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How to Become a Recovering Perfectionist

Hello! My name is Stephanie, and I'm a recovering perfectionist.



"What does that mean?" you might be wondering. Or perhaps, "Yeah, me too!"


In kindergarten, I played tee-ball for a season. My only clear memory of that time is our final game: Proudly suited up in jersey, pants, and oversized helmet, I stepped up to the plate and managed to hit the ball hard enough that I had a shot at making first base. But rather than run toward the goal, I fast-walked as hard as my five-year old legs would take me while fearfully holding the big helmet bouncing on my little head. The crowd was shouting, "It's okay! Let your helmet fall off! RUN!" I was out before I even made it halfway. After the game, coach gave us all high-fives and sodas, and my parents laughed at me for being so concerned about the helmet.


But I was convinced that holding on to that helmet was the most important thing, and it prevented me from even getting close to the real goal.


Fast-forward 30+ years: I earned good grades in school and the approval of my teachers. Peers thought I was put-together, well-organized. At work, I was the reliable one who often volunteered to take on extra projects. In general, I've been "successful."


Also: I will probably give up trying something new if I'm not immediately good at it. I procrastinate on complex or difficult tasks. In my free time, I ruminate about past mistakes. I cringe at blank canvases.


Does this feel familiar to you at all??



 

A perfunctory web search of perfectionist or perfectionism will yield all kinds of fascinating results - from online therapy blogs and cosmetics ads to articles titled What to Do if Your Child is a Perfectionist and How to Stop Being a Perfectionist in Ten Steps (With Tips). Honestly, Indeed.com, if high expectations got me this far, why would I lower them?


Rather than going into the pop psychology of "positive perfectionism" vs. "maladaptive perfectionism"...in lieu of examining the causes of these patterns...and without making a list of impossible steps to reduce these behaviors... I want to write a call out to those of you who might be part of the high percentage of the world's population experiencing perfectionist tendencies.


Have you ever...

  • stayed up late to clean your roommate's dirty dishes?

  • taken on an extra project at work because "If you want something done right, do it yourself"?

  • procrastinated on an assignment until the night before it was due?

  • felt frustrated when instructions were vague, or expectations were unclear?

  • had difficulty receiving constructive criticism, because it was shameful for others to see your mistakes?

  • had difficulty receiving compliments, because you thought you didn't deserve them?

  • gotten hung up on past mistakes, or worked hard to avoid making any future mistakes?

  • set an unrealistic goal and nearly fallen apart when you didn't reach it?

  • easily given up on a new activity, or avoided trying new activities, for fear of not being great at it?

  • fixated on the result, rather than enjoyed the process?

  • felt that your worth is determined by your productivity?

  • realized you really are your own worst enemy?


Would you call yourself a perfectionist? (Responses are anonymous)

  • Absolutely.

  • A little bit. Probably.

  • Not really.


If so, I'm talking to YOU.


 

Earlier I called myself a recovering perfectionist, because I am in the years-long process of recognizing how my need for perfect has held me back, stoked anger, and stolen joy. Participating in a loving marriage has been a hugely helpful mirror in this process, and so has journaling regularly. However, the number one "tool" that has most reflected perfectionism back to me has been my Yoga practice.


I don't mean falling out of balance postures and saying, "That's okay! Try again!" Rather, when you steady you mind with conscious movement and breathing on the mat each morning, you can continue practicing and applying Yoga throughout the day. Every endeavor, every interaction becomes a mirror reflecting back your inner state. For example: You wouldn't believe how many times I drafted this very blog post, aiming for perfection. I contemplated not even writing it, because it feels so vulnerable. At some point, though, I realized this is also part of the practice, and sent it into the world with a prayer.


In a fundamental sense, I am recognizing that I need to feel in control. And when we connect to the rhythms of Nature through Yoga, it becomes clear how not-in-control we are. It's also clear how absolutely okay that is. Everything is changing, all the time! We receive permission to live as human beings, not human doings. And then I try to do something uncomfortable (like knit an imperfect dishcloth, gah!), perhaps enjoying the process itself rather than fretting over the potential outcomes. These days, I am gently reminded, "Done is better than perfect."


Imperfect dish cloths
After 6+ months of knitting, done IS better than perfect...right?
 

And so, my dear and perfect friends: with great angst and excitement, I declare to you that I want to share Yoga with you in a way that puts you in touch with your perfectionist tendencies. That ensures you are safe, and then makes you a little uncomfortable. That challenges the notion you are not enough. That helps you move out of your own way and grow as a person.


Throughout the next year, I'm planning a number of events that weave together Yoga and other contemplative practices (like painting, candle-making, journaling), and that culminate in a perfect retreat next summer 2024. Honestly, it's a little selfish, because facilitating these experiences is so healing for me, too.


Are you ready?


  1. Please find me on IG (@inner_landscapes_yoga) and cheer me on as I imperfectly navigate the terrifying landscape of social media!

  2. Get in touch with your feedback, suggestions, and questions (stephaniejain.yoga@gmail.com), especially around this idea of perfection.

  3. Schedule a free consultation to kickstart your Yoga journey toward self-acceptance.

  4. Or share this writing with someone you know who might need to hear, "You aren't alone in this!"


...and the next time you start procrastinating (get it?), listen to the little voice nudging you, "You are already enough."



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