Sunday, June 6, 2010

Practicing Imperfection

"Imperfectionists Welcome Here" focused on one aspect of perfectionism. In summary that would be "people live imperfectly and this causes them pain because they feel that they aren't good enough." There are different manifestations of perfectionism that cause people pain and another could be summed up as "people feel that they must always be perfect and strive to maintain perfection in their every day lives." I have suffered from this kind of perfectionism, too.

In 12 days I will be heading off to a family reunion. I have not dieted or exercised in preparation for this reunion. That's actually a big deal. I am not freaking out internally about what others might say regarding my weight or how I look. Those of you who know me in person may say, "Big deal! You look great." And you're right, I do look great. However, in my family of origin and my extended family being at your "ideal weight" is really important. Being healthy is important, but some how being thin manages to over shadow being healthy. And even if no one says "Wow, I can't believe how much weight you've gained," they will comment approvingly about those who are thin. They will also say, "I almost didn't recognize you with a double chin." "You won't get a husband if you don't lose weight and dress better." "Have you noticed how thin my wife is?"

You may have noticed the quotes around "ideal weight" above. What is your ideal weight? Is my ideal weight determined by some height and weight chart a the doctor's office? Is it determined by the size my parents or my spouse think that I should be? I have no idea what my ideal weight is. My ideal weight is whatever weight I end up at when I'm eating a healthy diet of foods that leave me feeling satisfied and content, with moderate exercise on a regular basis. My ideal weight is the weight that my body ends up at when I am physically and mentally and emotionally healthy. My ideal weight is not some arbitrary number on a scale that I need to maintain through constant focus on diet and strenuous exercise. My ideal weight is where I am when I am healthy in all areas of my life.

That's huge. Do you know how many years I struggled to maintain my weight because of perfectionism? If you are constantly trying to be at the perfect weight and trying to have the perfect body, if you feel bad about yourself because you have gained a pound or missed a work out at the gym or can't wear a certain size jeans you might want to consider why. On the other hand, I'm not going to judge you if you are thin! I have friends who are naturally thin, I have friends who love to run marathons, climb mountains and set physically challenging goals for themselves. For Themselves. If you are truly doing it for yourself, because it brings you joy, fills you with life, makes you happy, then go for it. But if you are doing it from a place of needing to be perfect, to meet the expectations of someone else, to get approval, then perhaps it's time to practice imperfection. Play around with different levels of healthy eating or exercise or fitness until you figure out where you feel comfortable. Give yourself permission to eat imperfectly, which should be fairly easy since there is no one perfect way to eat.

As mentioned in my previous blog, a clean house is another area that pushes our perfectionistic buttons. Do you panic and spend three days cleaning your house because your parents are coming to visit. Three exhausting days where you are stressed and tired and yell at your children? Does your house need to be perfect all the time because someone might stop by? Do you work to maintain a perfectly clean house at all times because anything less is unacceptable? Perfectly clean houses, like perfect bodies, only exist on the cover of magazines. Why do we think our houses need to be perfect at all times?

If you are striving to be perfect in any area and that is causing stress inside you, or in your family or other relationships, it's time to start practicing imperfection. Seek joy, seek happiness, find a balance (but remember that balance is fluid, not rigid!), and practice dressing imperfectly, writing imperfectly, playing imperfectly, cleaning imperfectly. It's fine to give the kitchen floor a 3 minutes wipe up rather than moving every last thing off of it before you mop. You can leave those dishes on the counter to be washed tomorrow. You can take the day off from cleaning and go play at the beach. Skip the exercise DVD and put on some crazy music and dance with your kids. Don't put on any makeup before you leave the house! Refrain from wiping the chocolate smudge off your child's face.

What will happen if we aren't perfect? Well, I guess we'll be like everyone else! We might even find ourselves relaxing and enjoying life more. We will also pass along the message to our kids that differences are okay, that people of all shapes and sizes are beautiful, and that imperfection is a natural part of being human.

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