Untangling Perfectionism

TBPMod1
The “Before” Pic: The stats on my watch mark where I am today. They do not tell the story of the 13 weeks of conditioning it took to get here, nor do they predict where I will be at the end of this 18 weeks of training. Today is both a finish line and a starting line. 

I’m a recovering perfectionist. The fact that I was a perfectionist was news to me when the label was so casually thrown my direction for the first time. I genuinely looked around like, “who is she talking to?” Given that it was my turn in the group therapy circle, I was obviously the topic of the discussion. So, with that little seed planted, I walked around for many, many months noticing all of the thoughts, habits, reactions, and internal dialogue that validated my struggle with perfectionism.

That was a tough time, friends. Insight and awareness are often overwhelming when they are brand new, and my head felt like a very loud and hostile place to be. What I was learning, though, was priceless. I was learning that I had some really high standards for myself. Like ridiculously high. All the Marvel superheroes in the world could never conquer my high expectations. They were wildly out of control, but that didn’t stop me from excoriating myself each and every time I fell short, which was the only possible outcome given the nature of the standards I was holding myself to. The result was a never-ending cycle of mental and emotional gymnastics that was guaranteed to produce failure at every turn. Even actual successes didn’t measure up, and therefore, were marked as failures and added to the never-ending list of ways I had failed.

The physical result of that cycle was a lot of unhealthy habits. Perfectionism by its very name and nature demands that every first attempt results in a perfect end product. As a result, the risk of making a first attempt is often too daunting to try and many opportunities are lost to fear. When first attempts are made and not perfect, then no more attempts are made. Throw it all away and start over from scratch or simply quit entirely. Of course, throughout all of this, the harsh internal dialogue has been constantly playing in the background, steadily creating and increasing symptoms of anxiety and depression. When those symptoms become too uncomfortable to tolerate for one second longer, then it’s time to crack open the carton of ice cream.

By doing my trauma work with an amazing group and amazing therapists, I was able to begin untangling some of those perfectionistic tendencies and the resulting emotional eating. Inspired by that progress, I reached out to a friend who had made great strides in her own health journey, and she introduced me to the coaches at The OmniFit. For the past 2 years, I’ve been working with both the trauma professionals and the nutrition coaches, and it has been quite the journey.

Marathon training begins today, and I feel newly inspired to take my health goals to the next level and dig a little deeper into the mental game that will make that possible. The Transformation Blueprint course offered by The OmniFit has been a huge help in that regard. The first module is all about perfectionism, and these are some of the things I took away from that first module:

  • What I see in others is the end result and not the process. This helps me quiet that inner critic when I want to compare my “now” me to someone who has been at this for a decade. I like to follow this up by telling myself a story about how once upon a time this now perfect human specimen was also once a sweaty, smelly pathetic little thing that grunted and groaned when they tried to stand up.

 

  • “Goals are measureable. Expectations are emotional”- so focus on your goals. This quote from Coach Kala is really the most important piece to me and has become an almost daily mantra. It moves me out of the unwieldy emotional turmoil and into something concrete and within my grasp. Learning to acknowledge my emotions while shifting my attention to my goals has been such a lifesaver.

 

  • Set realistic goals.For me that means dialing it way back and then dialing it back some more. It means doing a little research to check my expectations for myself against reality. It also means breaking things down into steps, and then taking each step one at a time. Finally, I check in with my schedule and my body before I finalize any goals for the day, and I adjust accordingly.

 

  • Celebrate the victories.When I accomplish a step, I take a minute to really appreciate and celebrate it. I do not let any success, large or small, just float by unnoticed anymore. I give myself credit for the achievement and “put it in the bank”. No more long running lists of failures. I’ve got a vault of achievements, and they are drawing interest.

 

  • Find some real motivation. I’m pretty sure that I’ve spent most of my life having no clue what really motivates me. I’ve bribed, rewarded, punished, and deprived myself in an attempt to find the drive to complete a goal, and none of it worked. The fact is, if a carrot is dangled in front of me, I’ll immediately feel manipulated and annoyed, and like I’m being treated like a dog or a child. At that point, hell will freeze over before I play that stupid game. If punishment or loss is involved, I’ll just get mad and opt out, believing I never really deserved it anyway. For better or worse, I have the heart of a rebel-with-a-cause, and if I can champion an underdog while also proving to myself (and others) that I can do something I (and others) didn’t think I could do, then I’m ALL in until the very end. Learning to embrace this part of my personality rather than judge it has made all of the difference.

These are the tools I’ve picked up so far and that I’m taking with me into marathon training, but there is still so much more work to do. Currently, the biggest challenge in this house is getting our sleep schedules back to a normal school and work routine. I’m also preparing for my least favorite activity- meal planning. I know that very soon I will be running longer miles that require that I properly fuel my body, and I will also be short on time when the school year and soccer schedule kicks in. Meal planning is such a chore to me, but I know it will make my life easier. So, how does a rebel-with-a-cause find motivation to plan a menu, anyway?

