How to Let Go of Perfectionism Without Getting Lazy

A new client recently asked an awesome question in our private coaching group: “How do you all set a balance between not being a perfectionist, and not being a perfectionist to the extent that you excuse yourself from everything?” Wow. What a deep question! It’s actually a conundrum that’s near and dear to my heart, because perfectionism is something I have really struggled with myself! In fact, that very morning, before reading her question, my husband and I had a discussion about this very topic. He struggles with this too! So I figured I’d take my reply to her, as well as some stellar input from one of our mentors/moderators, and create a post about it.

Perfectionism: An exercise in extremes

I’m a perfectionist at heart. I always have been. I’ve called it “being Type A” or even “being neurotic.” Perhaps it has something to do with the idea of “always try your best” that was instilled in me from an early age. I took that advice very seriously! I’ve always been one to try my best at everything. But what’s interesting to me is that I have very little middle ground… I tend to either be in crazy perfectionist mode, or “I don’t give a crap” mode!

It came up a lot in school, where I’d be 110% full tilt into a research paper, until something changed and I just kind of said “eff it, whatever, good enough” and stopped caring. Sometimes that still happens with the more research-oriented blog posts I write (like this folate article from Monday)! If I think about this a little deeper, I start to realize that it comes down to expectations.

I reach that “eff it” point when my expectations are a bit too lofty and I’ve been working super hard to try and reach them. Sometimes I think I confuse “my best” with “THE best!”

Revising expectations

For example, I’d have this really high expectation for my research papers of writing the absolute best, most thoroughly researched paper on ____ that was ever written. Okay, maybe not “ever”, but I expected the best of myself, the best that I could possibly ever write. That’s a high level to try to reach every… single… time! So inevitably, I’d get burnt out, which brought about the “eff it” mindset. If my expectations had been more realistic, like writing a good, or even great, paper on ____ instead of the best thing I could possibly write, then I likely would have hit a bullseye and landed right where I meant to – still with a great outcome, but with a lot less anguish along the way! nobody-is-perfect-688369_1280

So how does that translate into practicing new nutrition skills?

I think we need to set our expectations of ourselves more realistically. I find that, once again, I’m coming back to the common theme of finding a happy middle ground. We don’t have to chase perfection, but we also don’t need to do a complete 180 and get super lazy. We have to find where the middle ground is and keep THAT in mind, versus trying to be completely perfect or completely not caring.

[bctt tweet=”There is no such thing as perfect eating.” username=”raisingnutritn”]

Is it possible to set a goal of practicing something every day for two weeks and hit that goal? Of course it is. But if you expect to hit all 14 days and end up with 1 or 2, it doesn’t mean you’ve failed! A perfectionist mindset would see the one or two days as tainting the entire 2-week period. This is where the “eff it” thoughts start to creep in and we switch from seeking perfection to saying “well if it’s not perfect, then it’s no use, I give up.”

Don’t set your expectations so high that striving for them brings out the “eff its!” All practice is good practice. Set a more realistic expectation of trying your best, while rolling with life’s punches.[bctt tweet=”Don’t set your expectations so high that striving for them brings out the ‘eff its’!” username=”raisingnutritn”]

Okay, so if I’m revising my expectations and don’t have to try to be “perfect” anymore, how do I avoid going off the deep end and saying that very little effort is still “good enough”?

Awareness, Responsibility, and Self-Compassion

Awareness:

Be aware that you can still set the bar high without seeking perfection. Going back to my school analogy, I could still want to write a great paper without striving for the best paper I could possibly write. Similarly, I can shoot for getting in some mindful, quality practice on my nutrition skills, without striving for a perfect week. Don’t set your expectations low just because you’re trying not to set them too high! They can still be high without getting into perfection territory. [bctt tweet=”Don’t set your expectations low just because you’re trying not to set them too high!” username=”raisingnutritn”]

Here is some awesome input from our fabulous mentor/moderator: “Most people already know the difference deep down between doing the best we can and making excuses…. What we have to remember is that choosing to do nothing is still a choice. We are always responsible for our lives. We just have to get over the fear of this responsibility.”

Responsibility:

Falling off the deep end and completely not bothering anymore isn’t something that just happens to us. It’s sometimes hard to remember, but the simple truth is that we are always in control. We are responsible for ourselves and our choices. There is a part of you deep down that knows when you’re not really trying. Be honest with yourself. Still set your expectations high, just keep them realistic as well.

Compassionate:

What do I mean by realistic? I mean being compassionate with yourself and understanding that sometimes life gets hard. Our mentor of awesome had this to add:

“The biggest component that is missing when we seek perfectionism tends to be compassion toward ourselves. In leaving perfectionism, we are learning to accept and find comfort in self-kindness. When we are being kind to ourselves, we are simply remembering two things: 1) to do the best we can with what we’re given and 2) it is okay and normal that our capacity each day changes. Under these circumstances, we don’t need to worry about “slacking off” because you are always doing your best, even if it may not be perfect. And, depending on our capacity, sometimes the best we can do is a full workout and a great day of skills; other times, the best we can do is a bowl of cold cereal and watching TV on the couch–neither is good or bad, they just are.”

(Lots of wisdom from that lady! We are very lucky to have her awesome contributions in our group!)

What are the key take-aways here?

  1. Perfectionism is a case of extreme expectations. “Perfect,” especially when it comes to food and eating, doesn’t exist. Don’t drive yourself crazy shooting for the impossible.
  2. You can still have high expectations without chasing perfection.
  3. Being realistic with our expectations means showing ourselves a bit of compassion. Life will sometimes throw us curveballs. That’s okay! What matters is that we’re still trying the best we can under any given circumstance.

 

How can you do your best today (while not trying to be THE best)?

 

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