I've been doing a lot of research looking for a new backpack. I'm trying to consider the points of SHE: everything from how (S)ustainable the materials and manufacturing process used are, to how (H)ealthy it is (is it made from materials that are safe, organic, chemical-free, etc.), and if it is (E)thically made (made by workers paid fairly) or gives back to a cause that matters.
This hunt also has me thinking the weight the backpack will help me carry. There's nothing worse than believing you have the comfort of a backpack, but finding out the straps cut in or have to stay too tight because they aren't adjustable [ insert bug-eyed emoji]. Basically it is the worst.
But it is magnified if it's a day I overpacked and simply took on too much weight to begin with.
This process actually got me thinking about the weight many of us carry, but shouldn't have to in the area of perfectionism. We put it on from the moment we get up and don't put it down until our eyes finally slide shut in sleep. It's a big, heavy bag labeled "PERFECTION." It is full of stress, time, anxiety, self doubt, judgement directed at others, and negativity. There's nothing pretty about it.
We are all under an immense amount of pressure to be "perfect," whether we do it to ourselves or it is forced on us by society's expectations.
But, as Ralph Marston says:
"You were born to be real, not to be perfect!"
And believe me, being real is so much lighter! I know for sure I struggle with perfectionism almost every day. It is a default my brain is always trying to go back to. I grew-up in a hard working family that would never quit until the job was done (even if that meant skipping lunch AND dinner) and wouldn't accept anything less than perfect. Weeding? Not done until the last weed was pulled. Sweeping? Sweep it again if you missed a spot.
This mindset transferred to college where I overworked papers and homework assignments to death, foregoing a "life" in college and getting coffee with friends or playing pool in the student center on Friday nights in exchange for "perfect" papers and higher test scores that no one ever looked at when I graduated with my degree in communications. Seriously, no one looked.
I still managed to carry it into my career in communications. I spent extra hours on stories and projects. Long nights up alone - a single light above my desk. Perfection keeping me from saying either "I need more time" to my boss or "This is good enough" to myself.
It stole my health as I burned out my adrenals over a decade of deadlines and ignoring my health.
Oh how I wish I'd understood the massive burden I was electing to carry.
Fast forward to today. As I've consciously tried to rewire some of my perfectionism day by day, I've been able to see five areas where perfectionism will hold us back from growing a sustainable, healthy, ethical (SHE) lifestyle. Maybe you can identify with some of these.
Chasing the "perfect" style will keep you in "fast fashion" rat race. Nothing will force you to stay addicted to $5 t-shirts and flipping your wardrobe every season then the pressure to have perfect fashion sense and staying on trend.
Aim for balance instead. Cycling in a few new, trendy pieces with timeless, capsule-worthy staples. And surround yourself with friends who won't judge you for your clothes. You seriously don't want to invest quality time with people who use clothes as a method of deciding your worth.
Perfectionism will make you eat the whole bag of chips once you've had a handful because the loss of "perfect." "I ate one too many, so why not eat the whole bag. I've screwed up and am not 'perfect.'"
Instead enjoy handful of chips. Science shows that your brain triggers a positive or negative response to food based on what you're thinking. Appreciating a food guilt-free unlocks better digestion and allows your body to get more from the food.
Back in college (where I learned all my worst habits) I had perfectionist expectations for my body and had a commitment to working out 6 days a week. I would hit the gym late at night after studying when my body was tired and ready for rest, and then push through - driven by perfection and the need for a perfect body. The result was epic adrenal burnout that I had to work 10 years to heal from. Hindsight is 20/20, but a healthy, less-toned body would have served me much more than the tired, fatigued body my perfectionism drove me to chase.
Perfectionism in fitness causes stress and anxiety. It's not surprising that's exactly what researchers from the University of Bath and York St. John University in the United Kingdom found when they reviewed 43 studies on performance and perfectionism.
Stress is the great destroyer in the body, so if you are setting unrealistic fitness goals that cause stress to achieve, your results will come at a very high cost to your long-term health.
Only set workout goals that represent meaningful milestones for you and be honest if they energize you and leave you feeling strong - or if they are wearing you down.
Yes, it's a slippery slope between an excuse and honoring your body, but it's worth trying to figure it out.
One of the most sacredly important things about the SHE community is that there is no judgement. Perfectionism will leave you measuring up your friends to what YOU are doing, when in fact we are all living highly individual lives, with individual challenges that demand our impact and our SHE shifts be different.
Just because you've mastered ethical fashion, doesn't mean everyone else around you has to! But, they are probably mastering something you haven't touched in your life yet. Maybe you haven't tackled eating clean, and your friend in her fast fashion clothes is rocking out eating organic food from farmer's markets, which helps create better working environments for agriculture workers. Both shifts have an impact.
It always pays to set an example and be ready to have meaningful conversations when asked, but without expectation or judgement. Celebrate the unique areas your friends are making changes, cheer each other on to grow, but steer clear of judgement.
It's another slippery slope: learning to pass along your knowledge and always wanting to inspire people to make changes, without changing how you view them if they aren't ready to make that change.
Ok, I'm admitting to another bad habit...but I also spent my 20's avoiding anything I thought I would be bad at. Granted, I never proved if I really would be at half of it because I simply never tried it OR I tried something once, felt less than perfect ,and never did it again. I still see that in myself sometimes and in my friends and family when it comes to sustainable, healthy, ethical living. We avoid shifts that we think we might fail at. Heck, we won't even make a smoothie because it might taste bad!
It's a very freeing moment when you realize you can just make another smoothie!
3 Quick Steps to Break Perfectionism
1) SIMPLIFY YOUR GOALS
One of the biggest things that holds us back is tackling too much. By simplifying your goals, you will help reduce overwhelm and create a stronger potential for success. That why we focus on SHE shifts here. They are small enough to successfully do and create momentum!
2) TAKE ACTION
Perfectionism is honestly paralyzing. So simplify your goals all the way down to the single most inanely simple step that you can take action on.
It helps to make the action so small that your brain can't resist, which is the approach used in Mini Habits: Smaller Habits, Bigger Results (A quick read I highly recommend!). So, instead of saying "I will do yoga every morning," change it to "I will sit on my yoga mat every morning."
It turns out small can be powerful.
It builds a strong habit because you have to pretty resistant to yoga to skip simply sitting on your mat every morning, but once you are there, I'll guarantee 90% of the time you'll end up doing something!
3) LET GO OF EXPECTATIONS
Once you do that, you'l reduce the overwhelm of larger projects or goals that can paralyze us.
It's a process, but one that leads to a life of freedom. I hope this encourages you to let go of some of the "weight" of perfection you're carrying around. I'm going to quit typing and editing now, as this article won't be perfect. I'm letting go of the perfect backpack as well : ) I'll let you know what I decide, but I'm leaning toward Paga Bags, shown in this blog. I love that they are ethical and sustainable!
Let me know what is helping you ditch perfectionism and claim freedom. I'd love to know!
Let it go & breathe,