Perfectionisms: Self-Abuse Disguised as Self-Improvement

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SELF-TALK THAT LIES

On a run in City Park a few weeks ago, the man and I talked about how we’re both prone to perfectionism, how we both let the ultimate goal sometimes sabotage the smaller progresses, how the black-and-white, all-or-nothing way of thinking when it comes to certain goals (fitness, finance, career, etc.)  is sneaky and seductive, making us think we aren’t (ever) enough, setting us up for self-scolding and, ultimately, self-sabotage.

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That’s when I started to realize that, while pesky perfectionism is always looming in the background, I have made massive strides in this arena and continue to do so. I want to chronicle here just how perfectionism slithers its way into our everyday thoughts, and how I combat them on a daily (minutely?) basis.

I don’t always combat this negative self-talk, by the way. And that’s the point. This whole concept is about not demanding yourself to be perfect, in any endeavor. Let’s give ourselves a break from trying to catch the carrot, especially if we always keep it two feet out in front of us!

Brene Brown's Daring Greatly

I had to laugh the other night as I was reading Brene Brown’s Daring Greatly. She was bringing home the book’s main theme: that vulnerability is the key to all the connections we crave: at home, with a higher power, in the workplace, as a society, etc.

I caught myself fervently brainstorming all the ways I could become the absolute best at being vulnerable. What an oxymoron, Vanessa! I can’t expect that I’m always going to choose vulnerability over guardedness. That’s actually the recipe for more guardedness. What you resist persists, and all that.

Here are some examples of how perfectionism tries to sneak its way in, tries to convince me that with just a little more discipline and force (and, as the Grimm version goes, flesh and blood), I can make Cinderella’s shoe fit. This is just the tip of the ice berg! I also included some “realisms,” much more self-loving thoughts that, ironically, usually produce better results in the end.

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WITH FITNESS

PERFECTIONISM:

I was supposed to run 80 miles this month. I have two days left and I’ve only hit 63 miles. I might as well not even run today; there’s no way I’ll make my goal so why bother?

REALISM:

I am working 40 hours a week, rehearsing and dancing 25 hours a week, investing time in a new relationship, blogging on the side, and shopping for/cooking/prepping all my meals. It’s a miracle I’ve run 63 miles this month! There have been multiple times I chose to come to rehearsal sweaty and disgusting because I prioritized running over looking cute (no small feat).

PERFECTIONISM:

I wanted to run the Colfax Half Marathon under 2 hours. My official (and publicly recorded) time was just over 2 hours. I wasn’t fast enough.

REALISM:

This was a personal best half marathon time for me, and by a landslide (10 minutes)! Also, I stopped the Garmin watch only when I wasn’t running (pee and water breaks). My actual time running was 1:59:02—I totally killed my time goal!

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PERFECTIONISM:

The scale shows that I’m three pounds heavier this week? Well duh, I ate cheeseburgers and pizza. I guess this means I’m getting fat now. Throw it all to hell and order another pizza! Follow it up with all the chocolate on God’s green earth.

REALISM:

The scale shows that I’m three pounds heavier this week. Well duh, I ate a bit more than usual, and it was delicious. Key word? USUAL. I know that I’ll make the usual choices most of the time and that everything will even out. A new day (and a new meal) brings a new opportunity for choices that are more aligned with who I truly am.

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WITH CAREER

PERFECTIONISM:

Man, I’m tired and not feeling very creative. Maybe I should put off that article I need to write until tomorrow morning, when my mind feels more fresh. [Repeat X5]

REALISM:

Man, I’m tired and not feeling very creative. But I said that the last two days. Perhaps I’ll just take a stab at the intro paragraph and see where that gets me. It probably won’t live up to my standards, but at least it’s a start. [This usually leaves me with a solid rough draft to edit and refine the next morning.]

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PERFECTIONISM:

I want to have such a successive blog that I can quit my job and work for myself! LET’S DO THIS!
[I end up writing blog posts and promoting them when I should be prioritizing my day job;  both suffer and I feel even more behind and less accomplished.]

PERFECTIONISM DISGUISED AS REALISM:

I want to have such a successive blog that I can quit my job and work for myself! LET’S DO THIS! But I must prioritize my paying job first, and do the best I can during work hours. So, where are some hours in this week’s schedule that I can devote to crafting some blog entries? Oh look, I could blog during the hour before work. Perfect! 

REAL REALISM:

I want to have such a successful blog that I can quit my job and work for myself! If I somehow found another 40 hours a week on top of everything, I could probably work for myself in one year. However, I have many other wonderful things to prioritize, and I don’t want to burn out. Thus, perhaps 3-5 years is the best goal to become a full-time blogger.

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WITH RELATIONSHIPS

PERFECTIONISM:

I really like this guy, so I want to make sure I always look good, seem interested in everything he does, and act like the perfect combo of cool, witty, and adorable. If I’m feeling off, I’ll just cancel our plans. The last thing I want is for him to see me vulnerable, without makeup, frazzled, etc. 

REALISM:

I really like this guy, so I want to make sure he is what I think he is. Is he cool with me not looking or acting perfect all the time? Is he open to discussing real, deep, sensitive issues? Does he share insecurities and vulnerabilities, too? If so, keep hanging out with him. If not, fiercely protect your precious time and energy. 

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PERFECTIONISM:

I’m incredibly anxious and feel on the brink of a panic attack. I want to avoid calling loved ones for support, comfort, or advice, because then they’ll just worry about me, and I’ll worry about them worrying about me. I don’t trust them to handle their own anxieties. I’d rather save everybody from anxiety and take it all on myself.

REALISM:

Every single person struggles with anxieties, worries, and pain. Why would I presume to be the only one who can handle it all? I’m going to entrust my loved ones with my weak moments, because I know they’re a safe place to fall. I won’t pretend like they expect me to never feel negative emotions. And bonus! In return, I’m making them feel like they can come to me when they’re feeling down, too. Win, win.

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THE LIST COULD GO ON…

I might have to make Perfectionisms a series, because I have hundreds more examples that I struggle with on a daily basis.

What makes this delicate dance even more technical is that one might be prone to wonder: Am I letting myself slack off too much? Wouldn’t a little perfectionism go a long way in terms of will power, goals, and overcoming challenges? Example: If I let myself off the hook from working out today, who’s to say I’ll ever consistently work out?

How to Beat Perfectionism, and How it's Self-Hate Disguised as Self-Improvement | THE REAL LIFE

THE NON-PERFECT PARADOX

A quote usually attributed to Voltaire goes like this: “Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good.” When perfectionism keeps you paralyzed from acting at all, that’s when you’ve become a slave to the unattainable. You must surrender the ideal. You must dare to get messy, get your hands dirty molding the clay of your life.

Example: When Perfect says, “You didn’t meet your goal this month. Don’t attempt another goal unless you’re going to achieve or surpass it!” … well, that’s when you usually procrastinate or don’t even give it another attempt.

Good says, “You didn’t meet your goal this month. How about you make your next month’s goal equal to what you did accomplish this month?”

What I have come to learn time and time again is that letting go of Perfect is actually how the best things get done, and with the most healthy, lasting results.

WHAT ARE YOUR PERFECTIONISMS?

 

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17 thoughts on “Perfectionisms: Self-Abuse Disguised as Self-Improvement

  1. ladybug2311 says:

    Wow. BEST blog ever! Love your openness. And would love your sharing any future panic attacks with me! I can take it! I might get to help create an app that deals with perfectionistic thoughts. You can help us!

    Liked by 1 person

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