The idea of perfectionism has been weighing on my mind lately. Perfectionism, as in not being satisfied with one's self as a result of internal processes, or feeling as though one needs to live up to the expectations of someone else. The primary reason that this has been on my mind is that as a dietitian, I experience this expectation first hand. I am sure that many people assume that as my career is so involved with nutrition, I would have a “perfect diet”. Or, that I surely look at what others are eating and critique it in my head. The truth is, that is not the case. I am actually pretty sure that others look at what I eat more than the other way around. Also, I am a human. I love chocolate.... And salty foods.... And that is okay. Although my job title has the word “diet” in it, I know enough to realize that there is no one perfect “diet” that is going to suit each and every person.
Seeking perfection is entrenched in the notion that we need to reach a certain point in order to feel valued or validated. While it is important to have goals in life and to practice self-improvement, I also believe that it is important to think about where that motivation is coming from. I.e. “I will be happier/feel better when... ”. With this thought, we are putting emphasis on the outcome. As if, it is at that point in time that we will find self-improvement. The truth is, it is in the process of getting to the goal that we find growth, and that is the place that we will improve ourselves.
What is one of the things that I believe drives the idea of seeking perfection? Judgement. Judgement of one another and of ourselves. What kind of a place is it to take on a goal because we feel judged or ashamed? It is important to approach change through self-acceptance. The best place to start is by accepting who you are in this moment, and working from there. It means not focusing on all that you think is wrong with yourself, but to focus on the positive impact of healthy behaviour changes. It is about focusing on the journey, because that is when we grow.
Another thought that comes to mind when I think of perfectionism has to do with veganism. Many people associate a vegan diet with the idea that it is all about perfection or purity. That is a puts a lot of pressure on individuals wanting to make the switch to a vegan lifestyle, or those trying to maintain it. I know, because that is exactly what I experienced in the first couple years after deciding to go vegan. In those couple of years there were times that I would “slip up” and have something with dairy or eggs in it, which would lead to me feeling guilty or like I had failed. It took me a long time to realize that I was being too hard on myself. Long story short, once I took a step back and stopped focusing so much on the non-vegan foods I felt I would miss out on, I found that I wanted them less. Eventually I realized that I didn't need to have them anymore.
When we approach change from a point of negativity, or focusing on the negative aspects of change such as what we will miss, we are setting ourselves up to fail. Instead, try to open your mind to all the potential benefits of change. For me, going vegan was first about compassion for animals, and the thought of doing something good in that way kept me motivated to maintain a this lifestyle.
Practice self-compassion. Change does not happen over night; it is a journey and can only happen by taking one step at a time. Take your steps with intention, because what is most valuable is what you will learn along the way... Even when your path is less than perfect.