Happy New Year everyone! I hope you enjoyed the holiday season and stayed warm and cozy if you happen to be in a cold climate this time of year. 🙂 The holiday season, for me, was one chock full of love, fun, and cheer, but also included a lot of tough reflections about myself I had to embrace, accept, and plan to change for the better. One of the thoughts that I kept ruminating over and over in my head was my innate desire to always be perfect and my struggle in being able to let things go. Funny enough, I didn’t even realize that I had been holding off writing this blog post for fear that it wouldn’t be “good enough” for people to read. Thank you, Kristen, for inspiring me to finally get this out topic out of my head and into words, perfect or not. 🙂
So if you look around social media (Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Tumblr, etc) you’ll often find at least something that involves “letting go”..heck, you’ll even find shirts, mugs, and jewelry that people use as a reminder to let go of whatever it is that they need to. So what does it mean to let things go? I don’t mean literally throwing things away (Though there is a huge advantage to decluttering) or letting a balloon/kite go up in the sky (That DOES sound fun! No, don’t stop writing and go find a kite to fly..), but I mean letting go of what brings harm and negativity into your life. To me, there is no limit or expectation as to what you can or should let go of. In my life, I’ve made it a goal to let go of thoughts, objects, past mistakes, behaviors, and people that do my life more harm than good.
This struggle with being able to let go isn’t new for me at all, but has been one I’ve been mentally struggling with for as long as I can remember. It’s been very easy for me to let go of objects and people, but negative thoughts, past mistakes, and behaviors has been much more of a difficult journey. If you were a reader of my old blog, I wrote two articles, one in March 2014 and one in January 2015, that were relevant to this topic and included one of the many antidotes I’ve personally found helpful in taking the steps to let go of perfectionism: self-compassion.
In my old articles, I emphasize a situation of a friend coming up to you feeling upset about something they failed at, made a mistake at, and/or did a sub par job of. Let’s imagine this friend coming up to you in the following scenario:
Friend: I made a mistake doing [insert task here] and now I feel stupid and like a failure. I’ll never be good at [insert goal here].
What would you say back to this friend?
A) It’s okay, dear friend! None of us are perfect. We are all doing the best we can, like you did, and now you can learn from your mistake and try again. You’re doing great and don’t give up!
B) Yep, you are a failure and stupid too. Why aren’t you perfect?!?! You should just give up trying your best, dwell on your mistake over and over again, and might as well catastrophize the worst case scenario for this stupid mistake you made.
Chances are you chose A and showed compassion and kindness to your friend and did what you could to comfort him/her. (If you chose B, please click “x” on the top right of your window browser and go see a therapist ASAP. Ok, just kidding, but not really…at least go pet some fluffy little animals and think about some things.)
So why is it that we can show others so much love and compassion, but we struggle to show ourselves love and compassion in the same way? Perfectionism is essentially a built-in tool for failure because we will never be perfect, no matter hard we try. Perfectionism is an energy drainer that sucks out energy we could use for so many other productive activities or people in life. Why should we even want to be perfect? Making mistakes and being imperfect is what drives us to grow and change our lives for the better. Being imperfect gives us a reason to become mentally stronger and more resilient. Being imperfect is a quality that we, as humans, share and bring us together through our families, friendships, support groups, online message boards, social media, and more that we use for love and support during hard times.
With all of this being said, I’ve made 2017 the year of self-care and self-compassion. It’s about time we show ourselves the same compassion we show others and treat ourselves with kindness. We, together, can strive to let go of the belief that we are not good enough, imperfect, or deeply flawed.
I challenge you to have an internal conversation with yourself when you start having self-defeating thoughts and ask yourself, “If my friend came up to me feeling upset about this situation, what would I say to him/her?” So, instead of wasting our energy on thinking about our failures, here are some things I’ve found to be helpful (and more beneficial) to do with that energy:
- Start a gratitude/bullet journal — I am SUPER excited to start my new bullet journal! I plan on making bullet lists of what i’m grateful for, activities I can do when I start thinking negatively, positive affirmations, fun books I plan on reading, activities/trips I want to do/go on, hobbies I want to try, recipes I want to make, people that I can call when feeling upset, etc. Use it as a way to refocus your thoughts on activities and people in life that bring you joy. 🙂 Find out how to start one here and find more ideas on bullet page lists here.
