Screw Progress, I’ll Take Perfection

Ok, well I’m not really serious about the perfection thing.  Well, I mean, I AM, but I know I won’t get it.  (Right?  No chance?  Are you sure?  Damn.)

I am a SERIOUS perfectionist.  I’ve gotten a lot better over the last few years, but it’s that part of me that adheres SO RIGIDLY to a diet right up until I screw it up and then chuck it all because I FAILED.  There is no “progress” in my head: there is Excellence and there is Failure.  I’m working on that, but it’s funny to see how much I’ve really internalized it – that mentality pops up in all kinds of odd places. 

Part of that comes from being labeled a “gifted” child.  I was a really smart kid, and I never really had to learn persistence as a child: being good at stuff was just built in to my brain, so I never had to be persistent about anything.  There is a line in the movie “Good Will Hunting,” where Minnie Driver asks Matt Damon about how he can think organic chemistry is easy.  And he says something like, “Some people just get stuff.  Mozart looked at a keyboard and saw music.  He could just play.  Me, I see a bunch of black and white keys that mean nothing.  But when it comes to stuff like organic chemistry . . . I can just play.”  And I was that kid.  Nothing mental was hard, nothing academic required work – I could just play.  (My mom says the first time I got into a ballet class and realized I wasn’t just perfect at it without trying, that it was like seeing a big “TILT” sign over my head: it just didn’t compute,  LOL.)  But I think that translates into an expectation that I will ALWAYS just be good at everything, all the time.  And it’s a pretty deeply ingrained expectation because in many ways, it’s always been true – at least in the ways we encounter when we’re kids. 

As an adult, though?  It doesn’t really work that way.  Nothing is easy or cut-and-dried – there are all these shades of grey.  And that’s the part I struggle with the most, I think: that whole concept of baby steps, of getting back on the proverbial horse, with the idea that I won’t stumble across one thing that is the Right and Perfect Diet (or Life) Plan For Me And Which I Will Never Screw Up. 

This might be a bad time to mention this, but I have no idea where this post is going.  I thought I knew, but . . . um . . . apparently not. 


So it seems like a bonehead thing to say, “Well, THAT idea didn’t work for the week that I tried it, after 31 years of doing something totally different.  So it must not be the right idea!”  Seems silly, right?  But that’s always my reaction.  Hell, I don’t know, maybe that’s EVERYONE’S reaction.  Beats me.  But there was a lot of good stuff in the comments to the last post about baby steps and getting back on the horse and reframing and not giving up. 

And the other thing I have to remember is that I have to find something that works for ME.  If I know it makes me crazy to think “I can’t have [x],” then I have to find a way not to think that. 

It’s funny how sometimes the Powers that Be (God, Universe, Spirit, Great Cosmic Muffin, whatever) show up in your life when you need them most.  I came across a post at All My Jiggly Bits (I can’t write that without giggling) yesterday called “HELP: What is Eating Right?” that addressed a LOT of the same stuff I’m dealing with.  Down on the 18th comment, Em said:

Limiting your consumption of something that you like isn’t necessarily ‘dieting’. It can just mean keeping that thing special. You’ll enjoy it more if you don’t have it all the time.

And in some ways the end result of that action isn’t really any different from “cheating,” but it IS a way of thinking about it differently: a way of looking forward to something instead of walking through the days thinking “Must not eat [x].”  And the word “treat” has SUCH a different connotation for me than the word “cheat.”  Because I have NEVER been a “cheater” – I have ALWAYS been “perfect.”  But even perfect people get a treat now and then, right?  (Hm.  Suddenly I feel like a performing dog, LOL.)

So I won’t chuck the new eating plan just beacuse I had a hard moment (or two).  And I might do some reframing, as recommended.  And I’ll remember that what works for someone else might not work quite the same for me, and that THAT’S OK.

And now I’m really tired of writing.  LOL


12 responses to “Screw Progress, I’ll Take Perfection

  1. Marste, I’m having the exam same problem in adapting to having to actually make an effort to achieve success after a lifetime of winging it…for me, though, it’s not just confined to my diet, but in trying to find some sort of career for myself…my university offered me a postgraduate place after I finished my undergrad and I naively thought that the perfect career would land in my lap once that was finished. Working for a living is hard work!

    Anyway, sorry to go off on such a tangent. I love the treat v cheat idea…I’m very much like you in that once I tell myself I’m cheating I go all out and abandon all hope of staying on track. I am rather incapable of forgiving myself. However, if I started thinking of digressions as treats rather than cheats, then there’s nothing to forgive, and I’m already been rewarded!

