Maybe you are like me in that you begin getting something done the moment that someone makes a request of you, if not before. Or perhaps you have very high standards for yourself and those around you. Maybe you want your life to be full of generous acts and helping people. Maybe your to-do lists are threatening the future of our national forests.
Perfectionists rarely let themselves celebrate a job well done.
They We have high standards and are never done with anything. They We are always comparing their surroundings or their exertions to what could be. Overachievers are also never done, but in the worst way. They We think pushing ourselves harder is the way to success.
I’ve developed my own personal tips of how to stop doing and thinking this way. I share them with you in the hopes that you will be kind to yourself and stop trying to juggle so many balls. It really is ok to gently put them down every once in a while. It’ll be all right. We’ve got to realize that we are already enough without doing a single thing.
Remember your highest priorities. Do you have a values statement or a personal mission statement? Take some time to figure out what is absolutely the most important few things in your life. Let’s say you value the welfare and happiness of your family and pets, growing spiritually and intellectually, and helping spread kindness and peace. You can hold up each new opportunity to those values to see if they align.
Your job brings in money to pay for your family’s needs and your home, as well as funds to take classes, join groups and communities that are important to you, and give to organizations that help better the world. It is crucial that you are saving for your own retirement and peace of mind. Yet, at some point, you can reach a point where the money and position don’t outweigh time with those family members, an afternoon in nature, or taking a day off to rest and recoup. Balancing it all is the key. Don’t go getting yourself fired because of this blog post, but do remember that you may be able to say no to extra work or overtime, especially if it doesn’t fall within your overall life goals.
I am also learning how to set limits and expectations. A photo shoot does not have to involve the customer receiving 200 edited images on CD, an outcome that takes me many, many hours to provide. I can say upfront that the package is for 1 hour of my time onsite and a CD of 30 edited photos. Far more doable! They get high quality pictures and I don’t spend days on my computer in Photoshop. Remember that you can ask upfront for extra time or for anything that may help you to live according to your own values. If you don’t stand up for and protect yourself, who will?
I have to admit that I am not the best at saying no. In fact, I did it yesterday and it felt pretty awful. Still, Mr. B was proud of me for setting some limits and for protecting my time. More important, I was proud of me.
You have to continually reassess your values too. It is far more easy to work your tushie off if you are saving money for something important to you. Once you achieve your goal though, remember to reassess and let yourself rest.
Practice living in the present moment. Notice I said “practice.” If you are like me, your mind is usually whirling into the future. It can be hugely helpful to remember that this very moment is all you really have for sure. Whatever you are imagining in your mind may not happen. If you can try to focus on NOW, especially when you are in the midst of making a to-do list, you will breathe deeper, notice more, and feel better.
Maybe you can find a signal to use, some way to remember to take a deep breath. A ringing phone makes my heart beat faster and I usually forget to use it as a reminder to take a breath. Instead, I set my phone to make one tiny little ding on the hour. If I hear it, no matter where I am, I look around and notice, well, life happening around and within me.
Sometimes it can be less about becoming perfect or helping everyone you encounter and more about just being happy. Simply being at peace, fulfilled within your own self, you are already spreading joy and goodness to everyone you interact with. I’d rather be around someone who is happy and makes others feel good, no matter what they’ve accomplished that day, than someone who gets a lot done but is miserable company.
Set smaller goals. While it’s admirable to dream big, you may be setting yourself up for failure if you have huge lofty stretch goals. A few months ago, I set myself a goal of losing 30 pounds. I bought a treadmill and dove into exercise and counting calories of every thing that I ate and, while I was losing weight and feeling good, it only lasted a few weeks before I lost steam. Remember how I’m all or nothing? All switched to nothing and that was that. That’s when I felt like a failure and went back to munching on M&Ms before bed. Cause why not?
I decided to break my main goal down into much more achievable steps. Say no to at least one food item each day that I want but is not good for me. Make better food choices. That’s not deprivation; that’s being sensible. Move my body in some way every day, preferably for 30 minutes. I don’t look at numbers, speed, intensity, treadmill incline, calories burned or ingested, and definitely not a scale. As long as I’m moving, I know I’m making progress.
It will take longer to lose 30 pounds this way, but it is far more likely to happen. I do feel like I’m slacking off in terms of rigidity, especially when people ask me about all those numbers I mentioned, but that’s ok. I’m treating my body with kindness and respect and getting healthier my own way.
Balance “on” and “off.” Your body and mind come with the need for certain physical care. Times of high productivity must be matched with downtime and space. Every person needs a different amount, so you’ll have to know what you need and let yourself have it. If you don’t grant yourself times of renewal and proceed ahead under relentless stress, your health will eventually suffer.
