The perfectionist. You know the type. She’s a high achiever. She always goes above and beyond. She thinks of everything. Her events go off without a hitch. Her personal space doesn’t have a thing out of place. She never forgets and she is never late. She obsesses over every detail and goes to great lengths to get it just….so.
If you are reading this, maybe it’s you. If not you, than surely you know someone who fits the bill.
So while they might excel at life, when it comes to health, wellness and self care, the perfectionist is at a distinct disadvantage. Many women who have it together in all other aspects of their lives have a hard time changing their personal habits. Why???
On the surface it doesn’t make much sense. If she is so smart and efficient and clearly knows how to get stuff done, then why can’t she take care of herself the way she takes care of everyone and everything else? Why can’t she manage her weight? Why can’t she institute the meditation practice that she so desperately wants and needs? Why can’t she practice the breathing techniques that will help her manage her anger? Why can’t she set boundaries in her life?
Here’s why. Changing a habit is not done in a straight line.
Nobody institutes something new in their life and has it down perfectly from the get go. Nobody.
Habit change is a process. You do something new for a while, you get derailed, you start again, you stop, you start, you pause, you start again and suddenly you have a new habit. This two steps forward one step back routine can take months and yes, even years.
For the non-perfectionist it goes something like this: You are trying to start a daily meditation practice. You are excellent for the first two weeks. Every day you are on your mat. Then there is a huge project at work. You are overwhelmed and let your new habit get away from you for almost a week. Then you start again. This time you stick to it for almost a month. Then your schedule goes bananas. It’s the holidays and then you have a girls trip and when you finally get back from that your family has the stomach flu. Finally the day comes and you are back on your mat. Such relief. How could you have gone so long without meditating? It feels so good. You are definitely going to stick with it this time.
Once you have truly instituted a new habit, things will happen to keep you away from it, but you will trust yourself to go back. That is what makes it a true habit. Even when life gets in the way, you know within yourself that you will always start again.
So what happens to the perfectionist in this scenario? She too is excellent for the first two weeks. Then she gets the big project. She spends every waking moment focusing on work (she is a perfectionist after all). When she remembers her new habit, she thinks, “oh well, there goes my meditation practice.” She doesn’t go back. She calls herself a failure. It has happened again. She thinks she is totally unable to make change in her life. It makes her feel horrible. She is angry and disappointed in herself. It gives her a tummy ache to think about it, so she pushes it away.
Until the next time she craves some peace of mind and thinks about how a meditation practice could help her.
The cycle starts over and the first time she falls down, she quits again. Each time it happens she feels worse about herself and less able to believe that she will ever be able to change. This is crushing to her self esteem and future motivation.
And this is why perfectionism bites you in the a**. Habit change is not about doing things perfectly. I tell clients all the time—it is not if you fall down, it is when. Because you WILL fall down. What matters is what you do next.
Life will happen and your new habit will fall by the wayside for hours, days, even weeks. That is a given. What is crucial is keeping the habit in your mind and getting back to it when life allows. Thinking about the habit is part of what makes you go back to it. Picturing yourself doing it is actually rewiring your brain. You are forming the habit emotionally even when you can’t be doing it physically.
Then on that day when you finally go back? It feels great. It feels like coming home. Your brain has been thinking of it all this time, so it feels very natural and normal. This brain game helps you keep the habit going as time goes on.
So when a perfectionist throws in the towel after the first bump in the road, she does herself a huge disservice. She is not a failure. She is normal. She just needs to pick up where she left off.
This is part of the work I do with women week in and week out. It is effective. It’s not easy and it’s not quick, but it works. When you fall off and are feeling distraught, I remind you how far you have come. When you feel unmotivated, I remind you why you started the process in the first place. You have someone by your side offering support every step of the way.
Do you see this pattern in your life?
Are you a perfectionist who quits too soon?
Have you instituted something in your life that you recognize as having followed the non-linear process of true habit change?
Does learning about this give you hope that maybe you can change some of your habits?
Please leave me your comments below.
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