A Message to All My Current and Recovering Perfectionists

As a coach, one of the biggest things I help my clients with is the mindset for developing a healthy relationship with food and themselves.  In our information-overloaded world, it’s not the lack of information that often keeps people stuck but their beliefs and perceptions. One of the biggest mindset blocks I see and had to overcome myself is the belief that you have to get things perfectly in order to be successful.  Have you ever heard someone say something like : “I did so well with my eating.. Then I totally blew it… and then I kept on blowing it for the next 2 weeks…” ? Or perhaps perfectionism can show up as someone using food or another numbing agent to handle the pressure of not measuring up in a job or in school.  Somewhere in becoming adults many of us learned to equate our achievements and external results with our self-worth. Perfectionism is therefore dangerous and addictive. It’s built on shame and fear that if we don’t measure up, we’re not worthy of love… and so often if we “fail” on something, we attribute it to WHO we are and blame ourselves. Perfectionism can also stop us from even trying or starting something because we prefer to avoid the pain of the “imminent failure".”

When we were born, we didn’t have this belief.  Think back to when a kid learns to walk. On average, a 1 year old is learning to walk falls about 17x/hour and is met with great cheer and praise by their parents for every attempt they make to get up again.  Imagine if we treated this baby in a similar mindset to the way we may treat ourselves. “Well, I fell again… and this is the 3rd time I’ve tried… maybe I’m not meant to be a walker…”  It sounds insane but this is what so many of us in our attempts to heal our relationship with food.

To move away from perfectionism, I often encourage my clients to go for what Brene Brown calls “healthy striving.”  While perfectionism discourages trying to avoid failure, healthy striving celebrates the attempt and what can be learned. While perfectionism is based on shame, guilt, and hiding, healthy striving is based on desire, growth, celebration, and courage.  Healthy striving also celebrates the resilience to get back up again even if you’ve fallen off your feet.

So what does this look like in everyday life?  I’m glad you asked! Think about the last time you “failed” or “didn’t meet your expectations” at something - whether it be on an effort to improve your relationship with food or perhaps to deliver in a new job.  What was your self-talk like? Did you find yourself beating yourself up and telling yourself that you weren’t meant to do well in this space? Or did you take it as a learning opportunity and use that information to inform yourself for the next attempt?

Lastly for those of you who identify as perfectionists, I want to leave you with this…

“Relax, you’re already perfect… :)”

Stay well, eat well, and savor all that life has to give to you because life is simply too short not to!