Perfect

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I’ve been thinking about how hard people are on themselves. Noticing how focusing on things that went wrong or that weren’t their fault makes them unable to see or truly appreciate their accomplishments or their talents or their strengths. Watching people who are great at what they do get down on themselves, frustrated by outside forces that they couldn’t do anything about, blaming themselves for other people’s shortcomings and missteps. Seeing how destructive (and self-destructive) people’s behavior can become when they declare themselves a failure, not good enough.

We all do this. Some of us more than others. I know all about perfectionism — I’m sure I wasn’t the only mother of a newborn and toddler who thought she was an utter failure because she could not devote 100 percent of her attention to both of them at the same time. (Never mind any attention reserved for herself, or anyone or anything else.)

But even before I had kids, before I was an adult, I had a tendency to want everything to work out just so, and if it didn’t, I was extremely good at taking on all the blame, even if doing so didn’t make any sense.

It’s a lot about control — the space between what you think you can control and what you actually can, which, it turns out, isn’t much at all. The only thing we can control, supposedly, is our own reactions to things. And even that is incredibly difficult. Of course we all fail at controlling everything and everyone around us — it’s inevitable.

All that said, we still try, and it’s still frustrating (and sometimes soul-crushing).

I don’t mean to bring everything back to yoga. I really don’t. But it is what has helped me the most in working out how to get out of the perfectionism loop. The purpose and goal of yoga is singular — to cultivate your relationship with yourself. The root of the very word means “union” or “yoke,” and what you’re meant unite with, attach to, is yourself.

So often we’re in our heads, telling ourselves how we suck, how we messed that up, how everyone else is actively trying to find ways to thwart us. (This also helps me when I start to think other people’s behavior is all about me.) Yoga helps you connect to yourself in a different place — though your breath, spirit, and energy (referred to collectively as prana), and, yes, through your heart.

It turns out that the physical poses, as well as meditation (though you don’t necessarily have to do both), help you to access this place. And if you can figure out how to start knowing and taking care of yourself from there, it becomes possible to be easier on yourself instead of harder. It becomes easier to give yourself a break, and give yourself space, to get some perspective, and even to recognize your gifts and talents, what’s great about you and what you’ve accomplished.

It’s also possible to understand your limitations better, and, in turn, to accept them. Something like “I have a short torso, and that’s why it’s hard for me to grab onto my toes and straighten my leg” might sound like a silly thing, but once you realize it’s simply your anatomy that makes a certain pose challenging for you — it’s not a personal failing or that you “suck at yoga” — you might become more patient with yourself on the mat, less frustrated and judgmental. You might even notice what poses are easy for you because of some other random aspect of your form. I, for example, have hips that are very open laterally — to the sides — and that makes certain poses that are excruciating to others feel easy and even good to me. I don’t mind saying that I take pleasure in it, even though I realize it’s mere chance that I’m built like that. It reminds me to be gentler with myself when I’m navigating a pose that’s harder for me.

Do you need me to say it? All of this can be extrapolated into real life.

Of course, there are many ways to train yourself to be nicer to yourself. Yoga is the one that’s been most effective for me.

Maybe real perfection is when everything just falls into place and feels aligned. Maybe it’s not something we can work toward too directly but just a byproduct of being good to ourselves.

Or better to ourselves, at least.

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