I have learned the hard way many many times. After working for a few years at a very high-intensity job where it seemed that every world crisis or political issue came across my desk to solve, I sunk into a major depression. Then what good am I at helping anybody??? During my daughter’s first year and in my new-mama, very sleep deprived state, I never let myself have a messy house, miss a playdate, or just do nothing. Then I wondered if something was wrong with me that I was crying all the time.
Now I know that every high achiever needs some time to incubate. The motor of any machine or appliance will burn out if you don’t turn it off and let it recharge for a bit. Why would we not perform the same service for ourselves? I find that I’m even more able to focus and work on anything after a time where I’ve let my mind think about something else. When I know I will need to be “on,” whether it’s taking photos, teaching a class, or volunteering at school, I schedule an equal amount of time to be “off.” Otherwise, my body will take it without asking, usually at an inconvenient time.
Make sleep a priority. I find that I protect my daughter’s sleep like a mama bear protects her cubs. I know I should do the same for myself but I rarely do. Usually the evenings are the only time you have for yourself or to catch up with your spouse. It can be hard to make yourself go lay down and seemingly get nothing done.
My husband and I went to a reproductive psychiatrist when I was a new mom because we thought I had postpartum depression. I was weepy and unable to handle minor things like changing a diaper without thinking my life was over. A mom of four herself, she smiled and told us I simply needed more sleep and to make sure I got 8 hours of sleep in a 24-hour period. It didn’t have to be all at once. It was miraculous how quickly I felt better when I followed her advice.
Your body needs rest. Sleep deprivation is cumulative and can hugely impact your perspective, interactions, and ability to perform well. If you find yourself short-tempered, overly emotional/frustrated/controlling/anxious/frenzied/sleepy/forgetful/argumentative/inflexible, or with a headache/stomachache or unusual cravings, you are probably sleep-deprived. You may think you are overly stressed, but it’s usually something you can fix with letting your body have the hours of rest it needs.
Sleep is like sunshine. It brings energy and happiness. It seems counterintuitive, but you will get far more done with your waking hours if you get as much sleep as you need.
Be self-compassionate. I’m not telling you to lower your standards all the time, but at some point, you’ve got to be able to tell yourself that you’ve done enough and it’s time for a rest. Who’s judging all this effort anyway? If you don’t feel like going to the gym today, how about letting yourself have some gentle stretching at home? Do what you can and respect your limits. Praise yourself when you remember to rest, ask your spouse to stop at the grocery store on their way home rather than dragging your tired self and children through. Find opportunities to be nice to yourself. You’ll be so glad you are taking good care of you.
Delegate to trustworthy people. And then let it go. If you are like me, you must do something yourself. It is very tough to let go of how you think something is supposed to be done. I’d found that when I want something done right, I have to do it myself rather than have to re-do what someone else ineffectively tried to make happen.
Then I became a parent and I realized that I have limits. I needed my husband to care for my daughter here and there so I could actually leave the house in search of sanity. (I swear my daughter is as intense as three other children combined.) It was just as important for him to feel that he could be a good parent, even if he didn’t hold the bottle or burp cloth the exact way I did. Letting go of my rigidity meant I could have a little freedom and my husband could have the opportunity to do it his own way without doubting himself or hearing criticism. I think it’s a fair tradeoff.
Who cares if your t-shirts aren’t folded exactly how you like them or your coffee cups are put away in the “wrong” cabinet? Letting someone else take care of little things gives you time for other stuff. Let it go.
Find new role models. That boss who encourages you to work three jobs is not the one I mean. I have family members who do not stop until the job is done (me included). I can be hugely judgmental (toward myself too) about productivity.
I think it’s important to counter that internal taskmaster with voices that encourage you to cut it out. There are people who practice self-care who understand the importance of rest, renewal, and self-care. In case you don’t know who to look to, visit the websites of some of my favorites: Jodi Chapman, Liz Lamoreux, Jen Louden, Susannah Conway, Pema Chodron, and Tama Kieves.
I hope there’s some nugget of advice here that you can take and implement in your life. I am really really good at feeling compassion for other people and telling others to lower their standards of themselves and take a break, but I’m terrible at telling it to myself. We are in this together for sure. It’s a constant struggle for me too and I’m not the best at remembering to do these things. The more I read about self-compassion, write about mindfulness, or talk about slowing down, the more often I remember. And my daughter and Mr. B (and you all) remind me too.
If you know a wanna-be slacker, encourage them! It is so so so hard to come down from those impossible standards.
Please share your thoughts in the comments. I’m all ears.