Managing Perfectionism

I’m a recovering perfectionist.  I know I’m not the only one.  It seems that it’s never really gone, no matter how hard you try to get rid of it or how often you claim that you’re done trying to be perfect.  It sneaks up on me, and gets into my head before I even know it’s there.  Often someone else needs to point it out to me before I even know I’m doing it again.

The symptoms?  Comparing myself to others.  Setting goals that are impossible to meet.  Focusing only on the things I can’t do, or didn’t do, or didn’t do as well as I wanted to do them.  Not giving myself credit for success.  Feeling less-than all the time.

Ugh.  It’s exhausting isn’t it?  

I thought I’d left perfectionism behind.  After all, I’m a yoga teacher.  I meditate.  I’m a coach. I’m not climbing the corporate ladder.  I didn’t think there was a place for perfectionism in my life anymore.  

Ha!  If you’re a perfectionist, it will find you no matter what you’re doing.  For example, when my son was born, I lived in a small town in northern Alberta.  It was pretty isolating, with no family or friends nearby.  But my old friend perfectionism was there to keep me company.  By the time my baby was a week old, I was convinced I was a terrible mother because I’d had trouble nursing him, and he didn’t sleep through the night (and he didn’t sleep in his crib at all).  I made myself crazy all through my son’s first year with my quest to be a perfect mother – and to have a perfect child.

I know that I’ve come a long way since then.  I stopped letting the voice in my head berate me.  I try to recognize when I’m setting impossible standards.  I’m pretty good at observing my behaviour when I find myself getting overwhelmed, and that observation helps me see where I’m being my own worst enemy.

But lately I realized that I was still trying to be perfect.  I caught myself thinking that I should be the most amazing coach that anyone ever had, and that my clients should be experiencing life-changing epiphanies in every session.  I told myself that my yoga classes should be a deeply spiritual experience for all of my students – not to mention that the physical aspect of class should also be perfect, complete with the most creative sequences and best adjustments imaginable.

This pressure to be perfect never makes me perform better.  Instead it deflates me, makes me doubt myself, and fills me with negative energy. 

I was on vacation for three weeks, and I hadn’t taught a yoga class during that time.  On Monday, I taught yoga during the eclipse.  The class I taught wasn’t perfect, but it was a nice sequence and I had some new music that I thought went well with the energy.  But the magic came for me at the very end.  The students were resting in savasana, and I took the opportunity to meditate.  Into my mind came the thought that with both coaching and yoga, there is no need for me to be perfect.  I don’t need to know all the tools, or do everything smoothly, or stress myself with worry and preparation.  The only thing I need to do is be compassionate.

I only need to be compassionate!  I need to stop judging myself and others, hold the space for my clients and students, and send them kind, calm energy.  I don’t need to rock their world.  I just need to lead them forward a tiny bit. 

Not to say that practicing compassion is simple or that it comes easily.  But the thought of keeping my work so simple makes my perfectionism stand back a bit, and that gave me the space I needed in order to remember why I’m doing this work in the first place.

Try it for yourself.  Start with showing yourself the compassion you want to show others.  It may give you the space you need to see things in a new way.