate and perfectionism are voices that are separate from who you really are.
I realized that I had listened to self-hate and perfectionism for so long that I literally believed that it was my own voice and mind.
Almost every continual running thought pattern I mentioned at the start of this article is the voice of perfectionism and self hate.
I don’t care who you are and what religion you believe in, you need to read this book: There Is Nothing Wrong With You. It changed my life and exposed so many things about these two voices and how to overcome them.
Stop allowing yourself to be beaten
Self hate and perfectionism work hand in hand, always. Perfectionism drives you past the point of exhaustion to breaking and then self hate beats you while you are down.
Stop listening to the drives to push yourself past your point. And then stop taking the beatings. Just tell them to stop and then…stop listening.
When you start listening to the recording break yourself out of the routine. Slap your hand, do ten jumping jacks, turn on a song and dance around the kitchen. Do something to break the cycle.
Accept yourself exactly as you are….right now.
Can you? Or does something on the inside of you want to turn yourself inside out with the gut wrenching sensation that the thought brought on?
Did you know there is really nothing wrong with you?
Did you know that the only way to stop this cycle is to accept yourself right where you are?
That the longer you keep focusing on all your “flaws” and “failures” the longer you will perpetuate them?
When I just stopped believing that there was something so inherently flawed with who I am and stopped trying so hard to fix myself and everything around me…there was finally enough room to start truly loving myself.
Accepting yourself where you are does not mean that you can’t grow and improve. It means to not only be content. Here. Now. But to love and embrace the here and now in all its messiness.
Love yourself actively
You are precious. And worth taking care of.
Ask yourself at each possible moment, “what is the most truly loving thing I can do for myself right now?”
Is your body aching for movement? Do your muscles hurt and need to be stretched or massaged or soaked in a tub of epsom salts? Does your partner or home or children need your time? Can you love yourself through creating a wonderful relaxing home environment? Or is the truly loving thing to recognize that you need to stop working on creating the “perfect home”?
Would you love to have another client or a new job? What step can you take right now to care for yourself?
Loving yourself means doing the things that care for you and your life…not just indulging in chocolate.
Be quiet enough to recognize what is truly loving yourself and what is actually self-hate wanting to tear you down. At first it can be difficult to recognize if you truly want a bit of indulgence or if you are using it to escape what is happening.
If you do indulge….enjoy it!
Lick the spoon clean, relax in the tub, workout hard. Don’t allow self hate to beat you up while you are doing the very thing you were wanting.
Focus on the beauty around you
I read a parable recently about a girl who came to a Zen monastery to learn. She was assigned to care for the garden. For years she cared for it, quite well, and was soon known throughout the town for her beautiful garden. After several years she came to the Zen master and pleaded with him for a new job. “It’s never ending!” she complained. “The weeds grow up and ruin the flower beds. The flowers die and have to be replanted. I finish it and immediately there is more work to be done. It’s a thankless joyless job.”
The master did not relieve her of her task. But came by her garden after a few weeks to check on her. He found her in the garden singing to the flowers, a large pile of weeds next to her.
The master questioned her on what had changed. She smiled and said, “I decided to just enjoy the flowers and plants in my garden. When I come across a weed I don’t get angry anymore. I just smile and set it aside where it belongs. And keep enjoying the beauty that is here.”
Accept the season you are in
Through these past few months I’ve had great eureka! moments of deciding on career shifts and aspirations to really “make it happen”. Only to realize at the end of the day when I hold one smooshy cuddly boy and one wiry wiggly boy in my lap to read a bedtime story and the reality of my exhaustion hits…that they aren’t all the right paths to take….at least not for right now.
Don’t fight so hard to make something happen when it is the wrong season. It doesn’t mean that the season won’t come. Find ways to make the season you are in joyous and exciting. Ask the question: “what can I do in this season that will help me move forward towards this goal?”
Then go do that.
Keep doing things you “fail” at
“Only something that is not supportive of you would want you to take a break from what takes care of you.” -Quote from There Is Nothing Wrong With You
Perfectionism will tell you that things that you try at and fail at, are things that you can’t, shouldn’t or “don’t want” to keep doing. Do them anyways if you honestly do like them or want to be successful at them.
My biggest struggle is just to show up to things I feel I am failing in. For me it’s the consistent things.
Going to the gym. Keeping the house clean. Going grocery shopping.
Find your struggle point and focus on how you can set yourself up for success there. And begin to view these things as ways to love yourself and your family instead of things to dread.
Focus on progress not completion
You may not have the time or energy to finish everything you start. Don’t just put something off because you can’t finish it. 15 minutes of cleaning up the kitchen is valuable even if the whole kitchen hasn’t been deep cleaned.
A 10 minute walk may not be a 60 minute aerobics class but it’s better than sitting on the couch!
Baby steps and a timer set for 15 or 30 minutes is a powerful motivator to just do something when you feel stuck.
You will (if you are listening to perfectionism) “fail” and when you do remember:
You can always, always, always start again.
It’s never too late.
No effort is a failure. Through it you learn new ways and can try other ways.
You can do this.
You are strong enough.
You aren’t expected to be perfect.
You will get back up and try again.
It’s okay to be the worst as long as you just show up and try your best.
Stop Calling Yourself a “Perfectionist” or a “Workaholic” or “Driven” or “Type A Personality”
Unless you enjoy the pains that come from being beaten by self hate and perfectionism, stop identifying yourself with these phrases. The world has glamorized this into an acceptable and desirable trait. It’s not.
Choose to identify with phrases like committed, dedicated, growing, passionate, balanced, happy and pursuing excellence.
Find a community to support you
Find people who will help encourage you in this. Join us on social media if you like in posting images with the hashtag #killingperfectionism and we can celebrate progress together.
Something that I have struggled with forever is posting any images of myself where I don’t look perfect.
Too fat, too many flyways, too this/that/the other thing.
These are some behind the scenes that were taken during our big Thanksgiving shoot this past fall. Here is to progress!
The biggest difference I can tell you about today is that for once in my life…I’m finally happy to just be here, now.
To share glorious delicious food with you. And to be honest with you about the realities of this real beautiful messy life that I am blessed to live everyday.
I’d love to hear your thoughts and wisdom on this in the comments. Here is to keeping our eyes off our feet and finally having fun at it!