Completion comes not from adding another piece to ourselves but from surrendering our ideas of perfection.
Many of us have a hard time accepting our humanness. If we’re perfectionists, we may see our lives as one big self-improvement project – hoping at some point to arrive at a place where our lives and bodies resemble our idea of perfection. In this magical place we’ve lost weight, we look fabulous , we have no shortcomings; our lives are problem free – we are a finished project.
We may tell ourselves that once we arrive at this place, then we will finally be happy. It doesn’t occur to us that we could be happy right now – just the way things are – by simply surrendering our ideas of perfection. Suffering comes from wanting things to be different from the way they are. Acceptance of what is puts us on the path to peace. Acceptance isn’t resignation or defeat; it means we fully embrace ourselves right now as a work in progress, ever changing and evolving.
Perfectionists are prone to suffer from anxiety, frustration, anger, procrastination, and depression. Perfectionists see failure and mistakes as bad and they criticize themselves harshly for the slightest of transgressions that other’s may not even notice. They can get so bogged down in details that they often can’t see the forest from the trees. They often begin to feel hopeless because they can never live up to their unrealistic standards. They reason, “Why should I even bother? If I can’t be perfect, I might as well not even try. To heck with it! I’m just going to eat whatever I want.”
Perfectionists have an extremely hard time losing weight because of their black and white thinking. The minute they deviate from their plan, in their minds, they’ve blown it which means they might as well overeat the rest of the day. There’s always tomorrow. They can get stuck on this hamster wheel for years.
If you’re a perfectionist, the first step to getting off the hamster wheel is to adjust your expectations and standards. Lowering standards doesn’t mean not having any; nor does it mean letting go of your desire to succeed. It’s knowing when it’s important to strive for excellence and knowing when things just need to be good enough. It also means knowing when not to even bother.
Step 1: Get Real
Set realistic weight loss goals by chunking your goals into small, doable steps.
Ask yourself: What can I realistically do each day?
If all you can manage is a 10-20 minute walk to start, let that be ok. That’s much better than nothing. Don’t berate yourself and tell yourself you’re lazy because you should be doing an hour a day, which is unrealistic for most people.
If you’re a procrastinator the most important goal is to begin.
Step 2: Don’t Deprive or Punish Yourself with Food
Ask yourself: Is the way I’m eating sustainable over the long haul?
If you cut everything out of your diet that you love to eat, is it realistic that you’re going to continue on this path for very long? Get real!
Don’t cut major food groups out of your diet unless you have an allergy. This sets you up for overeating and bingeing later on the foods you’ve cut out. Include your favorite foods but in smaller amounts or eat on fewer occasions. The same goes with being overly restrictive to the point you’re really hungry all the time. Learn to eat when hungry and stop when satiated, not stuffed. Starving yourself is just going to backfire on you in the form of overeating and binges.
Step 3: Reframe Negative Thinking by using Positive Affirmations
Write out a list of common negative self-statements. Next to them, write out a list of positive reframes to those statements.
Example: I must be perfect. Reframe: I strive to be good enough. Or: Dare to be average! (This last statement comes from a book I highly recommend: Feeling Good by Dr. David Burns. It was one of the first books on cognitive therapy and is considered a classic.)
Step 4: Progress not Perfection
Understand that anything that you do towards your goal that is less than perfection is actually progress, not failure. Stop measuring success only in terms of pounds lost or the end result. You may need to practice new behaviors for a while before you see success in terms of pounds lost. But that doesn’t negate all the positive behaviors you’re practicing. And if you want to lose weight and keep it off, then practice really does make close to perfect!
View all your efforts as deposits in your progress account. Like a bank account, when you make a withdrawal or have a small setback, it doesn’t wipe out the entire account. Each positive action you take is a deposit towards your goal of behavioral change. As your account accrues interest, so does your skill level, and soon you will see the results in terms of pounds lost.
Practice doing things less than perfectly and enjoy them. Find something you like to do for fun that you actually suck at. Make having fun the goal. I used to be a blocked writer and artist until I gave myself permission to play, explore, and experiment. My creativity has never been blocked since.
Step 5: Expect to Stumble and Fall
Expect to stumble and fall. Relapses, mistakes, and setbacks are part of the learning process. Prepare and learn from them. Make it OK to be a beginner and in the learning curve. Just pick yourself back up and keep going. No big deal!
Step 6: Become a Self-Encourager
Acknowledge at least 3 good things you did each day. Be encouraging and pat yourself on the back for your small daily efforts because those small efforts are what add up to your larger weight loss success.
Step 7: Reward Yourself
Reward yourself throughout the process, on a daily and weekly basis, not just when you’ve reached your goal. Perfectionists tend to be punitive by nature; they’re usually not light hearted, joyful people. Perfectionism takes itself far too seriously, so as you lighten up mentally, you’ll be amazed that your body will lighten up right along with you. Weight loss doesn’t have to be about deprivation and punishment. It can actually be joyful and fun. It’s all about the mindset you approach it with.
What ideas of perfection are holding me back from peace, happiness, and weight loss?
Affirmations for Perfectionists
Each day, I do something (no matter how small) towards my goal.
Every effort counts. I give myself credit for trying.
I strive each day to eat well. Some days will be better than others.
Each day I do my best. My best is different each day.
As long as I continually put in effort, I will eventually get there.
When I fall, I pick myself up and get back on track quickly.
I am perfectly imperfect and I’m perfectly OK with this.