Healthy Food Story  >  When Perfect Is Not So Perfect

When Perfect Is Not So Perfect

If you consider yourself A Control Freak, Type A, Classic Overachiever or Total Perfectionist, then this post is for you!

I’ll admit it.  I picked this very topic of perfectionism to write about because it hits close to home. Let me explain. For years, I searched for the “perfect” diet, relying on books to dictate what and how to eat.  I am also a classic overachiever in that I dot every “i” and cross every “t” (and then some).  And, when it came time to put together this post, I procrastinated. Could I sit down to write on such an important topic? How could I talk about it like an expert?  Do I really know enough? (Hello, I live it every single day.)

Perfectionism isn’t usually a tamed beast.  People who have perfectionist tendencies tend to be that way in other areas of their lives as well. Diet. Exercise. Appearance. Parenting. Work. Plans.  And the list goes on…

On the one hand, it can drive us toward excellence with lofty goals that are certainly impressive.  On the other, it can prevent us from achieving, feeling, trusting our instincts and being realistic.  But most importantly, it can be a chronic level of stress that can wreak havoc on our overall health and wellbeing.

Here are some of the negative consequences that result from perfectionism:

  • We procrastinate because we are waiting for all the stars to align before we begin something new and exciting.
  • We are less efficient with our time as we analyze and agonize over all the details.
  • We have unrealistic standards that are impossible to achieve.
  • We can make things unpleasant for those around us with our overly rigid behavior.
  • We are too worried about doing things the “right” way, so we miss out on the enjoyment or pleasure in our experiences.
  • We are releasing cortisol due to the continual, self-imposed stress.

What if   You subscribe to the philosophy that “good enough is good enough” during times where those ten extra steps of effort really don’t add any additional value? (Did I really have to read this blog post for the 27th time to check for typos?)

What if You abandon your overly dogmatic approach and try not to get so caught up with rules or labels. Vegan? Raw? Paleo? High carb? Low Carb?  Imagine being liberated from thinking about following the perfect diet, which is most likely some other expert’s plan, anyway.  Of course, setting up a foundation with healthy habits that includes eating whole, real foods is essential.  But, instead of obsessing or beating yourself up about breaking the rules and restrictions, you learn to listen to the signals your body sends you…all day, every day.

What if You relinquish control (just once in a while) and become a passenger instead of always a driver. The upside is that you may learn to complete a task, make a recipe, plan a vacation (fill in the blank) someone else’s way, not just your way. And you could end up with extra time to use productively in some other manner. How liberating!

What if You stop the inner dialogue of “should” and “must” and just felt your way through. I know, the rational side would not approve, but try tuning into your messages and not dictating them because you have a preconceived notion on how you “should” feel or  “must” think.

What if You ban the all or nothing mentality. You know that destructive thought process that leads you not to try something unless you are certain that you can give it 110 % (or do it perfectly).  Remember, your plans to start a business, write a book, tackle a big project, or run a 10k race? Don't wait for the perfect moment.

What if You accept your body right now. You stop waiting for it to look like it did when you were 18.  No hate.  No judgment.  Just pure gratitude and thankfulness for the life it gives you with each breath, creative thought and enduring emotion.

What if You embrace the deviations.  You enjoy the slow yoga class you take on the day when your body says no to the 10-mile run you had planned for your upcoming half marathon training.  You learn to become flexible instead of insisting on following the prescribed “plan”.

Just thinking about the unrealistic expectations is enough to elevate your pulse and raise your blood pressure. While us perfectionists have spent years or our entire lives trying to be perfect (and exhausting ourselves in the process), we are living with that chronic low level of stress which releases the hormone cortisol that can impact everything from weight to sleep patterns to disease prevention.

It’s time to let go…or at least start thinking about it. And personally, I think that sounds like the perfect plan!

Question of the day:  how does your perfectionism show up in your life?  Join the conversation and share your comments below.

19 Comments

  • Jennifer says:

    I found myself nodding my head in agreement the whole way through! As a “Type A” I often find it really hard to let go of imperfections but each day I’m trying to embrace the mistakes and imperfections with a little grace and style 🙂 Thanks for this, I don’t feel like I’m the only one!

    • Elise says:

      Jennifer, thanks for sharing your own experiences. You are definitely NOT the only one. Just admitting that you get in your own way sometimes is a step in the right direction!

  • Jesse says:

    Thank you so much for this post. I have recently attempted to significantly reduce the gluten in my diet, and it was so hard for me to be OK with not quitting completely and giving myself a workable compromise instead. I’ve been trying out four gluten-free days a week (at someone else’s suggestion, shockingly) and after giving myself such a hard time for not being perfect and quitting completely right away, I have begun to see the value in this approach because the contrast between gluten days and gluten-free days is so stark! So I took it easy and tried it someone else’s way, and it worked out better for me and my perspective in the long run, go figure.

    • Elise says:

      Jesse, thanks for sharing. It sounds like cutting gluten out entirely may be the right choice for you, but I love the path you took to get to that decision. Glad it worked out for you!

