April 15, 2014

How to Recover from Perfectionism. ~ Heather Day


The opposite of a “recovering perfectionist.”

Sitting here in yoga pants with a mason jar of lemon water (I drink everything out of enormous mason jars, little known fact), I’ve been pondering this today.

And feeling stumped.

Because I find myself having this conversation over and over again—yes, we’ll cop to being a perfectionist. With a grimace, a knowing nod, maybe that guilty downcast glance. Yeah, I know. That’s me.

And I’m here because I’m on a mission to change that. My perfection obsession once made me a crazy woman, killed the tendons in my knees (they still don’t like running), and made graduate school a headache-ridden nightmare.

I’m pretty sure it also drove every single man I’ve dated totally nuts, too, though I don’t think they minded the excessive scrubbing and cleaning.

But I’m not really digging the term “recovering perfectionist” anymore.

It makes the perfection obsession sound like some pathological thing that you should darn well hope you don’t catch. Known symptoms: Constant frustration, stress and disappointment. Procrastination. Ridiculously high standards. Animosity towards people perceived as “more successful” or “prettier” than you. Headaches. Insomnia. Indecision.

But when I’m decisively moving away from something, I’d like to focus my attention towards my desired outcome.

So the opposite of being obsessed with perfection is…


Being totally zen within the chaos?

Honorable intention, but that’s not right…


Well, kind of, but there’s more…

The sticky thing about this kind of obsession- unlike being obsessed with jelly beans, or Justin Timberlake, or running- is we can so easily disguise it and convince ourselves that its totally fine and healthy.

Because the opposite feels like we’re just lowering our standards.

Why wouldn’t you want your life to be perfect? Your career to be perfect? Your body to be perfect? We’re told that setting high standards is what motivates us to succeed. Reach for the moon and you’ll land among the stars, right?

Great. Excellent. Aim high!

Except when you kick yourself into the ground because you didn’t get all the way to the moon, and ignore the majesty of where you sit.

Because honey, that obsession once drove me to anxiety. Depression. I was addicted to the pursuit of anything that promised to get me just…One…Step…Closer…to that place of perfection that could make me…happy.

(Except drugs. We’re not talking drugs here.)

That’s what we ultimately want, right? To just figure out what will make us happy?

My genius girlfriend then said, “The opposite of perfectionism is celebrating what you want to see more of.”


Celebrate what you want to see more of. Invoke relaxation. Incant ease. Savor a little…mess. Lift someone else up. And instead of constantly striving for some vague vision of what your life might be like, try these:

19 ways to celebrate the opposite of perfection. Or, we all need a little more of this:

  1. Stop reading self-help or educational books and read fiction and pleasure only for at least a month.
  2. Write the words “already perfect” on the palm of your hand in marker. Look at it regularly.
  3. Choose only three things you want to accomplish each day- allow the rest to be time for flow. Set the bar at an achievable height.
  4. Wear something completely “out of character” for a full day—something that directly challenges the “image” you’ve been cultivating. Channel a unique place within.
  5. Go to bed really, really, really early and leave the dishes in the sink (shirk your “responsibility”).
  6. Hire someone to come clean your house next week, and take yourself on a long walk in the woods. It’s ok if it’s not done “your way.”
  7. Go on a completely unplanned road trip. No “final destinations.” No planned stops along the way. Pack for multiple possibilities, bring the most current Gazetteer—and don’t forget your bathing suit.
  8. Make a 45 minute playlist and commit yourself to listen to it all. Let the music govern your entire body and do whatever it asks.
  9. Commit to a full day of silence.
  10. Spend an hour naked today. Love up on your body.
  11. Burn your old journals, and don’t re-read them first.
  12. Give away that book that you’ve been “meaning to read” forever. If you’re meant to read it, it will come back.
  13. Make a meal completely from scratch, no recipe.
  14. Fingerpaint. Bodypaint. Cultivate art—even if you’re “bad” at it.
  15. Completely stray from your normal “workout” routine. Find yourself on your yoga mat, or at your gym, or in the woods, and listen to how your body wants to play. Climb trees, jump around, shake your booty…. whatever. Intuitive movement.
  16. Give yourself more time for everything—my rule is at least 15 minutes more. Call it a “buffer,” “wiggle room,” whatever—but it gives us space to not feel quite so cramped.
  17. Give love to someone else who’s taking a risk, especially if it’s tough for her. Celebrate her successes, courage and perseverance.
  18. Go to an event you usually wouldn’t because you don’t feel like you’d fit in. A festival, a concert, a fundraiser, a sports game.
  19. Try something completely new and foreign that’s always seemed exciting, but a little scary (dance classes are notoriously fantastic for pushing me out of my comfort zone of “I’ll be good at this”…).

Here’s to overcoming the perfection obsession and finding a whole new world of possibility.


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Editor: Jenna Penielle Lyons

Photo: Cathrine L. Walters Photography, courtesy of the author

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Heather Day