At its root, this blog is about our journey to improve ourselves and get the most out of our lives. We want to make progress. In striving for that we’ve done a lot of self reflection on what’s been hindering us from achieving our goals. What comes up time and time again for me is perfectionism.
Sufferers of perfectionism will convince themselves that it’s a good thing, and in some ways it can be. There’s nothing wrong with striving to be better at things, to improve yourself and your skills. Those are worthwhile goals.
The problem is that striving for perfection rather than striving for progress sets us up for failure.
Becoming educated about and proficient at any task, skill or habit takes time. It takes practice and it takes dedication. And guess what? We will never be perfect right away, we will always make mistakes, trip up and do something wrong. And guess what else? That’s perfectly OK!
The problem a lot of us share is that we don’t give ourselves permission to be wrong or to make a mistake. We get so wrapped up in getting it right that we don’t support our own natural learning process. We allow ourselves to get frustrated before we’ve given ourselves a chance to learn. All too often we give up on the goal we were striving for in the first place.
Perfectionism doesn’t just interfere in our big, long term goals, it can completely derail us in the little things too. I’ve never been a breakfast person even though I know how important it is. When I decided to finally take on and repair this bad habit for good I attacked it in typical Alyssa fashion… I set out to do breakfast perfectly.
Day One – Research. I set out to design the perfect breakfast smoothie. I fell into the rabbit hole of information that is Pinterest and started learning. I discovered all kinds of things I should be adding to my perfect smoothie like hemp seeds and acai powders.
I did not make a smoothie.
Day Two – More research. Where do you get acai powder, hemp seeds, etc? What’s this debate over soy milk all about? Better just avoid it for now. Dairy is controversial too, better avoid it and stick to almond milk as a base.
I did not make a smoothie.
Day Three – Learned all about making almond milk at home.
I still did not make a smoothie.
And so it went for another week or so before I finally felt like I had researched my way to the perfect smoothie recipe and the perfect system to make it happen day to day. I had charts and schedules and a rotation for which types of fruits and veggies to add each day to achieve optimum variety. I even had a progress chart so I could check off each day I successfully made the perfect smoothie.
I had the perfect on paper system, finally.
As you can probably guess my rigid, over planned, overly perfected system did not account for real life. Sometimes I didn’t feel like shopping on the designated day, or got stuck late at work and didn’t have the energy to make a weeks worth of almond milk on the assigned evening.
I think we can guess what happened to my overly complicated system… it fell by the wayside and I went back to my bad habit of skipping breakfast nearly every single day.
This is my pattern every time I set out to make a healthy change in my life. I take on too much, too fast and take it too far because I’m seeking that elusive perfectionism. I go into overhaul mode, try to make too many changes at once, it becomes too complicated, too loaded with failures and the whole goal ends up going by the wayside. Sustainable change isn’t made this way.
Here’s the thing, if we shift our mind set to making progress the goal, we can succeed more often. It’s necessary to have a vision of where we want to go, but it’s just as important to measure our success not by that end goal, but by our little successes along the way. By striving only for perfection we set ourselves up for failure and make the journey towards our goal stressful.
By breaking down a big change or a big goal into little steps we give ourselves more opportunities to succeed. By increasing our reinforcement (achieving a small success) we increase our satisfaction and motivation. What does that lead to? An increased chance of achieving long term success with the big goal. Give yourself permission to take it one step at a time, allow yourself to approach something incrementally.
Last month I tried to solve my breakfast problem again, but this time with a different mind set. Forget perfection, let’s just do better, let’s celebrate a step. I’ve made a smoothie nearly every morning for the last month. They have been mostly fruit with very little greens or added fiber.
That’s far from perfect, and if I allowed my perfectionist nature free rein I would see a lot of failure in that. But if I shift my thinking and look at my progress I see a huge amount of success. I now consume 2-3 servings of fruit every morning… that’s 14-21 servings of fruit every single week.
That’s an extremely good thing no matter how you look at it. But I could easily rob myself of that success by making that mental checklist of the things that are not perfect about my smoothies. I could easily discourage myself from keeping up with this healthy habit because I’m not able to do it perfectly yet. Why is “I’m not there yet” a bad thing? I’m further than I was a month ago and I’ll make even more progress next month as long as I don’t allow myself to be discouraged by that nagging voice of perfectionism.
Applying a progress not perfection approach to any goal is really very simple.
Break it down
Don’t get overwhelmed by the end goal, think small steps. What’s one small, actionable bit of progress you can make now?
Keep it simple
Don’t try to overhaul too much at once or push yourself too hard.
Take ONE step
Pat yourself on the back and take a moment to appreciate the fact that you have just made progress.
Plan the next step!
It really doesn’t have to be more difficult or complicated than that. Give yourself some room to breathe, develop and progress. Celebrate your successes as you go, continue learning and continue improving.
Change is easier to achieve and the journey more rewarding if we can allow ourselves a little bit of forgiveness and focus on our progress, instead of measuring ourselves against this unachievable ideal that is perfectionism.
Has perfectionism been holding you back from reaching a goal? Any hints or tips you’d like to add? We can’t wait to hear what you guys have to say!