  • Stefanie says:

    This was great. I can relate to all of it. Yet, at 40+ years, I have lived long enough to know that felxibility is key, as things don’t always go as planned. It’s still a contstant struggle (letting go of what’s perfect) but there is something liberating and free about doing so. “So I’m not perfect.” Say it out loud!

  • Elise says:

    Stefanie, you are many steps ahead of a lot of us perfectionist..flexibility is key, but as you know, it is easier said than done. I agree with you that letting go can be liberating. And, how freeing to say “I’m not perfect” out loud. Thanks for your comments.

  • Emily says:

    Must Read!! So proud of my “perfect” friend Elise! You rock in so many ways they are too numerous to count!

  • Anna says:

    I torture myself (and my family members) by trying to make perfect plans — for example, a vacation has to be “perfect” and I seem to think that if I work harder and longer planning it, I will achieve my goal of perfection. I waste much time and mental energy agonizing over details like these. I recognize this habit but I’m having a hard time breaking it!

    • Elise says:

      Anna,
      I feel your pain…try to implement some of the suggestions in this post, even though it will be really, really challenging. Ask yourself what value you will be adding by agonizing over the details? Could you use your time more productively? Hope this helps.

  • Mamaste says:

    Well doesn’t this post hit home!
    I too, was “the perfectionist”. Everything had labels and everything had a place. That is until it came tumbling down.
    As I started to let go and become more flexible (in all area of my life) it just got easier. Gone was the perfect size, diet, hair, children, house, etc. And entered a new way of thinking.
    When you release the judgement and the expectations, there’s room to breathe.
    Thank Elise, this was perfect in so many ways.
    xoxo
    ~Mamaste

    • Elise says:

      Mamaste,
      Wow! That is so well put. You are such an inspiration for those of us who are still struggling with our “perfectionist” ways.
      Thanks for sharing.

  • Stella says:

    Elise-

    Wow. Thank you for voicing what so many of us need to hear — that surrender is actually a path to freeing ourselves, and that “being perfect” (especially when it comes to eating) is not the goal. I admire + am inspired by your bravery in writing this.

    Love,
    Stella

    • Elise says:

      Thanks, Stella. Of course, so well put! I am so glad that you view the surrender as a path to freeing ourselves. It is indeed liberating!

  • So many times yes! I’ve had to let go of my control issues time and again in life, whether that’s traveling and eating something I wouldn’t have had at home. Or if it’s going with the flow when a project gets rescheduled or something comes up that I couldn’t have foreseen.

    Ahh. Deep breath.

  • Great post. I’ve been a perfectionist for a long time, and it definitely had a detrimental effect on my health (and mental health).

    I’ve been working on loosening up and letting go for a while. It’s hard, but it’s definitely freeing. Mornings with my kids have been a whole lot nicer since I stopped freaking out about being late every day. And you know what? We’re still on time 99% of the time.

    One thing that you didn’t address here that I’d love to see a future post from you on is digging down to the WHY for the perfectionism. What I’ve realized for me is that I have always been way too concerned with what other people think of me. I’ve always been sensitive to criticism, so if I could be “perfect” then no one could criticize me. So I think people need to figure out their “why” and address that, or else it’s very difficult to just say, “Okay, I’m just going to let go.”

    • Elise says:

      Hi Kristy,

      Thank you so much for sharing your insights and your thoughtful comments. I am sure that it is liberating to begin the process of releasing the iron grip of perfectionism… and see that life goes on without the added stress:).

      I agree with you that the WHY is a critical stage in overcoming perfectionism and perfectionistic tendencies. This post was merely meant to help create an awareness. First, we need to understand that our perfectionism is not necessarily serving us well and that it is, in fact, an issue. Once we have that awareness, then we are open to digging deeper and uncovering the WHY. For you and many others, the realization that being “perfect” is a shield to prevent others from criticizing is obviously a huge part of the healing journey around letting go. Just like any deeply ingrained behavior or mindset, it’s a process, and uncovering the WHY is a big part of it. Thanks for the inspiration for a future post!

  • Allison says:

    Oh wow is this me!

    The last few years (since having a child) I’ve finally been able to begin seeing how “perfect” is ruining my joy of life and making things SO much more difficult. While some aspects of being a perfectionist are very useful and help a person be productive, it needs to be toned down with reality. Otherwise it’s just stress and frustration all the time. I’m grateful for how having a child has forced me to calm it down a bit, because it’s WAY too hard to have perfection in your life with a child (and a husband) around!

    Your observations and suggestions for letting “perfect” go are wonderful. Thank you so much for putting yourself out there and making the rest of us “perfectionists in recovery” feel a bit more normal and human.

    • Allison, so glad to know that this post resonated and that you’re releasing the iron grip of perfectionism. It’s so hard to loosen the reins, but when life steps in and does it for you then you have no choice but to go along for the ride. I hope that this year is filled with ease and joy. Thanks so much for sharing your wisdom with all of us!

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