Merriam-Webster defines perfectionism as “A disposition to regard anything short of perfection as unacceptable”. Since acceptance is often pointed to as the key to happiness, perfectionist thinking can be pretty miserable to live with. Rather than the noble pursuit of all things good and holy, perfectionist thinking has been linked to depression, eating disorders, anxiety, and suicide.
Since the outside world tends to be largely out of one’s control, perfectionist tendencies often get channeled inward, making one’s body a perfect target. The problem with this is, like life itself, the body is not static. Therefore, “perfect” does not realistically exist outside of the mind. Holding on too tightly to an unrealistic ideal is not only unhelpful, it can be harmful. So what’s a wellness warrior to do?
Instead of telling you to swap out salad for french fries, I’d encourage you to swap out the idea of “being perfect” for “doing your best”. As corny as it sounds, it’s the one mental shift that seems to make the biggest difference in overall health and wellness. Don’t get it twisted, it sounds simplistic but can be extremely difficult to do.
Swapping out the idea of “being perfect” for “doing your best” means letting go of some magical thinking. It’s like the grown up equivalent of learning there is no Santa Claus. It can be jarring and more than a little bit sad to realize your vision may not equate with reality. Accepting that no matter how little you eat or how much you run your legs will never grow four inches to look like those of a supermodel is disappointing (yeah, it’s straight up embarrassing how long it took me to reconcile with that little tidbit…). You know what’s not sad? Realizing that maybe it doesn’t matter so much after all.
Once you get (or more accurately continue to work on getting…) the self criticism under control, it’s time to deal with that which comes from the outside. Direct or indirect, messages about what we should look like or how we should feel don’t miraculously dissolve into a puddle of bliss the moment we decide to accept ourselves. The best we can do is realize (or more accurately continue to work on realizing…) that we don’t need others approval in the same way we don’t need their criticism. Now here is the fun part:
Once the rest of that junk is out of the way, we are free to focus on what is left. Getting to know and moving through our own innate rhythms and cycles can actually be pretty interesting. Noticing, acknowledging, and acting on what we learn is a perpetual practice. The more we attune to this fact, the easier it is to find satisfaction in a perfectly imperfect body.
I may be writing like a teacher on this subject but in practice I feel more like a kindergartener. Thought paradigms can be challenging to shift, but neuroplasticity is a real thing, so that’s promising….
As for the title of this post, J and I met while working in an infamous New York City steakhouse. When the kitchen ran out of an item it was said to be “86ed”. Since we met we’ve 86ed animal products from our diet and late night bar crawls from our social lives….maybe 86ing perfectionist thinking isn’t too far behind.
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We’re not in New York City anymore…….