You don't have to to hit the bulls-eye to win the game: Overcoming Perfectionism
Let’s talk about perfectionism….
Can you answer yes to any of these things?
Are you a perfect parent?
A perfect coworker, employee, or employer?
A perfect partner?
A perfect friend?
Are you perfect in your faith or spirituality?
When it comes to your hobbies, are you perfect every time you “do” your hobby?
Are you a perfect citizen?
Odds are you honestly answered no to all of these things. We make mistakes as parents. We all fall short in our faith or spirituality sometimes. In our friendships too. There has been a time in life we wronged our partner, underperformed at work, threw something in the trash that should have been recycled. We try our best, but we know we’re not perfect. This is what it is to be human. How do we handle these moments? We learn from them. We forgive ourselves and aim to do better next time. We strategize on how we avoid the mistake in the future. We grow from the difficult moments in life, and hopefully show ourselves a little grace. Failing to be perfect doesn’t mean we’re actually failing at all; it just means that we’re always growing and learning.
But let’s talk about weight loss, because it seems to be the one place that we feel like we have to be perfect to be successful. And just to be fair, the desire to “get fit” runs a close second! While most of us freely admit that we recognize that we don’t have to be perfect to be a successful person, when it comes to weight loss, it’s another story altogether. Perfectionism is the single greatest obstacle to long term weight loss success. It’s what keeps us constantly starting over every Monday, every month, every January 1. It’s what keeps us losing and gaining the same 5-10-20-50 lbs over and over again. It is what keeps us stuck! And it robs us of so much!
Let’s dive in, shall we?
What is perfectionism?
Perfectionism is expecting ourselves to make the healthiest choices every time we eat.
It’s eliminating certain foods or entire food groups.
It’s creating an unrealistic timeline for weight loss or an unrealistic goal in terms of how much we want to lose.
It’s establishing a set of unrealistic expectations in our habits and sometimes in our capabilities.
It’s putting an unhealthy focus on our weight loss goal, to the detriment of our wellbeing and other areas in our life.
It’s obsessing about our weight loss goal with this sort of “tunnel vision”, where there is no room for flexibility or error.
It’s allowing ourselves to abandon our goals when a life event happens, because we “can’t give it the attention it deserves”.
What do we miss when we think that they only way we win is to hit the bulls-eye every time?
We don’t enjoy the journey.
We feel like we failed in some way most days, which can affect our mood and the way we view ourselves.
We don’t celebrate our progress or our successes.
We often give up or procrastinate getting started because it feels daunting.
We can get hyper-focused on the scale as the only measure of success.
We stay self-critical, which shuts down any chance of growth.
We don’t learn flexibility.
We avoid events and situations where we can’t control the outcome.
When you break it down like that, it makes sense why we stay stuck. It’s a very rigid mindset, and none of this feels good. Why do we approach it this way? I think a lot of it is learned behavior. I think a lot of it comes from societal expectations to look a certain way. But, ultimately, we keep doing it, because that’s the way we’ve always done it. We don’t know another way.
It’s possible to flip perfectionism upside down. What does the other side of perfectionism look like? Let’s call it “perfect imperfection”. It takes some small changes in behaviors, in the way we think, and it takes practice and self-compassion.
There are areas other than the bulls-eye on the dart board. Here are a few of my best tips for "perfect imperfection" on your journey to health and wellness:
If what you are doing doesn’t feel good in any way, it’s time to re-evaluate. Weight loss shouldn’t feel bad.
Learn flexibility. Be content with 80/20. Make the best choices you can most of the time, and eat whatever you want for the sheer pleasure of it sometimes too. Build in those treats that we truly enjoy, so that we’re not depriving ourselves.
Don’t refer to food or your day as “good’ or ‘bad”. When we do this, by extension we’re labeling ourselves as “good” or “bad”, which can lead us to “reward” or “punish” ourselves. Assigning morality to foods, to our choices, and to ourselves just keep us stuck in the all or nothing mindset.
Choose a sensible plan. If a program is asking you to adapt to eating 1000-1200 calories a day, run the other way. It’s not sustainable, and on top of that, it makes you feel like a failure for actually fueling your body when it asks for it.
Establish realistic goals. If the goal is to get fit, don’t set a goal to work out 6 days a week. Start with a couple of days, so that you set yourself up for success and build a little momentum. The same with weight loss goals. It’s important to be honest with yourself about what you can sustain long term. Setting a goal of 20 lbs in a month is not realistic and sets you up for failure. And we all know where this leads. It leads to giving up again and starting over later.
Adapt your goals to your real life. If you’re going on vacation, maintenance is a good goal for that time. This is bringing the flexibility to your changing schedule and keeps us out of that all or nothing mindset.
Decide that you are not going to ever start over again. If we never quit, we never have to start over. Every day is a new day and a new opportunity to learn from yesterday and apply it to the future.
You don't have to hit the bulls-eye every time. There is a lot of area close to the target that adds up points in your favor. You can win the game by just aiming for the board! Not only is perfectionism impossible to sustain, it’s unhealthy to put expectations on ourselves that we wouldn’t have for the people we care about. Give yourself some grace. Cut yourself some slack. Aim to just hit the hit the board most days. Enjoy the journey, because there is no final destination.
Want to learn more about how perfectionism holds us back, click HERE for more.