My belief? Perfectionism breeds failure…

by Erica on April 13, 2012

I lived the majority of my earlier years believing I was a “type B.”  I was arrogant in this belief, and even made jokes about “type A’s.”  (Sorry folks!)  That was until an individual who knows me extremely well, one that I trust dearly, who also happens to know a lot about human behavior, informed me that I was really a type A, and had been masquerading as a type B.  My gig was over.  I think it’s hilarious now, but at the time I was blown away…and mortified…and flabbergasted…  I was in complete disbelief.  Silly, I know…

My reasoning for believing I was a type B was that I was frequently late to social functions, and I don’t get upset about a lot of things.  (Very insightful, eh?)  I am typically able to roll with the punches of life.  Didn’t that make me a type B??  Type B’s seemed so much more chill to me at the time.  For some reason, I had a belief that all type A’s dressed like conservative school librarians…

As I shared this little nugget of news with those closest to me, they all gave me the same look, and they also laughed.  Just to clarify- not with me, but at me.  They were shocked it took me so long to figure it out…or maybe admit it…  Apparently it was obvious to everyone but myself.

The reality is that I am extremely focused, driven, and motivated.  Within this, I had also become, over time, quite a perfectionist.  (Yet somehow this didn’t include punctuality to social functions- still can’t figure that one out…)  I tried for years to make “perfect” decisions, to do the “correct” thing, to give the “right” answer, etc.  If I couldn’t figure out what they were, I became stuck and anxious.  It was all very black or white- with little grey area or wiggle room.  Wasn’t there a right or a wrong, a good or a bad, a pass or a fail?  Life would be so much simpler if there were.

Nope…the reality is that there is a very small right or wrong area, and an enormous grey area.  Yet, so many of us insist on doing things perfectly.  Or, I should say, trying to do things perfectly.  But what happens when we aim for perfection, and come up short?

How does this relate to our health?  How many times have you tried to adapt a healthy behavior, only to “fail” at it in a few days, weeks, months, or maybe even minutes?  So many of us strive for perfection- “I will work out three times a week for at least 45 minutes,” and when we miss a few days, we quit.  We lose motivation, begin to feel badly about ourselves, and give up.  We create goals for ourselves with the best of intentions, and when we don’t accomplish them exactly as we planned to, we lose steam.

I only started to be able to accomplish health goals when I began to be more flexible and compassionate towards myself.  I finally recognized that anything is better than nothing.   Little steps add up to big milestones.  All or nothing doesn’t work for me.  So, when I started juicing a few months ago, and wanted to make sure I incorporated it into my life regularly- instead of doing the usual “I will juice every day,” I decided to set a “loose goal” of juicing at least five days a week.

I refer to it as a “loose goal” because life is busy and complicated, and I need flexibility or I won’t be able to maintain the goal.  So, I aim to juice five days a week- if I come up a day or two short, so be it.  There is no “juicing police” who will ticket me.  I still juiced a few days and my body benefited from that.  If I am able to juice every day in a week, then I get an added bonus towards my health.  Once I stopped harping on the need to do it perfectly, I was able to keep up with it.  Same goes with exercise for me.

My belief is that when we let go of trying to be perfect, and find compassion for ourselves, we are able to achieve far more.  And, it’s actually enjoyable.  Who wants to do something that they beat themselves up about over, and over, and over again?  Of course you’re going to give up when you’re shaming yourself because you missed a couple of workouts, or ate a pint of hagen dazs (I shall remain nameless….oops…too late…).

But, if you find compassion for yourself, realize you are simply trying to be the best person you can be, and acknowledge there is no way things are going to be perfect, you’re able to push through a few lapses, or maybe even many lapses.  There may be times you are better able to keep up with your goals, and other times they start to lapse a bit.  That’s okay.  Even if you aren’t doing whatever it is as frequently as you’d prefer, you’re still benefiting from it, and there isn’t any benefit to quitting it completely.

Please- don’t forget- any improvement is better than no improvement.  Small steps do add up to big milestones, and of course, good health is contagious- pass it on!

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Maria April 13, 2012 at 1:00 pm

I love this post! Now I truly think we must have been separated at birth. I am also guilty of wanting and trying to be perfect, and feeling crappy and giving up when I’m not. Hmmm, oddly enough, this happens a lot! And I’m late for everything, too so I might also be a Type A who thinks they’re a Type B. A little compassion for oneself is definitely important, we should have more of it (and for others.) Any day you do something good for yourself is a good day!
You really have a knack for this blogging thing, can’t wait to read the next one! And I love your cartoons!

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Erica April 13, 2012 at 3:20 pm

Thanks Maria- the post loves you too! 😉 Yes, I hear you- we all try to be so perfect… I’m sure the media’s influence has something to do with it, but we really do need to be more compassionate. And, you are right- to each other as well! I love your quote- that any day you do something good for yourself is a good day- you are so right!! Many thanks for your kind words about my blogging…I’m really enjoying it as well. And- isn’t this cartoon hilarious??? lol

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Kathy April 13, 2012 at 3:26 pm

Great blog and SO true. It’s tough making that change to be compassionate. I am as type A, always have been and never afraid to admit it, so I struggle with just what you described. I find it very easy to be compassionate with others, not so much with me. Keep writing, Erica.

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Erica April 13, 2012 at 3:32 pm

Thanks Kathy! I think we are far harder on ourselves than on others most times, how sad! It is definitely hard to find compassion for ourselves, but it is well worth the work it takes. 🙂

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Dave April 13, 2012 at 8:01 pm

I can relate to your “loose goals” idea. I exercise in spurts, and that’s probably because my exercise goals are too lofty and they’re too difficult to sustain. Thanks for the good advice, Erica!

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Erica April 13, 2012 at 11:22 pm

Hey Dave! I think loose goals work a lot better- they definitely do for me. I hear you though- I often feel like I’m not where I want to be, and I am tempted to up the anty and make “bigger and better” goals. I’m sure it works for some people, but definitely not me. So glad you liked the post Dave! 🙂

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Patricia Lopez April 13, 2012 at 10:01 pm

Great Advice. You must work always toward your goal. You may not always stay on course but its always worth the battle. Sometimes its easier than other times. I always keep moving forward and have no regrets.

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Erica April 13, 2012 at 11:01 pm

Thank you so much Pat!!! You are so right- it is definitely worth the battle. Speaking of battle, I miss you my battle buddy!! 🙂

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lori April 13, 2012 at 10:16 pm

Very insperational…I am going to try and ease up on myself. I have been trying to motivate with something is better than nothing. Keep it up loving your blogs!!

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Erica April 13, 2012 at 11:03 pm

So glad you are enjoying the blog Lori- that is awesome!!! Thanks so much. Yes, ease up on yourself- you deserve it! None of us are perfect- and like you said, something is better than nothing. 🙂

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Leslie April 15, 2012 at 11:22 am

So true! Attainable goals are so important, but so hard to set for ourselves. I try to remind myself that success breeds success, and if I succeed at a goal of exercising two days a week, then I’m more likely to increase to four days a week and be successful at that. But then the really hard part is not being disgusted with myself if I don’t meet the goal. Haven’t quite learned how not to do that…

And I still have trouble reconciling that a Type A would be chronically late! 😉 However, I have read that if the REASON you’re chronically late is that you’re trying to fit in “just one more thing…” that is very typical to Type A’s.

I agree with Maria; you have a knack for this blogging thing, and the cartoons are great!

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