It feels really good to be writing again. Elizabeth Gilbert is so dead on when she says that as long as you show up, the magic happens.
In this particular reader’s case, I believe her intention is to eat a plant-based diet free of sugar, flour, oil and salt. This type of diet is not necessary for many folks, but for those of us who tend toward overeating, even on healthy foods, it does have the possibility of relieving that urge to overeat because food is no longer hyper-palatable.
I’m having a problem. I feel that as I focus more intently on changing my habits and attitudes and actions and thought processes – I am having very extreme reactions when I veer off path. A typical pattern is that I’m organized, motivated, feeling ‘in control’ when I’m eating properly. Tend to do this 8-10 days at a time, then go ‘off track.’ Eat sugar, have ice cream or make banana bread for friends, end up eating some, then I’m off track for a few days before I mentally get myself back on track. This has happened several times recently.
With this current episode I feel myself falling into an extreme self-loathing. Like the harder I try to change the more I hate myself when I fail. It’s pretty bad. I have had times of being depressed in the past but since I started exercising regularly and especially trying to improve my eating habits, I’ve been very stable until now. It’s a little disturbing.
It’s weird. I’m learning all of these new tools and solutions, yet when I fall, I’m falling further and harder.”
I too suffer from perfectionism and I know it too well! I also feel like the harder I try to be more and more “perfect,” the harder I fall emotionally when I fail! It’s crazy making!
Perfection is a myth but unfortunately perfectionism is alive and well.
It’s too often a road that leads to quitting. So in order to prevent myself from throwing in the towel, I have developed a lot of coping strategies.
PERFECTION SQUASHING STRATEGY #1: LIVE IN THE HERE AND NOW
What helps me a lot is to focus on living in the present. Not in the past. Not in the future.
Whatever we did yesterday, five minutes ago, or even 30 seconds ago NO LONGER EXISTS and DOES NOT MATTER.
Also, and more obviously, the future doesn’t exist at all.
Try this exercise: Hold your hands up in front of you with your palms facing (like you were about to pray, only your hands are not touching). Imagine that to the left of your left hand is the past, and to the right of your right hand is the future. All you have is what is in between your two hands. All you have is this present moment.
The rest doesn’t exist.
Take a deep breath and inhale that knowledge.
How do you feel right now?
If you feel like crap because you ate crap yesterday or 5 minutes ago, you can choose to appreciate the reminder of how eating crap makes you feel like crap, and you do not have to beat yourself up at the same time. It’s not a requirement to getting healthy. It’s just feedback from your system. You can choose to be grateful for it.
All anyone can ever do is the next right thing.
PERFECTION SQUASHING STRATEGY #2: DO THE NEXT RIGHT THING
Maybe the next right thing for you at this moment is to go grab a glass of ice water or a hot cup of tea. Sometimes taking a shower or a bath feels good.
Like my husband Randy always says, “Emotions are like buses, there is always another one coming along.”
So when you become aware that you are beating yourself up, you can just get busy doing something, ANYTHING, and watch this negative emotion disappear into the ether.
Perfection really is the enemy of the good.
If we expect ourselves to be perfect, we tend to beat the crap out of ourselves when we are not. Beating ourselves up leaves us feeling icky and bad. Feeling bad leads to more overeating and compulsive eating of crap . . . why?
PERFECTION SQUASHING STRATEGY #3: CELEBRATE WHAT YOU DID RIGHT
When we obsess about our failures, we tend to lose total sight of all of the things we have done right. You said it yourself that you had eight to ten days of “clean” plant-based eating. Well, that’s AMAZING! How about celebrating that with yourself and walking around on a high?
Another way that perfectionism rears it’s ugly head is by creating fear around making new healthy commitments to ourselves. “I set some goals for myself. I’m scared….what if I screw up like I have in the past?” Many, many folks don’t even get out of the gate because fear of failure overtakes them.
I love this quote from Elizabeth Gilbert, “There is this really pathological misconception we have in this culture that you are not supposed to do something until you are really good at it and I’m just not sure how you are supposed to do that. I don’t see how that could ever work. You are supposed to start before you are ready and before you are good at it and that’s how you get ready and how you get good at it.” From the podcast Magic Lessons with Elizabeth Gilbert, Episode 203.
Doing anything good for your health each day is so much better than doing nothing! Try putting all of your daily targets into a checklist. You can print out and use a new checklist each day. Maybe you start out with some simple targets such as eat one salad per day, drink X number of glasses of water, move your body X number of minutes, no salt on my food, etc., etc. Can you see that you don’t need to get it ALL done every day in order to be a really healthy version of yourself? Your checklist may evolve as the weeks and months go by, as you figure out what works and what doesn’t work with your particular lifestyle and circumstances. There is no end to this being a healthy person, it’s a journey that will continue for as long as you are alive.
Just get up every day and do your best that day–which might include having stated daily targets. Without getting a formal system going, it’s too easy to forget that you even have health goals!
PERFECTION SQUASHING STRATEGY #4: STOP COMPARING YOURSELF TO OTHERS
Lastly, I want to mention comparisons. It’s so easy to compare ourselves to other people, especially with the proliferation of social media like blogs, Facebook, YouTube and Instagram where folks are only showing a carefully curated version of themselves. It’s so easy to think, “‘they’ are doing it all perfectly so I can or should be too!” The ONLY person you can compare yourself to is the you that you were yesterday. That’s it. No one else.
I just love this quote that I heard yesterday while binge listening to the Magic Lessons podcast.
“It never stops. The failure never stops. And you learn to embrace it . . . from a technical point of view, failing will always instruct you much more than succeeding. Success almost never needs to be analyzed. When you succeed, you go, ‘Oh, I did it. I’m good at this and therefore I’ll just keep doing what I’m doing.’ When you fail it forces you, if you want to not fail the next time to look on a very technical and granular level at what you are doing and to try to understand what is is that you did that resulted in this horrible outcome. And it forces you to adapt and make adjustments and move the ball forward because you have no choice. I’ve come to look at failure as a gift. I hate it. It’s a gift that I would exchange if I could, every single time, but it is a gift and you have to look at it like that.”
Comedian Michael Ian Black from the podcast Magic Lessons with Elizabeth Gilbert, Episode 203