Break the Cycle of Perfectionism With These 3 Radical Self-Acceptance Practices

Photo: Getty Images/Kyle Monk
Perfectionism is a tight, heavy energy that can remove joy from everyday moments and special occasions alike. It’s the opposite of free thought and expression, mandating that everything fits a certain way. It tells us if we aren’t doing enough or aren’t a certain way, then we aren’t really anything at all. As a recovering perfectionist, I’ve found that abandoning this mindset in favor of practicing self-acceptance is helpful for improving mental and physical health.

In nature, things are as varied as they are beautiful, and when we try to force something to be a certain way or to conform in the name of perfectionism, we actually stagnate energy, as if trying to pin down an ocean wave. In this way, perfectionism can stop a natural flow—or, in Traditional Chinese Medicine, the qi that moves through all living things—and give way to fragmented energy.

It's been my experience that such fragmented energy can lead to stressful thoughts. And, given that chronic stress may compromise health in myriad ways, including an increased risk of inflammation, it's important to work on pivoting from perfectionism to self-acceptance.

In his ancient text Tao Te Ching, Chinese philosopher Lao-Tzu writes, “Because he accepts himself, the whole world accepts him.” It’s ironic, then, that so many strive for outward acceptance by exercising perfectionist tendencies rather than focusing on inward acceptance. Instead of working to conform in a certain way as a means to get external validation, we need to move toward radical self-acceptance for where we are.

To me, practicing radical self-acceptance means connecting to the deepest part of my energy and soul, and letting that come forward in my life. I embrace this energy over material or superficial aspects of my life, like how I look or what I own. This fits inline with more text in the Tao: “True perfection seems imperfect, yet it is perfectly itself.”

Someone who is able to exercise self-acceptance in favor of a perfectionist mindset is someone who has confidence and values the power of uniqueness.

Someone who is able to exercise self-acceptance in favor of a perfectionist mindset is someone who has confidence and values the power of uniqueness. No one can be exactly anyone but themselves, and so seeing the perfection of that also releases us from the relentless energies of comparison and competition.

Where to start? Even if perfectionism has a stronghold in your life at this moment, you can start working to break free of it. Little by little, we can all shift our instincts and perspectives to create new patterns that value self-worth, uniqueness, and radical self-acceptance. To learn how to practice self-acceptance and reject perfectionism in the process, find three strategies below that have helped me.

1. Spend time in nature

Components of nature are never trying to be something. Rather, they simply are what they are. While walking, hiking, or biking in nature, or simply sitting in silence on a park bench, at the beach, or anywhere outdoors available to you, focus on witnessing the non-trying aspect of Mother Nature.

Contemplating, meditating, and opening up myself to the greater force of nature that runs through us and around us has helped me dissolve the idea of perfectionism by simply seeing what is really around me.

2. Try breathwork

Consider how perfectionism energetically manifests in your body: Is it the tightness around your shoulders or your belly? The deep hollow feeling in your heart? A heaviness around your throat? The more you can use self-awareness to break the pattern of perfectionism coming into your space, the more effectively you can avoid it. It is in breaking a old, unhelpful pattern that we can create new, beneficial one—and a breathwork practice can help.

Try the "Expanding the Gaps" practice from my new book, You Are More Than You Think You Are. To start, move your energy and focus entirely to your breath. Take full deep breaths into your belly until you regulate your heart rate and relax. Wait until you feel more clarity and peaceful thoughts emerging anew, and then come back to the present situation.

3. Practice self-compassion

Research supports the notion that self-compassion can be a helpful intervention for a perfectionist mindset, so when feelings of perfectionism bubble up, work to not believe or act on them.

Instead, take a compassionate approach by talking to yourself as you would to a child: with deep compassion and love rather than harshness and love. For instance, you could say to yourself, “Oh, there I am, thinking I’m just the limited little self! Silly me! I know I am so much more than this could ever define me. It’s just an old pattern!”

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