I’m not sure of the number of perfectionists who walk among us, but if you work in the nutrition, fitness, or eating psychology business, it seems like perfectionism is everywhere. So many people are looking for the perfect body, perfect weight, perfect diet, the perfect nutritional system, and more. It seems like such a noble and high-level approach to life – just do everything flawlessly and we’ll have achieved a lofty place in the Hall of Fame of Life. Some will applaud us, others will envy us, and of course, we’ll have the inner satisfaction of having reached the supreme state of perfectness. But, as fate would have it, our quest for precision has a toxic side to it that can be quite debilitating. It can terrorize us, set us up for constant failure, and keep us in a perpetual state of never feeling good enough about who we are, how we eat, and what we look like. So, what’s up with perfectionism? Where does it come from? Why do we have it? And how can we prevent it from wreaking havoc on our very human and imperfect selves?
I think I have a few answers…
Let’s get right down to business. I’d like to suggest to you that perfectionism is a virus that does very little good for the up-liftment of the human body and soul. It’s the kind of virus that exists in the realm of our collective mind, and that finds a home in those who are susceptible and unsuspecting hosts. A viral thought such as, “I must be perfect” is intended to create weakness, as well as a constant source of stress and fear. These are the perfect foods and conditions for the virus of perfectionism to happily exist. It fools us into believing in the false religion of being perfect. Like any smart virus, it wants to keep us alive, but weaken us enough so that we cannot defeat it.
If you’ve battled perfectionism, then you know that it’s not easy to overcome. That’s because the virus is far stronger than any one person. Actually, it’s quite powerful and equally seductive. After all, who wouldn’t want to be perfect? It seems like such a noble goal to attain…
But always around the corner from perfectionism is self-abuse.
That’s because “the state of perfect” doesn’t actually exist. It’s a destination that so many people want to get to that isn’t even on the map. Once we put all our efforts into perfect eating, perfect exercise, and following our diet perfectly – eventually, we will stray. Flawlessness is an unsustainable state. I don’t know a single person who’s ever resided there permanently. The usual response when we fall off the pedestal of perfect is some version of self-attack, self hate, and self criticism. We might even jump to “screw it, I tried to be perfect and I couldn’t, so now I’m going to throw it all out the window and just trash my body with food.” How predictable is that? Or we might re-double our efforts, become dramatically more uptight, and once again submit ourselves to the demanding perfectionist taskmaster within. All the while, we’re spending our life energy on something that we can never have.
Perfectionism is a fantastic distraction from all that’s truly important.
It takes us out of the game of life, and into a very private and narrow world. It keeps us small, rather then grant us the big payday we expect from this clever virus. Eventually, we can easily tire of the quest for perfection and find ourselves disappointed or bitter that our efforts haven’t provided us with a winning lottery ticket. Perhaps even worse though, is when we do finally achieve our perfect weight or create our perfect body, only to find ourselves still unhappy, or living in a state of anxiety that we might lose our perfect achievement. Have you ever met someone who got the perfect results they wanted, but couldn’t experience much joy with their success?
Perfectionists often have the belief that they’re smarter than everyone else. After all, they’re the ones who are aiming at the most lofty place. But perfectionists have a poor ability to see how imperfect the practice of perfectionism really is. They often lose sight of how they’ve isolated from the world, and closed off a part of their heart and soul.
If you count yourself as a perfectionist, then it’s probably time to liberate yourself from the virus that’s poisoning your mind and removing the smile from your life. It’s time to look at things honestly, and humbly.
I have a few suggestions for slowly starving the perfection virus out of your nervous system. Fortunately, you don’t have to do any of these strategies perfectly.
Consider these simple practices:
Get messy. Be willing to make mistakes and admit them. Put yourself in situations where you can laugh at yourself. In fact, find any possible excuse to laugh at yourself. Ask your friends and loved ones if your perfectionism impacts them. If they say yes, request that they tell you honestly about the details of how your perfectionism shows up for them. Ask for their advice on how you can improve here. Commit to letting go of perfectionist rituals. Do you constantly weigh yourself? Count calories and fat grams way too often? Do you look in the mirror and quickly launch into criticism? If so, practice waking up, and start catching yourself in the act of trying to be perfect. Gently let go of the inner self-talk that’s really a nasty mind-virus causing your brain to think and act in impossibly silly ways. Live life more. Have fun. Do some Karaoke. Walk barefoot and get your feet dirty. Leave the food in your teeth for a few hours. And stop being so hard on yourself. Put your attention back to the things that truly matter most. Set a good example for the young people in your life. The world needs you to be the wonderfully imperfect human that you are.
Thanks for your time.
I’d love to hear your thoughts.
Institute for the Psychology of Eating
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