- Keep a list of qualities you like about yourself and things you’ve done that you’re proud of – This can be included in the bullet journal above as a page! Make copies of this list and keep it in areas that you have access to–your purse/bag, on your cell phone, in a document on your Computer, in your pillow, etc. Whenever you start finding yourself being flooded with self-defeating thoughts, remind yourself of what you’re proud of and all the great things you’ve done. 🙂
- Set some healthy goals for yourself – Instead of focusing on what you lack, focus on healthy things that you can add into your lifestyle and let go of ones that do you harm. As an example, I’ve made it a goal to exercise for at least 30 min 3x a week (anything that gets me off the couch/apartment and moving) and to cook more healthy meals. I’ve also told myself I want to meditate every day, even if for 5 minutes. On the flip side, I want to let go of unhealthy eating habits and cut down caffeine intake (Don’t worry, I still love coffee!) and sugar consumption. The key is to not be hard on yourself if you don’t meet your expectations. So what if I have an especially tiring week and I need to catch up on sleep? No problem! So what if during this same tiring week I don’t have the energy to cook healthy meals and want to just have mac n’ cheese and ice cream? I’ll happily have that mac n’ cheese/ice cream and not beat myself up about it, but re-frame it as an act of self-care for an especially tiring week. Show yourself that same love and compassion that you’d show a friend who is upset at not meeting his/her expectations.
- Schedule some self-care time during the week – I have dedicated a whole Pinterest board to self-care activities as part of my 2017 resolution. What does self-care time mean? This means you will set aside time in your busy schedule to do something for YOU. Not anyone else, but you. It can be as little as 5 minutes to a whole day in the weekend, maybe even the whole weekend. This is where it’d be helpful to have a list of things you enjoy doing. Maybe it just entails listening to your favorite song or taking a short walk outside. Maybe it means watching a guilty pleasure of a TV show or reading a book you haven’t had time for. It could simply mean closing your eyes and meditating. Whatever self-care is to you, try to make that a priority at least 1x a week even if it’s for a few minutes, even 1x a day if you can manage it! We all lead such busy lives, and this can be especially difficult to balance when other family members and children are involved, but it’s important to take time to recharge your own battery so that you can truly be present for the loved ones in your life.
- Start a journal/exercises to challenge self-defeating thoughts you have – I read this great book last year by Dr. David Burns called Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy and, I have to say, it did a number on making me more aware of my thoughts (Here’s a TEDx talk by him too). One of the things I remember most from his book is how to defeat ANTs, or automatic negative thoughts, and how challenging them could be useful in our everyday lives (whether clinically diagnosed with a mood disorder or not). For every self-defeating thought you have, challenge it with a TRUE statement. Often, our self-defeating thoughts are misrepresented facts that are influenced by our emotions at the time. Here’s an example of challenging an ANT:
ANT: I said something insensitive to Person X and accidentally hurt their feelings. I am a bad person and don’t deserve to have their friendship/relationship/etc.
ANTI-ANT: I said something that this person found insensitive, but that was not my intention at all. I care about this person and meant no harm. I will apologize if I haven’t already and will not let this define who I am because I know it doesn’t reflect who I am.
So, instead of making the ANT start an endless cycle of why you’re [insert negative criticism here], stop the cycle and state a true fact. (Disclaimer: For this and the other suggestions I made in this post, if ANT exercises/journaling end up doing more harm than good and doesn’t help, then stop and let it go.)
- Seek help – This 100% goes hand-in-hand with perfectionism. It’s easy to fall into the trap that “you’re crazy”and imperfect/flawed/insertcriticismshere if you seek professional mental help. This may especially be the case if you are inherently hard on yourself, but you absolutely not crazy for seeking mental help when you need it. I repeat, you are are not crazy for wanting to improve your quality of life and trying to make positive changes for yourself. If your perfectionism and self-defeating thoughts have started to take a toll on your daily life and nothing (like the examples above) seems to help over the long run, it’s okay to seek help outside of your support network of family and friends. I’ve done it (no shame at all and happy to talk about it!) and I know many others that have done the same at some point in their lives. Your well-being and quality of life matters and doesn’t deserve to be sacrificed for the fear of what others might think.
It’s about time we all embrace the fact that we will always be perfectly imperfect and strive to show ourselves the same love and compassion that we, so openly, give to others. Much love to you all and wishing you a New Year full of love (the self-love kind, too) and care!