Once again I am sitting in my office and a patient says to me that she didn’t reach her goal for the week or didn’t do her homework or just wasn’t good enough in some way. Carefully listening for the details of what really happened, I notice the judgmental themes of my patient’s story: delayed bingeing for five minutes but still binged, decreased purging frequency for the week from three times to two, didn’t go to the gym but managed to take a walk, found a new relaxation meditation but hadn’t tried it yet, went grocery shopping but never cooked for herself . . . the list goes on.
All we can ask of anyone is to show up to try and work on an issue. Eventually the person will take a step forward. Steps lead to growth and ultimately goals being reached. The all or nothing thinking of perfectionism gets in the way of progress and leads down the path of highly self-critical thinking and much anxiety, stress, and worry. This is true about eating disorder recovery goals as well as other life goals – grades on an exam, quality of the complex thesis in an English paper, year-end review at work, time spent on volunteer work, or cleanliness of your home.
A friend of mine shared with me her method of making sure that she keeps her perfectionistic tendencies at bay – she makes sure that she never completes all the errands on her to do list. In this way she both ensures that that she remains in progress of her goals while giving herself permission to have time for herself. Many of us could benefit from lowering our expectations of ourselves and allowing for a little extra time for joy.