Toxic Perfectionism

“The new cultural belief that everything should be fun, fast, and easy is inconsistent with hopeful thinking. It sets us up for hopelessness.  
 
When we experience something that is difficult and requires significant time and effort, we are quick to think this is supposed to be easy; it’s not worth the effort, or, this should be easier; it’s only hard and slow because I’m not good at it.  
 
Hopeful self-talk sounds more like this is tough, but I can do it.” 
 
– Brene Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection
Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are
 
How many times have you started a project or a diet or workout regimen and quit because you didn’t follow the steps perfectly or because it wasn’t working fast enough?
 
How many times have you procrastinated doing something because you couldn’t do it perfectly the first time? Or did you hold yourself back because you were scared of being judged?
 
As defined by some experts, perfectionism is “a combination of excessively high personal standards and overly critical self-evaluations.”
 
Anything can become toxic when you prescribe to the idea that in order for it to be valuable, total perfection is required. Even practices like yoga can become toxic when you judge yourself against the images of others or the idea of how a perfect pose should look. Yoga is about connecting to yourself and committing to your well-being. But when we orient ourselves around avoiding imperfection, we miss out on that.
The cost over time can lead to constant self-criticism, missed opportunities, life experiences, and in more severe cases, addiction, depression, anxiety, and beyond.
 
So how do we break away from toxic perfectionism and allow ourselves the grace and space to fall, learn and grow as we move forward in life? 
 
One of the guiding principles of yoga is the law of detachment. Deepak Chopra describes it as the idea that you can find real happiness and freedom by letting go of your attachment to outcomes. It’s hard to do – we think that if we could just hold that handstand, lose 15 pounds or buy a bigger house, our lives will be better. But as you find, meeting those milestones often brings us happiness in the moment until we move onto the next thing we need to “fix.” There’s always something else around the corner, another business deal to close or five more pounds to lose. 
 
Yoga teaches us to let go of attachment to the outcome we think will make us happy and to instead focus on the process or journey. To apply this to any activity you practice regularly, think of each session as a laboratory to try detachment in a safe space.
 
Before you begin your next activity, set the intention to hold space and practice mindfulness throughout the activity. Instead of focusing on how much you can get done in a period of time or how perfect you can make the session, just take the actions you planned while continuously checking in with how you feel during the session. If uncomfortable feelings arise, instead of trying to get rid of those feelings, just acknowledge them and keep going on with your activity. When we start to perceive something in the process as not being perfect, instead of letting uncomfortable feelings like frustration, insecurity, fear, and annoyance shut us down, we learn to move through them. We react to them in a different way, a more hopeful way.  
 
As you use this intention during your chosen activity, you’ll begin to see it shift into everyday life. You’ll handle rejection and chaos differently. Instead of seeing the loss of control and imperfection as a negative judgment on your worth, you’ll recognize it as another possibility – a path that allows you to go after the things you want without the impossible pressure of constant self-judgment and pain.
 
Mary Sabo | Toxic Perfectionism
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