Become an Imperfectionist
When it comes to your health, a little perfectionism can be a good thing. After all, keeping up with your annual checkups enables you to catch health problems early, and being vigilant about brushing and flossing after eating can help prevent cavities. But if your goal for 2011 is to adopt healthier habits, aiming for good enough instead of perfect is much more conducive to success, says Tal Ben-Shahar, author of Being Happy: You Don't Have to Be Perfect to Lead a Richer, Happier Life.
“The all-or-nothing mindset of the perfectionist often prevents any change from happening,” he says. “Every departure from the perfect path is immediately interpreted as failure, which leads the perfectionist to give up.”
To help you stick with your efforts to be healthier and happier, try the following advice adapted from Ben-Shahar’s book.
See failure as an opportunity
Whether you’re trying to do it all at the office, plan a dinner party or lose weight, know that there will be times when you slip up -- and that’s perfectly normal. “The central and defining characteristic of perfectionism is the fear of failure,” says Ben-Shahar. But falling off track sometimes can lead to insight you may not have gained otherwise. Say, for example, you deviate from your diet and splurge on a hot-fudge sundae. What triggered you to eat? How did you feel afterward? Understanding why you eat and how it affects you can inform your choices in the future. And who knows? You may even find, after some reflection, that having ice cream now and then isn’t the disaster you first thought it was.
Allow yourself to feel hurt, angry and sad
In a perfect world, you’d only experience joy and happiness -- it’s natural to want to suppress negative feelings. Why focus on the bad stuff, right? But avoiding the bad stuff can be counterproductive, says Ben-Shahar. “When the perfectionist rejects his emotions -- not only by refusing to express them but also by refusing to allow himself to experience them -- these emotions intensify, which is the opposite of what he intended.”
So if you’re angry with yourself when, let’s say, a project you worked on all week didn’t turn out as you expected, make an effort to express your feelings -- even if it’s just venting out loud to your cat. That way, you don’t have to pretend like little setbacks don’t bother you. Bottled-up anxiety is harmful and can cause problems that range from tooth grinding to sleepless nights.
Enjoy every success.
“When we appreciate the good in our lives, the good grows, and we have more of it,” observes Ben-Shahar. “The opposite, sadly, is also true: When we fail to appreciate the good -- when we take the good in our lives for granted -- the good depreciates.” So if you missed one of your last three workouts, be sure to pat yourself on the back for the two times you hit the gym. It’ll put the disappointment of missing that one exercise session in perspective. And more important: You’ll be motivated to keep going!
Gabrielle Gayagoy is a lifestyle editor and book reviewer in New York City. She has written for national publications, including Shape, Self, Seventeen, Women's Health, Weight Watchers and VIVmag, the first all-digital luxury magazine for women.
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