I wanna tackle a viral epidemic that silently takes down its victims with such power that it leaves the host merely a shell of themselves.
No, it’s not a micro-organism with sharp teeth, evil eyes and slimy tentacles that attacks the host cells and cause a myriad of terrible physical symptoms.
This virus – is a belief. With irresistible charm, good looks and great hair.
It gently pulls you in and slowly takes control of your psyche and nervous system. It does it so gradually that you don’t even realize when all your life force becomes directed into being a slave for that idea. This belief leaves the host in a state of either feeling high and proud of themselves, or the extreme opposite of feeling crushed and defeated. There is no middle ground. The lethal element of this virus is that especially during those lows, it will cause the host to launch into some version of self-attack and self-hate which in serious cases can cause debilitating illness and even death.
I’m talking about perfectionism.
And I’m dead serious about how dangerous it can be.
So many people are looking for the perfect body, perfect weight, perfect nutritional system, or perfect way to exercise (I could list more). On the surface it looks like an honourable pursuit, a noble approach to life. But having been through the spin cycle of the highs and lows of being a perfectionist, I want to share a few things I learned along the way. Some of it is from my own struggles with an eating disorder, other things I’ve gathered from the wisdom of others. So here goes…
1. Being perfect won’t make you feel good about yourself
Perfectionists want to do everything flawlessly according to their high standards. But if we ask why they do it, is it because they just want to do everything right? Be their best? Help other people? Leave a legacy? Perhaps. But why are any of those things important?
What I’ve learned is that none of the achievements are important in and of themselves. What we’re really after is the feeling of being perfect.
When we’ve done things perfectly we feel good about ourselves, we appreciate ourselves, we pat ourselves on the back and say “job well done.”
All the hard work, discipline, strictness and perseverance is ultimately in striving for an inner state of self-love and appreciation.
Now self-love and appreciation is the path of the noble spiritual warrior. But the problem is, being a perfectionist won’t get us on that path.
As great as it might feel to be “perfect”, in reality it sets us up for constant self-hate. Sure, we might meet our high standards from time to time, but inevitably we will miss the mark at times. Instead of picking ourselves up and applauding ourselves for the effort, the perfectionist will beat themselves up and then re-double their efforts to be even more strict and unforgiving the next time. This keeps us in a vicious cycle of self-punishment, judgement, criticism, and never feeling good enough about who we are or what we look like.
Geeeeez, that’s no way to feel good about ourselves, right?
And you know what? It actually doesn’t take all the blood, sweat and tears we think it takes to feel good about ourselves…
Let me tell you the biggest secret of the universe:
To feel good about yourself, you just have to feel good about yourself.
There’s no “secret sauce”, you don’t have to attain perfection, you don’t have to have a six-pack, you don’t even need to please anyone. There are no conditions to feeling good about yourself.
Contrary to our cultural conditioning that you need a reason to feel good about yourself, you just have to believe that you are wonderful, lovable, inherently beautiful and worthy of everything you have. No conditions attached. You can feel good about yourself just because. And that is all.
The truth is really that simple. We just like to make it hard and complicated. But it really is simple and elegant.
You don’t have to wait until you’re “perfect”.
2. The state of constant perfection doesn’t exist
We can put all our efforts into perfect eating, perfect exercising, and being in perfect compliance with our rules. But eventually, we will break them. Flawlessness is an unsustainable place.
Nothing in life stays constant forever.
The sooner you understand that’s just the rhythm of life and the rhythm of nature, the sooner you can accept your humanity (and how great it is).
We can work hard during the day, but we need to sleep at night. We can control our food intake for a while, but eventually we’ll need to eat. We come from nature, so we move with the rhythm of nature – which ebbs and flows, stops and starts, is uncertain sometimes but at other times predictable. Basically, you can count on it to be constantly changing.
Machines can produce homogeneous, constant and unchanging results, but we are not machines.
We can be perfect sometimes but not all the time. In fact, it’s our imperfect nature that makes us ever so much more creative, more interesting, and well, more alive.
This is what I couldn’t understand when I was struggling with food and body-dissatisfaction. I couldn’t accept that my weight changed during the day or that at times of the month I weighed more. I couldn’t understand why I binged on junk food in the weekends when I should have been able to control myself – after all I’d hit my recommended daily calorie intake. Now I do – it’s because I was starving myself during the week.
We need to embrace ourselves all the time and be there for ourselves all the time, not just when we’re being “perfect”. We need to accept that we are constantly changing and no state is permanent, and that is actually magnificent.
3. Your perfectionism can distance yourself from others (especially those you love the most)
When all your efforts go into trying to be perfect, you have little energy left to give to those around you.
When you started that diet, your goal might have been to become healthier. That way you can be more vibrant, happy, feel good about yourself and be more fun to be around. But if you spiralled down into perfectionism, then the opposite happens.
You become obsessed with carb grams, fat grams, micronutrients, gym schedules, how much you weigh, how many calories you’re burning, when you might be able to fit into that dress you plan to wear to the big party, and turning down dinner invitations that don’t conform to your dietary rules (not too many carbs at night, no gluten, no dairy, no fried foods, no desserts…).
Pretty soon you stop being present for other people.
You might be around them, but your mind is somewhere else. You’re more concerned about your diet, your exercise regime, calculating how many calories you ate at lunch. For others, it will feel like you enjoy trying to be perfect more than you enjoy being with them. People are sensitive. Even if you think you’re showing up, others can feel your absence.
Let go of the small goals, tune out from the cramped and narrow bandwidth that is occupied by “Perfection FM”. Be kind to yourself and love all those wonderful people around you.
I think that’s a much nicer way to be, don’t you?