Stopping The Madness of Perfectionism: Part 1

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The Pendulum Way of Being

My default way of doing things used to be that I’d start something new, full of energy and give it my absolute all. At some point usually sooner than later, I’d start wavering in maintaining that momentum only to stop completely and do absolutely nothing ever again or for a long stretch of time.  Like a pendulum that swung aggressively from one extreme to the other. There are many examples in my life of this but one is in exercise.

 

The Hamster Wheel of Weight Loss

At the age of 15 having lost my obesity weight 2 years prior, I found myself struggling to maintain the weight with my after school job and increasing school work. I would dedicate myself to exercise aggressively at the expense of completing homework assignments and hanging out with friends. I’d hit the gym in 3 hour sessions, 4 days a week, for 4 or 5 weeks and then something would come up. Perhaps a big test that I absolutely had to study for or I’d get lonely and finally reach out to a friend that was trying to contact me. I’d miss a workout, then 2, then 3 and soon after I’d throw in the towel saying to myself “What’s the use now!?” As if my body was this constantly expanding thing I was racing against, that I had to stay ahead of to keep in check. This way of relating to my body lead to internally beating myself up because “I couldn’t keep up”. Weeks of stewing in my own guilt and self loathing would turn into months. As my pants got tighter, my lethargy would go up. I’d get to to my FED UP point and in anger gather the nerve to struggle up the steep hill of starting over, once again.

 

Lesson learned: It is way harder to start again then to just keep going even if at a fraction of the pace you did before.

 

Let the Madness Go

My attempts to create many positive habits over the years with this intense pattern, was exhausting. While in the depths of my weariness on one occasion, I contemplated deeper reasons for integrating a new habit and a visual came to me of the tortoise and the hare story. I realized I had to choose to be the tortoise in this story of mine and not the hare. There was no finishing fast or grand final in the process of being a happier, healthier me. It was more about just keeping the momentum of steadily putting one foot in front of the other in terms of progress, slowly but surely.

This meant looking at these changes as permanent lifestyle changes, not sprints in “Getting ahead”. It meant embracing the real progress that happens over a long period of time when small actions are taken in a focused manner, regularly.

 

Coming to the Middle

This attitude change made my aggressively swinging pendulum slow down into the middle over the years where there is more of a fine balance.  I had to learn to let go of the intense start and stop patterns and the underlying perfectionism in it, one small choice at a time. This approach created, steadily over the past 20 years, a whole new life for me. One of more ease and self acceptance.

 

Tools to Make Way to the Sweeter Middle

There are three distinct and effective principles that revealed themselves to me through the trial and error of replacing the “Pendulum way” of doing things with the “Slow and steady way” of doing things. The first is what I call the Safety Net Principle, the second is the Tiny Step Principle and the third is the Principle of Incremental Increase .

 

I will share with you in detail how I applied these three principles in the upcoming posts in in a series.
In the meantime, what is your experience with the pendulum? Is there any area in your life where perfectionism rears its ugly head? If so, what has helped you let it go?


2 thoughts on “Stopping The Madness of Perfectionism: Part 1

  1. I can so relate. I’m a recovering perfectionist, too, being a great expert in pendulum way myself, thinking of my attempts to take up yoga, photography, getting up earlier, running, meditating… I’ve come to the same conclusion that you have: there is no shortcut to new habits, only teeny tiny baby steps that need to add up over time (a long time)… I’m now regularly getting up 45 minutes earlier than I used to. Running, well, I’ve fallen of the wagon again. Yoga and meditation still working on it…

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  2. Hello! Thank you for stopping by my blog. So encouraging to meet another who is dealing with this same struggle. Yes I agree there are no shortcuts and hooray for you to be regularly waking up 45 minutes earlier. To be up in time to meet the morning, without the rush of getting out the door in chaos, is pure magic.

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