    (just thinking out loud here…I’m really enjoying your blog, by the by)

  2. Just be careful because I think it can be a slippery slope from starting to think of foods as treats to ending up as restriction. For example, if yuu keep telling yourself ‘no I wont have it now Ill have it another day’ it will start to become forbidden. You know what Im saying? What I have done is tried to wait untill I really really want the food and then I eat it really slowly and once I start getting a little bit bored, or I notice Im not thinking about how great the food is anymore, I stop eating. Just an idea.

  3. what you said made sense to me so I think u r on the right track. K.

  4. This was so frighteningly enlightening for me! I am a perfectionist as well and dieting for me has just been yet another pass/fail endeavor. I’m not very good at the gray areas (but I’m only 22 and just realizing they’re there) – thank you SO much for such an amazing post!

  5. That’s me. That’s me you’re talking about. The kid who didn’t have to take lessons with the other kids because I could do everything already. I could “play”. Struggling was what everybody else did. Hell, LEARNING was what everybody else did. I could already do it. I’d done it years ago.

    I hate the fact that there isn’t one neat Fits-All answer to recovery. I hate that I have to try and struggle and learn every day, because in my head That’s Not Who I Am, it’s not what I’m about. In my head there’s an eight-year-old girl sneering at my twenty-seven-year-old self floundering and flailing and saying “I thought WE were better than this.”

    I don’t know what it means. I don’t know what we do about it. But you’re not on your own.

    TA x

  6. Love your insight into perfectionism and the way it can totally interfere with getting the hard stuff done. It’s much better to keep trying and failing than to insist on “all or nothing.”

    Hard lesson to learn though!

  7. I also really struggle with perfectionism. I don’t know how many handwritten journals I’ve started in my life, but I’ve never filled a single one. Why? Because if I make a mistake, I throw the whole thing away. It is immediately worthless and unacceptable. I know it’s insane, but it’s so hard for me to get away from that black-or-white style of thinking.

  8. Wow, it looks like there are a lot of us neurotic perfectionists! That makes me feel better. (Bad for you guys, because I wouldn’t wish it on anyone, but better in a selfish way! Ha! ;D)

    Dan, I see what you mean about the restricting, but I’m kind of between a rock and a hard place. On the one hand I’m not interested in “restricting” myself, but on the other hand some foods just make me flat-out sick. So I need to find a way to restrict those foods without triggering the Crazy Bitch in my head. That was why I thought I might get further if I thought of them as “treats” instead of “cheats” (hey, look at me, all rhyming!). Sort of an end run around the obsessive, “do-it-right-or-don’t-do-it-at-all” part of my brain.

    Jen, what you said about the journals made me think of something else: have you seen the FlyLady system? It’s seriously the only way I can keep my house clean (and calm), and she’s all about “Don’t be such a perfectionist!” Sometimes it’s nice to “have permission” to not be perfect. (Actually, I’m thinking I may have to go reread some of that stuff and see if I can use it in a diet/exercise manner.) I’m not always crazy about (what appear to be) her conservative views on men and women, but I figured that wasn’t a reason to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

    FWIW, apparently people who are raging perfectionists are at much higher risk for developing an eating disorder, because of exactly that “Excellence or Failure” mentality. Anorectics tend toward the “Excellence at any cost” end of the spectrum, bulimics often appear to be “perfect” but feel like failures and binge eaters are similar to bulimics in mentality, but for various reasons never cross over into purging. Crazy stuff.

  9. My friends hubby refers to her perfectionism as PARALYSIS BY ANALYSIS.

    I love that.

    (and love all your insightful commenters!)

  10. I’m in a very similar situation. I decided to start Weight Watchers (for the 10th time) a few weeks ago and thought that by showing my friends (and the world) how much I weight and what I’m eating every day it would hold me accountable, but I’m once again “starting over” this morning after falling off the wagon over the weekend. I keep telling myself that no one is perfect and I need to find some middle ground and stop beating myself up, but I must say it’s wonderful to hear it from someone else! So I hope I can return the favor by saying I absolutely love your blog and I think you are so brave for putting your thoughts and stuggles out there to help people like me!

  11. Just found your blog — terrific!

    Love this post…very enlightening and rings a bit true for me.

  12. Hi Shanna and Dara! Welcome!

    I have to admit that I’m not a fan of Weight Watchers – when I did WW for a brief time it messed with my head enough to reactivate my disordered eating from college. Even when I was trying to lose weight, no other diet affected me in that way as strongly as WW did.

    These days I’m not a big fan of weight loss for weight loss’ sake – I’m not even a fan of it for “health” reasons, because most of those reasons are bogus. Some people can be SUPER healthy and not lose weight at all.

    Ok, I just deleted the rest of my whole long comment. I think there might be a post in there somewhere, LOL.

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