• Isabelle Morley, PsyD

Letting Go of Perfection

Updated: Oct 29, 2021

It's time we all stop striving for the unattainable standard of "perfect."There is no such thing as perfect, and trying to reach perfection will only derail you from making progress towards your goals.


There is no "Perfect"

You've heard it before- there is no such thing as perfect, and trying to be perfect will make you supremely unhappy.


I think we've all accepted this and yet still, we struggle and fight to be perfect.


The problem is that we may not realize we're striving for perfection. Instead, we think that we're just trying to get through our to do list for the day, or do a good job at work, or be healthy.


We think we are aiming for self-growth, when really we are aiming for perfection.

We set lovely goals for ourselves but, the problem is, we then rigidly adhere to our self-imposed plan for how to reach those goals. We think we are aiming for self-growth, when really we are aiming for perfection. Herein lies the problem.



Setting Positive Goals is Good...

We set goals for ourselves and then strive for them, and this isn't a bad thing at face value. It's good to have goals. It's good to make goals based on important values, and it's good to work towards those goals.


Without goals, we can feel aimless and stagnant. It's important to appreciate where you are now, today, but also to have dreams and hopes. Goals keep us excited and motivated. They keep us moving forward.



...Self-Punishment for Not Achieving Goals is Bad

However, working towards our goals will require us to make mistakes or not meet our expectations some days. I promise that you will miss a deadline, make an error at work, skip a workout, eat popcorn for dinner, or lose your temper with your kids.


Case in point: I had ice cream for dinner last night. Is this in line with my goal of eating healthy dinners? Certainly not. Did I have a fridge full of pasta and veggies that were ready to be eaten? Yes, indeed I did. But did I still choose to eat chocolate ice cream instead? Also very much a yes. And the important thing here is that even though this isn't part of my larger goal of health, it's okay to have off days or make less-than-ideal choices sometimes.


Being self-critical will pull you even farther off track.

Being mean to yourself for not being perfect is not helpful. It does not "teach you a lesson" or motivate you to do better next time. Being self-critical will pull you even farther off track.



There is no Easy Path to Your Goal

The path towards our goals is not linear. Progress is not linear. It is a jagged path where you move forward for two weeks and then pause for a month, then go backwards for a week and then start moving forward again. It is not a steady line up, where you make incremental progress each day and hit every deadline you set.


The path towards our goals is not linear.

If you're expecting to smoothly move towards your finish line, you're likely to be self-critical when that doesn't happen. So set more realistic expectations for yourself- be prepared to encounter setbacks or mistakes, and use those as opportunities for awareness and growth.




I need you to know, it's ok that:


You didn't get through your daily to do list.


You late cancelled a bunch of meetings because you needed a break.


You ate ice cream for dinner when you already had cooked vegetables in the fridge (as a made up example, obviously not based on my real life).


You didn't exercise or meditate even though you made it a daily goal to do those things.




Self-Compassion Beats Self-Criticism

I know this is hard to believe, but being kind to yourself for slipping up or not moving forward is going to make you more motivated to keep working towards your goals. Self-criticism tears us down, self-compassion builds us up.


Self-growth is a combination of honest self-reflection with gentle self-compassion. Examine where you went wrong, and be kind to yourself while doing it.


Setting goals is wonderful, but being self-compassionate when you fall short is even better.

And none of these things are good reasons to be mean to yourself. Setting goals is wonderful, but being self-compassionate when you fall short is even better.



Now, Hope for a Slip Up

I love mistakes because they are truly the best opportunity to work on self-compassion. Don't fear the mistake- look forward to it! Next time you do something that you perceive as"wrong," whether it's being late to a meeting or sending a text to the wrong person or choosing Netflix over a run, jump at the opportunity to be reflective and self-compassionate.


Now go be imperfect and work towards those goals and make mistakes and never stop being kind to yourself.





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