I think I’ve come to really believe that finding what really motivates you and living into it is the secret to enjoying a fulfilling life. It has been surprising how much mental and emotional work and healing it has taken to come to this conclusion. As it would turn out, it is all valuable- the physical, mental, and emotional- because it all works together to provide health and healing. It’s more than running, eating a proper meal, and going to therapy; it’s learning about yourself- how you REALLY tick- and valuing what you learn.

 

Diary of a Reluctant Half-Marathoner: Managing Goals and Gators

BikeTrailPic

Today begins my 2nd week of pre-training for the St. Jude half-marathon in December. The first week had some interesting twists and turns, but overall I’m happy with how things went. Compared to last year, my approach and attitude toward this training cycle is totally different, and that shift in mindset has come from working with the coaches at the OmniFit through their 7 Day Challenge and the Transformation Blueprint course.

So much of my growth over the past year has been around setting realistic goals and managing expectations and my emotional response to those expectations. The reality of managing my expectations is much like wrestling an alligator, in that they are powerful, ornery, and unwilling to be tamed or controlled. It gets really ugly when I let my emotions attach to that power struggle, because clearly, it is going to end badly with me feeling like an exhausted, wrung-out failure. Which is entirely ridiculous, given the fact that I was never meant to wrestle alligators. Goal setting is never supposed to be a power struggle. When properly designed, it is an avenue of empowerment by which goals are achieved.

But in order to do that, expectations have to exit the alligator wrestling arena that I have conjured in my mind and shake hands with reality. That means moving past denial and telling the truth about everything: my time and schedule, my energy level, my attitude and motivation, and my current unhealthy patterns and how deeply entrenched they are in my life. It means accepting that this is going to be hard and I’m going to be uncomfortable and sometimes I’m going to hate this and it is going to bring out the worst in me at times and I’m likely going to act really immature at some point and whine like a small child and NOTHING ABOUT THIS PROCESS IS GOING TO BE PRETTY OR PERFECT.

If this sounds like I’m talking about lowering the bar substantially, then you are picking up what I’m laying down. If that makes you panic, sit in that feeling for a minute and ask yourself why. What I’ve discovered is that when I sit with that feeling and ask myself why, the answers usually reveal wildly unrealistic and unhealthy expectations for myself that I didn’t even realize I was holding on to. The more I reflect on that, I realize that it has been those silent, hidden expectations that have been operating in my life without my conscious permission. They are the drivers behind the unhealthy patterns, like eating my emotions or numbing out or making myself invisible with food.

In light of all of that (and that was A LOT, wasn’t it?), when it was time to start planning my 1st week of pre-training, I created a basic “skeleton” schedule for workouts. After I told the truth about my schedule and my time, I used that information to identify the days of the week that I was going run or walk and the days that I was going to do strength training. As I wrote out the workouts I was planning to do, I wrote them like the stars do align and the day actually does go as planned, because when that glorious day actually happens I want to have a plan in place that allows me to maximize that time for all that it is worth. Knowing that more often than not my days fly off the rails at some point, I identified the part of each workout I could do come hell or high water.

Having that kind of plan in place- a plan with built-in flexibility- made me feel so much more peaceful and less intimidated about starting this training cycle. It also removed the shame of “failing to do exactly what has been prescribed to do” and gave me the freedom to adjust according the realities that life throws at me. Last week, that looked like canceling a run/walk night entirely because my child was exhausted and falling asleep on the couch at 6 p.m., and I wasn’t too far behind her.

It also gave me the freedom to make it fun, which looked like including my child on all the other run/walk workouts. On my scheduled track night when I intended to do an easy, short workout, we ended up doing an almost 2 mile walk. During that walk, we enjoyed time to just chat and catch up with each other that is so rare these days. My scheduled weekend 1 mile run ended up coming in at 0.88 miles, because I also used that time to introduce my new bike rider to the bike trail. I ended up stopping many, many times during the 1st half mile to coach to her, even laying my body down on the paved trail to demonstrate how wide the path really was to relieve her fear of suddenly losing control of herself and rolling into woods. The things we do to calm our children’s fears!

Before I started this journey of wrestling with my expectations, having these things “interrupt” my workout would have caused me a ton of anxiety. Now, I enjoy seeing my daughter get excited about doing any form of exercise. She doesn’t look at me all confused when she walks in the living room to find me in plank position; she simply joins me. This week, she has paid close attention while I measured out and planned my food to take to work and asked important questions about nutrition, which happens to also be the 1st week in a very long time that she has not fought me about eating a proper meal.

So, did I achieve all those “big goal” markers and finish the entire “big goal” workouts that I wrote out? No, I didn’t. But I got close. I certainly did more than I did the week before. More importantly, I stuck to that skeleton structure I created and put some flesh to it by figuring out what is actually going to work inside of my real life and what is not going to work, and figuring that out will set me up for long-term success.

Most importantly, I was a good mom this week. I enjoyed some real, quality time with my child, and she achieved some goals and conquered that fear of bike-riding that she has been trying to work out for over a year now. If I keep on working out my goals and managing my expectations this way, my whole life may get healthier, including my relationship with my daughter, and that will be a way bigger win than shedding a few pounds or shaving a few seconds off of my mile time.