I recently gave myself a perfect opportunity to display my perfectionist tendencies – a month-long nutritional cleanse and detox program.
Let’s just say I got a B minus in terms of following protocol and doing all the practices suggested. And my grade makes me flush with pride in the same way A’s once did, in college. A B minus means I’m learning how to be okay being me, not some perfect-idealized-unrealistic image of me.
The B minus means, to me, I’m good enough.
Phew. Now THAT makes me exhale. And afterward, to appreciate the calm I feel in the absence of anxiously striving to be good enough.
The cleanse was lovingly supervised by an Ayurvedic practitioner, a sweet and charming woman who teaches yoga and speaks in a soft and gentle voice. Her mantra for the program was “Something is better than nothing”. She urged us to be kind with ourselves and to set loving intentions that would guide our actions throughout the month.
Some of us (ahem) responded to that message, “Sure, and more of something is better than less of something”. Some of us (ahem) are still recovering from years spent practicing perfectionism wherever we could.
The motivation makes the difference
During the cleanse I changed behaviors that aren’t so good for me, like drinking coffee and eating sugar. I knew these didn’t serve me, but did them anyway — sortof like a rebellious teenager. In eliminating them, I watched myself for the signs of the perfectionist coopting the process: was I proudly flying my martyr flag? Was I feeling holier than thou when I declined yummy offerings in public?
The shift I experienced was that instead of mindlessly x’ing out the behaviors and feeling deprived (like a grounded teenager), or puffed up with false pride (like a full blown perfectionist), I used intention and mindfulness to guide me through the challenge of changing my ways. I focused on vitality and wellness, not accomplishment or loss. And guess what? It was easy. It felt loving. Even if I had some black tea here and there, I was honoring myself and my intention for self-kindness. Isn’t that amazing? I think so.
Let’s give her an A.
I also found myself face to face with perfectionist habits that were so deeply entrenched they were hard to work with. I did some of the protocols out of “should”, rather than “want”, simply because I programmed myself long ago to be a good student. I had some signals from my body pointing me in the direction of “don’t do that” that I overrode, and I paid for. In this way by being good, I suffered from a lack of integrity.
The perfectionist me would have received honors for my behavior. I’d like to award myself a D.
So on balance I emerged from the cleanse feeling vital and healthy, and also a bit humbled by how challenging it can be to simply love myself, regardless of what proof I might try to drum up that shows me I’m less than lovable.
Listening to something deeper than fear
I hear the “I’m not good enough” refrain from my clients again and again, so I know I’m not alone in this. It comes from years of trying to prove ourselves in an uncertain and sometimes hostile world. It got reinforced by a society that values accomplishment over presence. It is, plain and simple, fear. Fear of falling short, fear of being too big, fear of disappointment, fear of what might or might not be. The fear itself is not the problem; it’s us allowing ourselves to use fear as an excuse to NOT do. Or using fear as an excuse to overdo, then judge ourselves harshly. Either way when we allow fear to call the shots, we can be sure that the outcome is going to be hollow.
What about you? Have you known, deeply, that you ARE good enough? Regardless of what you’ve done, and how you’ve been judged for it? If so, halleleuiah! What will it take for us to know, once and for all, that we are inherently perfect, and anything that we do to conform to an idea of perfect is simply a way of keeping us farther from that truth? How can we look ourselves in the eye and say “I am, simply, enough”? Right now. As I am.
Because when we stop striving for an impossible perfect and begin to unlearn all the ways we keep ourselves locked into that impossibly small box, we find ourselves able to breathe a bit deeper and recognize perfection in who we are are. From there we find ourselves pleased with how we show up in the world.