The ACE Blog features articles from the Atlanta Center for Eating Disorders staff to help increase awareness and education about eating disorders and to provide inspirational tips for healthy living year round.
Not only does perfectionism impede performance, it can also cause physical problems. In recent studies, perfectionism has been linked to chronic inflammation and procrastination*. You might think that being perfectionistic would help in certain tasks such as performing surgery, however, as Thomas S. Greenspon, (a psychologist and author of a recent paper on an “antidote to perfectionism,” published in Psychology in the Schools) pointed out, do you really want your surgeon to procrastinate or pause when needing to make a snap decision on the operating table? Both are common outcomes of perfectionistic tendencies.
Perfectionism is maintained by the myth that it will help you achieve. However, it is really not linked to the outcome of hard work, rather it is caused by problems in self-esteem. I think perfectionism is motivated by fear while hard work is motivated by fascination in the project. First step in changing perfectionism is practicing mindful acceptance. Begin with the thought, “I am awesomely imperfect!”
What is important enough to worry about? Probably very little since worry doesn’t fix anything. It might be helpful to consider your highest values and then determine if you are worrying about things that don’t even make the cut. If your values are things like kindness, self-care and responsibility and you find yourself worrying about a messy house or what someone might think of your weight, then there is a discrepancy between what you truly value and what you worry about. When worrying, ask yourself if the thought should make the cut. Life IS too short!
As I was pulling weeds in my garden this week, I became frustrated. There were so many — more than I’ve ever seen before — I knew that I couldn’t get them all. I would look across the yard and feel overwhelmed. Then I remembered to practice what I preach. The last thing I needed was to feel overwhelmed when I’m experiencing a beautiful day outdoors. I turned my mind to focus on the small patch of weeds that I was working on. I didn't have to pull all of the weeds — I could just pull a few at a time. That freed my mind to notice the perfect temperature on my skin and the earthy smell. By getting into the moment and doing one thing at a time, I became relaxed and almost enjoyed the task of pulling weeds. I started thinking about the books that have titles like, “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten” or “from my cat,” etc., and assumed there would be one for gardening and... yes there is! I haven’t read it but I bet it has great advice. Often it isn't the task at hand that drains us of energy, but rather our thoughts about everything that we have yet to do. If you turn your mind to just one task at a time, you almost always will have the energy and may even begin to enjoy it.
I do a mindfulness practice in the form of imagery at the beginning of my weekly Mindfulness group. Many participants really don’t like them - at least at first. In fact this week, one person called them annoying. Although many people come to appreciate them over time, it can be very hard to sit for 5-10 minutes in mindful meditation. I read a post by Rebecca Stanwyck, LCSW, who writes about her recovery from depression. She had to work her way into mindfulness practices and shared the following:
I practiced grounding myself in the present moment by focusing on my breath and body throughout the day.
I practiced mindfulness of daily routine activities, using my five senses.
I remembered to do loving kindness practice, and offered myself some self-compassion.
If you think you’ve heard this quote before, read it again. Jim Kwik, business executive who founded Kwik Learning, had to teach himself learning strategies after a childhood brain injury left him impaired.
As I ponder this twist on a common quote, I believe that those of us who increase self-responsibility have the most power. Focusing on what we can do (internal) rather than waiting for something to happen (external) gives us great power! If you find yourself wishing for something to be different, turn your thought to what you can do.
Message from Dr. B. Something beautiful is coming your way today. Sounds like a fortune cookie doesn’t it? They usually have a message that’s generic enough that it can apply to just about anyone. A little tricky maybe but lots of times, I find myself looking for the thing that was forecast on the message. I’m sort of primed to meet that new person or look for change that is about to happen. Being attentive to the good that is happening in our life is important! Since it is so much easier to notice the bad, we might completely miss the good. I’ve often said, it’s more important for survival to know where the bear lives than where the daffodils grow. But unless you live near a bear cave, there is more to life than survival. It’s more important to focus on daffodils to feel contentment.
There is always something good happening but you have to be ready to see it. Consider if there are any obstacles in you to that prevent you from noticing the good. Do you believe that you don’t deserve it or it will just go away or it’s not good enough? These thoughts will rob you of peace. Be actively looking for what beauty is coming your way today.
Message from Dr. B: The type of relationship you have with yourself HUGELY impacts the kind of relationship you can have with others. If you look to others to give you what you can't give yourself, you are unlikely to fully believe them when they offer it to you. Begin with YOU and be the friend to yourself that you want to have in others. Do something kind for yourself today!
Recently a group member asked me if it was okay to ignore her emotions to which I said of course if they are guiding you astray.
Opposite Action is a mindfulness strategy for changing your emotion when you’re feeling distressed. Although an emotion’s job, so to speak, is to motivate us to action, sometimes our emotions are based on old beliefs or habit and aren’t guiding us accurately. For instance, being a recovering perfectionist, it is difficult for me to admit to making mistakes. Although this is getting easier, I often will experience anxiety (mild fear) when I feel like someone might think I’ve made a mistake. This anxiety motivates me to deny my mistake as well as a need to be right. This schema (thoughts, feelings and habitual actions) were so wired-in that even after realizing that no one, but myself, expected me to be perfect, I still frequently fell into the old patterns. Insight alone did not change my old habits. To break the habit, I utilized opposite (to emotion) action by purposefully looking for situations where I could admit to making a mistake. I practiced saying “I’m sorry” or “my bad!” and my husband’s personal favorite, “you’re right.” Although it’s not good to mask your emotions just to please others, sometimes acting opposite to your emotion is the best thing you can do for yourself. So when feeling fear, act courageous; when feeling angry, consider expressing love. and when feeling shame, put yourself out there. You will grow!
Message from Dr. B. (Linda Paulk Buchanan): Many of us long for things to be different such as longing for love, respect, understanding, acceptance, friendship or time. We often feel emptiness, as if something is missing. We might wait each day hoping that something will change. But change comes about through purpose and intention. Rather than waiting, think about what you most long for and offer it to someone else. If you long for respect, acknowledge the good job someone else is doing. If you long for love, do an act of kindness every day. If you long for friendship, initiate friendly behaviors. If you long for understanding, practice active listening skills around others. If you long for acceptance, practice accepting others. If you long for more time, offer your time to someone else. As you take an active role in offering to others the things that you long most, it is very likely that your longing will decrease.
After a fire several years ago in my home, I had to replace my old mattress. My husband and I shopped thoroughly and found a mattress that I fell in love with! At night when I got into bed, I would say out loud “oh, I love this mattress!” I think I said this every single day for at least a year. I was like Mr. Bean in the cartoon. However, as the newness of this wonderful mattress wore off, it eventually became simply my mattress. The value or comfort of the mattress has not decreased, however my appreciation of it had. The luscious feeling of having something that I appreciated and loved had gradually disappeared.
Like driving a new car off the lot, when something becomes yours (even if you’ve longed for it), it often loses value. But we don’t want to miss the good things that we have, focusing instead on the next thing we can get! This leaves us in a deficit mode.
So when I became aware that I had been taking my mattress for granted, I started mindfully noticing it again each night. When something is new, you might not have to remind yourself to notice it, but continuing the practice, makes life so much more satisfying. It’s more important to appreciate what you have than to acquire something new. What do you have?
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