A few of the alums from my Compassion in Balance course have been doing a 30 Days of Yoga practice together this past month. Since New Year’s Day, we’ve been following a series of free yoga videos and checking in online every day to help each other stay accountable to our commitment to take care of ourselves in 2016.
External accountability is the bees knees.
One of the booby-traps that we’re being mindful of as we practice is all or nothing thinking.
It’s been really interesting to see how we mess with ourselves. Some of us miss a few days in a row and think we can’t show up again. Some of us feel weird about doing the daily practices out of order or one day behind everyone else. Others have trouble when they need to adjust their schedule.
We all want everything to be perfectly on point, so when it doesn’t go that way (spoiler: it never does), we start thinking we should just stop. Try again some other day when that stuff won’t happen.
A lot of us struggle with this common mind trap in our work and personal lives. We absolutely do this in our work as helping professionals. We set very high, unrealistic standards that we can save them all, then we feel like constant failures that we only saved some. All of our good work gets negated by not being able to get that impossibly perfect score.
The sense of never being good enough, of always falling short of your goals, is so defeating and depressing. It’s a fast-track to Burnoutville.
But just for now, let’s take a look at how it messes with our self-care in particular, because that’s one way we can start to navigate this mind-trap more skillfully. With practice we can take it into all aspects of our lives.
It goes something like this:
I was going to go to bed earlier, but now is such a bad time! I’ll wait until work isn’t so busy to start my new routine and then I’ll be able to do it right every night.
I missed 2 weeks or 2 months of yoga classes because things got crazy and now my routine is ruined. If I can’t go every week, what’s the point? Maybe I’ll try again later when things settle down and this time, I won’t slack off.
I wanted to run five miles each morning before work, but I never actually did it. I suck at self-care.
You see the problem with this way of thinking right?
First, we’re tricking ourselves into thinking there will be this magical time when our to-do list is 100% done (second spoiler alert: that magical time never happens).
Then we fool ourselves into thinking that as soon as that happens, we’ll have tons of free time and the ability to finally do it perfectly.
Last, we set the bar super high for ourselves which almost always guarantees that we’ll fail. Then we think: why even bother?
This all or nothing thinking winds up being yet another excuse for not taking care of ourselves. Either we do it all perfectly (whatever that means) or we don’t do it at all.
Our little yoga group is pushing back on this defeating, distorted thought pattern. If you missed a day or three of yoga. No problem. Come on back.
If you didn’t start on January 1st with the rest of us, make today your Day One. If you can’t do the whole practice yet, lower the bar and do what you are able to do now.
As our BFF Voltaire would say: We are not allowing perfect to be the enemy of the good.
Instead we’ve become what I’m affectionately calling The Good Enough Club.
Here are our club rules when it comes to self-care:
- We believe doing something is better than nothing (unless that nothing is meditating, in which case, rock on with your being-not-doing self).
- A slip up or a lapse isn’t a failure. In fact, there are no “failures” – big or small – that will keep us from showing up to try again another day.
- Instead of harsh criticism and judgement, we offer ourselves self-compassion and kindness.
- Instead of rigidity and perfectionism, we stay flexible to accommodate the wackiness that is life.
- We commit to taking care of ourselves, even though we can’t do it perfectly.
- We adjust our expectations and question the stories we tell ourselves about how we “should” do things.
- We pull back a little, so we can keep going for the long haul. Operating at 100% effort, 100% of the time isn’t possible (or necessary).
- We accept that there are times when we will need to do less. We allow things to change.
You can join The Good Enough Club too! To be a card carrying member all you have to do is keep trying despite hitting bumps in the road, practice being kind and forgiving to yourself when things don’t unfold perfectly, and remain aware of how your thoughts are influencing your actions.
Basically, just keep on truckin’ baby.
Here’s something to think on (or take 10 to write about it, if you’re inclined to journal your way to new insights):
Has all or nothing aka black and white thinking caused you stress in your personal life? At work? Maybe even with your pets (like your DINOS)? How so? What will you do ito lessen that stress?
p.s. Read this if you’d like to understand the difference between perfectionism and healthy striving, plus tips for coping with this particular mind trap.
By the way, this blog was originally shared in my e-letter that I sent out a month ago. If you’d like to get this sort of stuff, plus other tidbits, right in your Inbox, you can sign up for my monthly-ish newsletters here.
See you in our Good Enough Clubhouse!