Kick the Perfect Habit

Part of being a “modern woman” is accepting that you can’t have an immaculate home, well-behaved kids, the corner office and defined abs. And yet many of us still struggle with perfectionist thinking and crucify ourselves when we fall short. As a result, we’re distracted from our goals and less able to appreciate our big, messy, wonderful lives for the joys they do bring us. Here are some common “perfect traps” along with expert advice on how to bust free from them.

By Allison Thomas
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Healthy Eating: The Perfect Self-Defeating Trap

If you’ve ever been on a diet — and who hasn’t? — it’s easy to think any so-called slip is a giant failure.

“It’s the idea that I had one cookie and I messed up my diet, so I may as well eat the whole plate,” says Elizabeth Lombardo, author of Better Than Perfect: 7 Strategies to Crush Your Inner Critic and Create a Life You Love. 

“Instead, just eat the cookie, savor each bite and move on,” Lombardo encourages. “If we could incorporate this mentality — not to be lackadaisical, but to stop judging ourselves so much and continue to improve — we would all keep striving as opposed to giving up.”

Super-strict restriction often leads to resentment and binge-eating, which sabotages your weight-loss goals.

“So many people never succeed in making the shift to healthy eating habits because they try to follow very strict routines or have unrealistic ideas about what it looks like,” says Dr. Susan Biali Haas, author of Live a Life You Love: 7 Steps to a Healthier, Happier, More Passionate You. 

“Ultimately, your goal is not to have some perfect regimen, but to have a healthy way of eating that you enjoy and can sustain for a lifetime.”

That’s going to take trial and error, patience — and maybe even a few cookies.

Even if you logically know that everyone on Facebook is curating their lives and you’re not seeing their messy reality, just scrolling through it can still have negative effects.

Dr. Susan Biali Haas

Exercise: The Perfect Self-Loathing Trap

Not being able to stick with a workout routine is the reason many people give up on exercise altogether, Lombardo says. 

“I joined the gym and I missed my workout last week, so I’m not going to go this week … and then it turns into never going again.”

The key to breaking this cycle? Stop “shoulding” yourself. 

“Shoulding is about judgment, whether it’s you or someone else,” Lombardo says. “When you change from ‘I should go to the gym, and I feel guilty that I don’t’ to ‘I would like to go to the gym because I want to have more energy and a healthier body,’ that’s so much more motivating.” 

And remember that making it to the gym isn’t the end goal, Biali Haas says. 

“If you don’t have time for the gym today, go for a walk on your break at work or play with your kids,” she says. “Find ways to get moving that you can make work for you.”

Work: The Perfect Paralysis Trap

Everyone wants to be great at their job. Trying to perform flawlessly at work 24/7 can have a multitude of negative effects, from increased stress and its related health issues, like high blood pressure, to decreased creativity and difficulty delegating — and even getting anything to the finish line. 

“A lot of times people say they’re stressed because they have so much to do and they’re working all the time, but it could actually be perfectionism,” Lombardo says. “Do they really have to work that many hours?”

Biali Haas encourages people to assess themselves, or to ask a trusted colleague if they think they’re being realistic with job their job duties.

“Sometimes we don’t see it in ourselves, but our work and health can both suffer,” she says. 

She recommends identifying a realistic goal of what’s necessary for you to do a good job, breaking the work into more manageable (and achievable) tasks and sticking with that strategy even when your perfectionist tendencies tempt you to pile on extras.

Instead, be picky about when and why a project is worth going above and beyond. You’ll achieve more successes that way.

Parenting: The Perfect Martyr Trap

Perfectionism is a problem most moms know all too well. After all, what’s more important than raising your children, right? 

You want to spend the right amount of time with them — it’s never enough — and you want them to have the best of everything. 

First, remind yourself that you’re a great mom and that you’re doing your best. Then, stop comparing yourself to other parents. Biali Haas recommends reducing time spent on social media. 

“Social media is such a source of pressure,” she says. “Even if you logically know that everyone on Facebook is curating their lives and you’re not seeing their messy reality, just scrolling through it can still have negative effects.” 

You can even use that extra time you’re not on social media to be with your kids — or shut everyone out and take a bath, if that’s what you need.

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