May 2014 – Perfectionism

Perfect  –  having no mistakes or flaws, that is the Merriam Webster definition.  Perfectionism often appears when we try to compare ourselves to others.  The start of perfectionism might have been influenced by family, teachers or the grading systems in school or sports.  My tennis teacher said practice does not make perfect, perfect practice makes perfect.  The images we see in the media of flawless men and women can also influence our quest to be perfect.  We want the perfect TV family we saw growing up, the perfect hair we see on the commercials and the perfect body from the latest exercise wonder device.  “To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.” –  Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Many years ago I learned an effective technique when I get into “perfectionist mode” and start that negative self talk.  I ask myself, what would I say to myself if I was my own best friend?  I would want my best friend to encourage me but also talk straight to me.  My friend would say hey look back at that relationship or job that did not workout and use it to learn what you really want in the future.  You are great and will find something better.  My bf would say if one or two people give you the same feedback and you take it as criticism it might be their issue.  However if three or four people give you the same feedback and you take it as criticism well then you might want to take a hard look at what you are doing.  Above all my best friend would tell me even though I have made mistakes and have some flaws, I am always learning and I am totally awesome.

My family did not have the money to send me to dance lessons until I was ten years old.  Learning ballet, jazz and tap was a dream come true for me.  I had pictures of dancers covering my walls and now I was a dancer.  The second year at our recital I was given a place out in front of the lines of girls.  I had a semi solo dance spot and I was one happy camper!  I quit dance at eleven.  Even with the praise of my teacher and a solo spot, I felt every one else in class was better than me.  They had to be better because almost all the girls had started their lessons at age three or four.  I thought due to my late start, I could never catch up and be perfect.  I had the same pattern with sports in junior high and high school.

I gave up things I loved and was even good at because my own standards were way too high.  Letting go of perfectionism was a big relief.  There was a point in my life where I realized doing my best was very different than trying to be perfect.  Yoga also played a part in stopping the comparisons.  One of my teacher’s always stressed we should accept where we are at in our practice.  Hearing this over and over finally helped me learn to accept where I was at in life.  In yoga there is no perfect practice.  For me every practice is good if I bring my full presence to my practice.  I still go into “perfection mode” now and then.  However now I more quickly let go of the stress of perfection and just do my best.

To read more about perfectionism in a Huffington Post article click here