Are you a perfectionist?
I feel like these days we know perfectionism isn’t necessarily a positive trait, yet we still embrace it.
It’s one of those things you can cleverly cite at a job interview under “weaknesses.” As in, “I admit to being a bit of a perfectionist. I like to make sure my work is done, and that it’s done well.”
See? Not entirely negative.
Until recently I’ve worn my perfectionism comfortably in my back pocket, unaware of its effect on every decision I make, my general mindset, and ultimately my overall happiness.
I would have told you I wasn’t actually a perfectionist at all. Sworn up and down to the contrary. Pointed to the fact that I’ve let so many things go in recent years, let failure creep into my life and been okay with the mess.
If pressed though, I will admit to hating not knowing how to do something well. To having a deep fear of looking stupid, of doing things wrong. Of not living up to expectations.
So call me a perfectionist and I’d deny it. But call me out on a fear of failing, or messing up, or not living up to some extremely attractive yet unattainable bar, and I’d say you hit the nail right on the head.
And in the end, there’s not much difference between the two.
But unlike the job interview, perfectionism in real life isn’t scoring me any points. Perfectionism in real life can look like trying to eat “perfectly,” and then feeling discouraged when inevitable splurges or bad days happen. Or a barrage of negative self-talk when jeans that fit last year don’t fit now.
When it comes to eating, though, I’m no longer striving for perfection.
Because there is no perfect way of eating. There’s only the way that makes you feel best.
And maybe the way that makes you feel best makes you perfectly skinny. And maybe it doesn’t.
Because whole body health is about so many things. It’s about the health of your physical body and of your mind and spirit.
So while I’m fairly certain sugar is not a great choice most of the time, I know that beating yourself up for overindulging is probably not nourishing your mind or your spirit.
I’m also fairly certain that constantly berating yourself because you haven’t lost those last 10 (or 50) pounds after having your baby isn’t either.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I still struggle with this internal battle myself. I catch myself wincing at an unflattering photo or pinching the fat around my belly and thinking downright mean thoughts about myself.
Recently, though, I’ve noticed just how damaging and counter to my own values of living a whole, healthy life this mental battle is.
So now when I find myself thinking this way or striving for some unattainable version of perfection--whether it’s related to eating, body image, or something else in my life--I try to repeat this simple mantra: be gentle.
What does this mean? Gentle means: having or showing a kind and quiet nature; not harsh, stern or violent.
Sounds about right to me.
Being gentle doesn’t mean never thinking the self-critical thoughts or giving up goals.
It just means responding differently.
If you eat one too many donuts or still can’t kick your diet soda habit or gained some weight back or skipped a workout.
Show yourself kindness and quietness and grace.
Will being gentle mean that you completely give up striving for perfection?
Maybe. Maybe not.
I do think it’s a step in the right direction. A step toward whole health, in body and in mind and spirit. A step that I want to take. And one that I invite you to take it with me.
If this conversation resonates with you, please share it with someone you think needs to hear it. As always, I love hearing from you through comments here, or via email, Facebook and Instagram. Knowing your perspective helps so much in moving this series forward.
Sending you light and gratitude.
I’d like to thank my very wise and dear friend, Ms. Megan Hurley, owner of the barre3 Fayettville, AR, for coining the phrase “gentle is the new perfect,” and then graciously loaning it to all of us. Do yourself a favor if you’re ever in Arkansas and go say hi to Megan--you won’t regret it!
Read the Living Within series from the beginning.
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