Over the years I have treated hundreds of clients who suffer with perfectionism. Now, if you just thought, “how can striving to be perfect be a problem?” You yourself might actually have some perfectionist in you. One of the advantages of working with perfectionists is that part of the treatment is modeling making mistakes. This for me—a born perfectionist myself—is rewarding and has helped me shift my perspective.
I recently had an experience that reminded me that even though I help others with their perfectionistic thinking, I am still a work in progress. I practice a form of yoga called Mysore Ashtanga yoga. Mysore yoga is a structured series of poses that are taught to a student over time. When you first walk in you start with learning the yoga breath and then add movements slowly. The goal is to master one movement before moving on to the next. Slow and steady is the name of the game. I have been participating in this rejuvenating practice for five years. In that time I have learned (mastered would be pushing it) the first half of the primary series. So, I still have a long way to go and I also know quite a bit. I was attracted to this practice because of its clearly defined structure, something us perfectionists really like.
About a month ago I was working on the hardest pose for me in the series and I heard a rip. I just assumed I had ripped my pants! But, unfortunately it was my ankle. My sweet and compassionate teacher suggested I stop, ice my ankle and take some time off from practice. While I smiled and nodded I thought “I will be back tomorrow.” That was the beginning of my battle, or struggle, with my perfectionism. I wanted to do my practice just as I had been doing, whether or not I was injured. I was going to override the need to rest, recuperate and heal. I was not preparing for the yoga olympics or some sort of performance I just DID NOT want to have any change in my routine. Well, sometimes the body is smarter than the mind. My body made that very clear to me the next day when I tried to push through practice and I could not. I needed to rest or I would risk the likelihood of not being able to practice at all anymore.
The waiting was really hard at first but as I noticed my ankle heal and my body feel stronger, I felt more at ease. Once I was ready to go back to practice, the same teacher said kindly, “take it slow and easy today.” Well, as a perfectionist I heard that as “enjoy going right back to where you were when you started.” So, I did too much. My ankle was sore, my knee was hurting and my hip was throbbing. My body was screaming at me to slow down. With this cacophony of ligaments in my ear I did finally slow down. In fact, I am still doing a modified version of many of my poses. I wish I could say I have accepted this, but actually what has happened is that I am more aware of my tendency to override my needs. I will notice my disappointment when I can’t jump back to a pose or go in to full lotus during a twist.
We might never get over wanting to do something perfectly, but if we notice our drive and consider just for a moment doing something perfectly imperfectly we will feel less overwhelm and more ease. Take it from me.