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Perfection versus Moderation

Posted Sep 26 2008 2:47pm

I had to do something terribly annoying last night.  I’m sure you’ll all understand.  I had to look my husband in the eyes and say the dreaded two words: “You’re right.”  He was just in heaven, smiling and nodding and looking quite smug.  Argh!  The truth is, though, that he WAS right, and he deserved the credit.

He has always told me that I do things to the extreme, and I’ve always just brushed him off with a laugh.  He will lean in close to me and say, slowly, “mo-der-a-tion!” And then I roll my eyes and totally ignore him.  Well, if you’ve been reading my last two blog posts, you already know that he’s right, and that I’ve been back in school, learning the lesson of moderation and also the lesson of motivation.  Driven by my perfectionism, I recently drove my body right into a state of disrepair (though luckily not as much as before - I may be a slow learner, but I do learn something, at least!).

So, though my husband has been right all along, the old adage stands true - it’s really hard to learn something without experiencing it fully yourself.  Experience IS the best teacher, and the intrinsic knowledge I now hold is very clear.  I get it.  (Though I imagine I’ll learn more, on a deeper level, again and again and again.)

I pulled out a stack of books last night, reviewing some of my old resources that I haven’t read in a while.  While I would normally spread them all out and kind of read a paragraph here, a paragraph there, this time I decided to use moderation.  Instead of trying to read many books at once, I picked up just one book and focused on it.  (I know - revolutionary!)  The book I picked up is called Tired of Being Tired, by Dr. Jesse Lynn Hanley.  It’s an old friend of mine, but I hadn’t re-read it in years.

I was astounded to discover that I’d FORGOTTEN most of the important stuff in that book!  Apparently my steel-trap memory had failed me!  Upon reading the first few chapters again, I felt like purchasing several thousand copies of the book, wrapping them up in festive paper, and sending them to each and every one of you.  Unfortunately, I decided it would be more cost effective to just write about it here.  But if I could give you a copy, I really would.

Now, before I expound on the incredibly helpful knowledge I re-discovered in the book, let me give you my disclaimer.  Here’s the thing:  I read a LOT of books.  I mean, more than you can imagine, unless you’re also a fanatic about books.  What I don’t do is treat each and every one of them as gospel.  So when I talk about a book, like A Headache in the Pelvis (Wise), or The Mindbody Prescription (Sarno), I’m sharing it because there are parts and pieces I found helpful.  I have never found a book that I incorporated word for word into my life, because I am the expert on me, just like you are the expert on you.  Sometimes general concepts or overall knowledge from a book is really all I need.  Other times I do follow some of the specifics, but never all of them.  I just wanted you all to know that, in case you thought I was 100% in anybody’s camp.  I’m not.

A good example of that is the works of John Sarno, which I find helpful and very applicable in some ways.  However, there are many things I disagree with and don’t find helpful about his work, because I do think that psychology has taken leaps and bounds since Freud and incorporating that new knowledge is vital.  I also feel like Sarno is too inclined to totally ignore the body rather than respect it, listen to it, and work WITH it. But that’s really another blog post altogether.

Which brings me back to Tired of Being Tired.  I cracked open the book and re-discovered my respect for doctors who are willing to study and connect the mind and the body.  Dr. Hanley does a fantastic job of explaining the physiological results of emotional and mental stress.  I’m sharing with you here her checklist for perfectionism.

How to recognize if you are a perfectionist:

You will put any amount of energy into the details of a project, wanting everything to be just so.
You have many ambitious goals that you try to accomplish simultaneously.
You almost never finish everything you expect to accomplish in one day.
You do not feel a sense of satisfaction when you accomplish a goal, but rather you pick it apart for its flaws or you are already thinking of something else that needs to be done.
You never feel satisfied with yourself.
You are self-critical and unforgiving of your flaws.
You are compelled to work rather than do something fun.
Even when you are doing something that is supposed to be fun you turn it into a project/work.
You feel nervous taking time away from work, even if it is for family fun.
No matter what you do you feel that it is never enough.
You do not feel that you have high expectations of yourself or that you make unreasonable demands on yourself even though others tell you that you are too hard on yourself.  (Pay attention to that one, everyone!)

Yikes.  Guilty as charged!  You’ll be glad to know, though, that with Martha Beck’s tools, I’ve already begun my work on releasing this perfection drive (I’m getting deeper into it this time) and have been feeling MUCH better ever since.  I’m promoting myself right now to recovering perfectionist.

The moral of the story, here, is that whether or not you are feeling constant stress from perfectionism or from self-judgment, the result in your body can be catastrophic.  Every time you worry, your body flips the switch and enters fight-or-flight mode.  Up go the stress hormones, day in and day out.  Until you don’t have any more reserves, your body begins to lose its ability to deal with stress effectively, and you begin to feel sick.  Often, your perfectionism or self-judgment, like mine, will drive you to behaviors that are unhealthy and out-of-balance.  Even extreme, you might say.  This exacerbates the cycle, breaking your body down more.  Unfortunately, many of these activities (in my case, over-exercising, being ridiculously busy, and sleeping less) create bursts of adrenaline that are addicting.  Ah, the feeling of being alert, ready for anything, and on the edge.  I’ve given it all up for a much more relaxing creativity, and I LOVE it.  It is infinitely better.

Your particular hormone imbalance may come from this adrenal fatigue as well, and if it does, it is worth treating your body with care and attention, because your body is giving you a message.  It would like you to figure out why you aren’t treating it kindly, and then start, NOW.  If your hormone imbalance is a combination of years of stress plus peri-menopause or full menopause, then it’s even more vital to really care for your body.

I mention all of this today because there are scientific correlations between adrenal fatigue and illnesses such as interstitial cystitis, fibromyalgia, migraines, and many others.  It’s possible that you have not run across this knowledge, and if it might help you, then I feel sharing it is important.  Modern medicine is just scratching the surface of the connection between the mind, how we treat our bodies, and our hormonal systems and much of this information, I believe, will become much more mainstream at some point in the future.

I highly recommend Tired of Being Tired, and I’ll even share my other favorite book about hormones with you as well.  It’s called The Schwarzbein Principle: The Program, by endocrinologist Diana Schwarzbein. (I actually follow the plan from this book more than the other, but love the message in Tired of Being Tired.)  Read them both, do your own research, and then don’t forget to use the shackles on, shackles off check (described in the linked post) to know what’s right for you.  Be careful, though, of the siren song of adrenaline, which, if you’ve fallen into an addictive relationship with it, may make it harder to get an accurate reading.  For instance, when I thought about running, I felt a compulsion to do so and really wanted to keep going.  When I really let myself do the shackles test, I discovered that it truly felt shackles on and that walking felt shackles off.  Your essential self always knows best.

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