Here’s the thing about perfectionism: It’s a good thing, until it’s not. I consider myself to be a “recovering perfectionist,” in that I’m starting to let go of the chokehold high standards and perpetual dissatisfaction – and in true ex-perfectionist style, I now focus on my victories instead of my (millions of) flaws. One of my biggest flaws: At 30, I still don’t have one healthy habit in place. Seriously, not one. Why? Because I’ve allowed my inner perfectionist to get in the way of my building them.
Well, no more. Once I had my Scarlett O’Hara moment, I decided to enlist Dr. Elizabeth Lombardo, Ph.D., psychologist and author of the upcoming book Better than Perfect: 7 Strategies to Crush Your Inner Critic and Create a Life You Love, to help perfectionists like myself get it together.
Do any of these perfectionist excuses sound familiar?
1. “I had one cookie and messed up my diet. Might as well eat the rest of the plate.”
OK, so I just said this five minutes ago. (Bashfully, puts down the cookie.) Reacting this way is of course totally irrational — so why do we feel the need to binge out on the entire plate? “Perfectionism causes ‘all or nothing’ thinking: ‘I failed so my healthy diet is a failure,'” says Lombardo. “If you do eat a cookie, eat it mindfully without the guilt. Savor every bite, focus on how good it tastes, eat slowly and with gratitude instead of guilt. You’ll eat less and enjoy more.” Don’t mind if I do!
2. “I’m not going to start learning yoga until I have time to do it right.”
Five minutes is better than nothing, so stop waiting for perfection and focus on quality over quantity. Choose to try out a different yoga pose each morning and keep trying it a few minutes here and there throughout the day. You’ll be a master in no time (… you know, in a non-perfectionist sort of way).
3. “I have to get everything done before I can go to sleep.”
No. You don’t. Scoring shut-eye is so much more important. “Getting to sleep at a reasonable time means you’ll be more productive and effective tomorrow,” says Lombardo. In other words, you’ll get more done in less time because your mind won’t feel the need to short circuit. Now, go to bed.
4. “I’m embarrassed about how I look, so going to a gym where everyone else is in way better shape than I am is out of the question.”
What’s more impressive — someone who looks good at the gym all the time (boring!), or someone whose body transforms at the gym? Choose to be an inspirational story: Focus on mastering your workouts and feel proud of what you’re accomplishing. Besides, you don’t need to go to a gym to workout — I personally thrive as a solo artist (or so I choose to believe). All that matters is that you enjoy your workouts, no matter your surroundings.
5. “I don’t have time to cook, so I’m stuck eating crappy takeout that I know is terrible for my health.”
“There are a lot of healthy food options that can be ‘fast,'” says Lombardo. Try a salad bar for lunch where you choose healthy greens and lean proteins. Find a healthy morning smoothie to consume on your way out the door (if necessary). Cook one healthy meal and use the leftovers for lunch the next day.” You always have options.
6. “I’m too busy to hang out with my girlfriends. When I do take the time, I never feel like I’ve really earned it.”
Start thinking like a professional athlete: They know the importance of working hard and resting hard. To function at your peak performance level, you have to take time out for yourself. “Connecting with friends isn’t just about fun: It reduces stress and will help you become even better at your job,” says Lombardo. If you find yourself wavering in this department, do what I do and add leisure activities to your to-do list. It’s an efficient way to trick your perfectionism into giving you a breather.
7. “I want my clients to know I’m there for them, so I keep my phone on at night.”
“Your clients, just like everyone else in your life, will treat you in exactly the same manner you teach them to,” says Lombardo. “If you answer emails at 2 a.m., they’ll expect that.” Set limits, such as an auto-responder telling your clients you’ll respond to emails sent after a certain time on the following business day. Most will respect that. Plus, by not keeping your phone on you’ll get a much better sleep, which will make you a more efficient worker bee.
8. “I know it’s good for me, but I have no time to be in nature.”
“Research shows being in nature can reduce psychological and physical stress, but you don’t need to go for a five-hour hike to get the benefits,” says Lombardo. Even just looking at nature — glancing out the window, or using a nature snapshot as your screensaver — can decrease stress in your life.
9. “I tried exercising (or eating right) in the past and it didn’t stick. I’m just destined to be like this.”
It’s not failure — it’s data. Use your past mistakes to learn your triggers and what causes you to veer off course. Then use that information to improve your future. “For example, in the past you may have had trouble working out after work because you always had to stay late,” says Lombardo. “Use this information to your advantage by taking steps to workout before work, so even if you have to stay late, you’re covered.”