Learning to Be Perfectly Imperfect

Despite the amount of time I devote to it, I oftentimes hate exercise. My dislike sometimes gets to the point where I contemplate walking away from it. Though I never regret taking a fitness class, the exercise itself is often mentally and physically exhaustive.

This is because I am a perfectionist, and I take it into every aspect of my life. That may sound positive to some, but it really takes the fun out of almost everything I do. Perfectionism can lead to A’s, gold medals, and a sculpted physique, but for many (including myself) it can feel like imprisonment.

Let me point out that perfection is boring. Though I admire people who seem to have everything together, it’s the back story that interests me in them. The work that has gone into that perfect breaststroke or golf swing. The trial and error that led up to making the first cronuts. Missteps aren’t necessarily bad, but they build character. These are teachable moments from which we can learn gratitude, and perfectionism can be seen as a lack of just that. I try to remind myself this as much as I can.

When I actually take time to reflect and be mindful, that is how I feel-ungrateful for the body that I have, and my resilience that develops from coming up short.

When I take fitness classes like barre or reformer pilates, I tend to not enjoy the first ten minutes or so of class. This is because I may need a refresher, or I may not have the technique down at all. It isn’t until I get the lead out of my legs and start pointing properly that I begin to relax (sounds crazy, right? I become more relaxed the longer I’m in the class).

And that is where I am now, exhausted by something that I love, mentally achy from constantly needing my actions to be just right. Being a perfectionist can take its toll.

Here are some dangers of perfectionism:

  • Unrealistic expectations, which can cause depression and anxiety
  • A cynical outlook
  • Developing an all-or-nothing mentality
  • Catastrophizing unnecessarily (if I’m not going to be in the starting lineup, why even bother playing?)
  • Injuries from over training
  • Procrastination and failure. It can be daunting and difficult to begin or complete tasks
  • Illnesses ranging from diabetes to hypertension to eating disorders
  • To the extreme, people with perfectionism are more likely to commit suicide. (Source)

This is why it is imperative to focus on the present and not take yourself so seriously. Life is too short already, so don’t take away from those breath-taking experiences by counting imaginary trees.

To implement this, when you are in the middle of obsessing, just stop. Take a breath. Ask yourself these questions:

What toll would you be paying by just enjoying yourself/learning? What is the ultimate goal?

Consider the people who mean the most to you. What do you love about them? We aren’t drawn to perfection, and sometimes it is others’ idiosyncrasies that we love most.

When you’re doing something that has you tightly wound, without comparing yourself, take a look around. You may notice people laughing, engaged in brilliant conversation with the person next to him or her. Give yourself credit for even taking a chance. So many people let fear deter them from taking on such a feat, so why would you expect yourself to be the best?

Everyday is a battle for me, but I know with work, I will be free of the desire to fit myself into a neat, tight little box. The strides I am making help me a little everyday, and I envision being able to just walk in my victory of doing something like running a race without obsessing over my time.