Not Broken

It’s January 22. By now, 30 percent of New Year’s resolutions have been “broken.” I put broken in quotes because slip-ups, mistakes, moments of overindulgence or forgetfulness do not mean your goal is now broken and you have to give up or start over. Setbacks or bumps do not mark the end of the road, they are a normal part of trying something new or improving on something established. Think of it this way — anything worth doing is likely to be hard, and when things are hard they don’t go smoothly. If a resolution or change is easy and goes flawlessly, it’s likely it wasn’t much of a challenge. If you achieve your goal without any setbacks, it’s likely you aren’t really challenging yourself or working at your edge. When you are really pushing yourself to grow, you will almost certainly fumble, screw up, fall behind, get frustrated.

Many people — especially perfectionists — have a habit of all-or-nothing thinking when it comes to mistakes or setbacks. The sting of getting less than an A+ can be so painful, embarrassing, or scary that we give up entirely at the first setback. Breaking a diet, missing a yoga class, having one cigarette….we view one mistake as a total failure, and just stop trying.

Or, we fall victim to another common perfectionist trap — being really hard on ourselves after a mistake, and punishing ourselves with self-criticism and even harsher standards and demands. We push ourselves to spend even more time at the gym to “make up for” missing a workout. (Well… we say it’s to make up for it, but if we’re honest it’s actually a way to punish ourselves.)  But this sets us up for failure again as we become unable to meet those new standards. Or we fail ourselves by giving up too much in pursuit of our goal — giving up spontaneity, joy, relaxation, time with friends, down time, ease, or something else crucial to well-being.

I think about this stuff a lot, how to motivate and keep pushing towards ambitious goals without being so demanding and perfectionist that you get in your own way. I have gathered some of my favorite exercises and tools together in a workshop on February 7, 2015. If you struggle with perfectionism and goal-setting, read more about my workshop here, or contact me to see if it’s right for you.