I am delighted to share another beautiful submission for the Monk in the World guest post series from the community. Read on for Michelle Chung’s reflection on recovering from perfectionism:
Helpful Tips from the Recovering Perfectionist
When I started practicing contemplative spirituality, I faced quite a culture shock. Being from the Silicon Valley, I was task oriented, perfectionistic, and goal driven… everything the contemplative ways are not. Where were the deadlines and checklists I’m so familiar with? It took quite a while for me to understand and adapt to this new and curious lifestyle.
The contemplative traditions are more “organic”. You can follow a plan and do the exercises, but the results are not so concrete. It’s more like watching plants grow. From day to day, the growth are so minuscule that they are barely noticeable. Similarly, when I started meditating and going on walks, I couldn’t really see where all these changes would take me. What would really come of just ten minutes of being quiet? Then, little by little, the peace and quiet from the few minutes spilled into the rest of my day. The changes didn’t come overnight, but they did come.
Growing up being so result-driven, it was tough for me to develop my “monk” routines when I can’t see the effects right away. Here are some tips that helped me along.
- Be persistent
Whether it’s a physical routine or spiritual exercise, any deep and lasting change takes time to develop. Because of my perfectionist tendencies, I tend to start a routine with lots of excitement, but stop soon after because I felt like I wasn’t doing things “right”. Eventually, I realized it’s doesn’t matter how pristine your routines are as long as you keep going back to them.
When you start exploring a new path, don’t let the feelings of shame or disappointment put you in a downward spiral. Give yourself a break and simply push the delete button and start over. Persistence is the key in our learning process. Remember what motivated you to start this journey. Whether you’ve veered off the path for a day or a month or a year, just pick up where you left off. You’ll always be a step further in the process than if you gave up.
- Get an understanding about what worked and what didn’t.
When things don’t work out the way we hoped, many of us feel both surprised and disappointed. We shove the experience away and never think about it again. However, that’s often why we repeat the same cycle over and over. One way to fail forward is to take a break and review your experience. Take some time to see where things went wrong (or got stuck) and consider how you can do things differently next time.
What helps me process is to write about my experience. First, focus on journaling about your feelings during the process. Try to be honest about any frustration or blockage you face at this stage. This helps to uncover root issues or fears that often sabotage your process. Maybe you need to get better shoes so your feet won’t hurt during your nature walk. Perhaps you’ve set such a lofty goal that even a Zen Master can’t achieve. Or maybe the experience brought up some old memories and unexpected feelings, and it’s time to seek counsel. Whatever it may be, it’s worth spending the time to process through it.
Part of my process also includes solitude time. Solitude and stillness exercises teach us how to let go of the day to day things that monopolize our attention. Sometimes, the answer is right in front of us, but we’re too distracted to see it. Once our focus is freed up from the mundane, we can suddenly see the answer clearly . A few times after I had quieted down my heart, it became clear that my perfectionistic tendency got in the way. I was too focused on getting the result rather than enjoying the process. The real adjustment I needed was to let go of my own expectations.
- Be gracious to yourself
I’m very kind and encouraging to my friends. For some reason, I’m always hard on myself. I’m learning to offer myself the same grace and kindness I have for my friends. Something I remind myself often is that I’m just like other people. We are all human beings with weaknesses and limitations. When we remember that we’re but flesh and blood, we become more gracious to ourselves and to others. When we can look at our own weaknesses without shock and shame, it’s much easier to face these issues and work through them…
From time to time, I still fall back to my old driven and perfectionistic habits. The difference is now, I can quickly shift into the rhythm of my new life. Little by little, the seedling of change sprouted, matured, and bore fruit: a life of peace, patience, kindness and joy.