The Heavy Responsibility of Perfection

What causes most people to quit a new habit? The same thing that causes most people to abandon their New Year’s resolutions.

This tree got in the habit of leaning on the wall and then made the most of it.

It’s not that the goals are too lofty (unless made in a hurry under the influence of drink or peer pressure), but the mistaken belief that one misstep “ruins it all.” It doesn’t. One misstep, one missed day, one incomplete page is just that–an imperfection. It doesn’t invalidate the intention or the goal. It can reinforce your determination, if you let it.

One missed day, one misstep, does, however, make it easier to add another missed day to the stack. It’s easy to let your determination erode. At that second,   self discipline comes in. If you skip a day of a new habit, be aware of it, be conscious, make it a deliberate choice, not just a shrug and a skip. And the next day, make it a choice to return.

Change doesn’t happen all at once. Change happens when we replace one action with another. And the more often the replacement happens, the more likely we are to repeat, until we have a new habit. In an email I received, someone insisted that if they forgot one day, they would have to “start over,” they added, “with nothing.” I know that’s how AA does the counting, but I don’t think that’s true with journaling, or meditation, or compassion. You have something. You have begun to walk down a path. You are exploring your motives and excuses. That’s not nothing. That’s already part of the journey.

Of course, if you want something positive to happen, you will have to kick yourself occasionally to keep doing it, and you will have to do the work, but you will always do your work imperfectly, because that is the reason we keep learning–every imperfection is a chance to learn something new.

Quinn McDonald is a recovering perfectionist. Most of the time she lets go, but then sometimes, there is the death grip on needing perfection validation. So she has a way to go.