Untangling Perfectionism

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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) First-Time Half-Marathoner: Training Day 1

After I finished my first 10K last December and was all hopped up on endorphins and feeling bulletproof, St. Jude offered me the opportunity to sign up for the 2017 race.

“Sure!” I thought, “I’m going to put my money down on the half-marathon. I’m committing now! I have a whole year to get ready. I’m stepping up my game!”

Great marketing is a powerful thing, my friend. Clearly, I am not immune.

Spring rolled around, with it’s unseasonable heat, then unseasonable snow, and then unseasonable thunderstorms that flooded what seemed like the entire earth. People were literally kayaking down their streets, while I was (attempting) to build up to a 5k in the annual women’s running clinic in my community. I was also trying to clean up my diet, with mixed results and many near-vomit experiences.

It was about the time that I was encountering the complete opposite of the success I’d imagined with the 5K that I thought, “A half-marathon is like 10 more miles. I’m in soooo much trouble”. So when my friend suggested a half marathon in October, 6 weeks before the St. Jude half-marathon, I signed up. Crazy, right? But my thinking was/is, that the October half-marathon will be the race where I make all my mistakes.

For example, today marks the official first day of training for the October half-marathon. The prescribed run for today was 3 miles. Easy enough, you say? Let me tell you a story.

I leave work 30 minutes later than I planned, pushing my run time back later than expected. As I drive, I’m slamming 18 ounces of water, because I’m really thirsty for some reason. Plus, I am actively pursuing total hydration as a goal. (I said what I said).

I get home and hurry to change, fill up a water bottle and put it in a cooler, and gather all my gear. On the drive to the course I’ve planned, I reach over for the cooler to move it out of the sun, but come up empty handed. No cooler in the car. I mean, who needs water for a 3 mile run in 90 degrees? I’m properly hydrated these days; it’ll be fine!

I park the car and begin walking to warm up my legs. I’m not 300 meters from the car, when I realize that only half of that 18 ounces of water I was slamming must have made it out when I was at home, because the other half is knocking on the door. When I hit the corner, I jogged across the street to the gas station.

“This is fine!” I say to myself, “I’m exploring potential pit stops for longer runs. Note to self: vintage bathroom graffiti and a non-working lock.”

I finally start my run after jogging back across the street to the trail. The first mile feels good. The second mile gets hard, and I can feel my face moving from bright red to deep purple. The 3rd mile, I’m willing my legs to just keep turning.

Spiritually, I’ve been in a season of “growing up”, so I’ve developed this mantra that I say to myself every time something is painful and I want to start whining. Instead of saying “this hurts and I’m dying” and I recognize the pain and say to myself “This is where I grow”.

The 3rd mile was a inner refrain of “this is where I grow. This is where my legs get stronger. This is where my lungs get stronger. This is where my mind gets stronger,” and included many more pieces of me that were hurting or feeling weak. My new inner chant saw me through to the end.

And it saw me to this water fountain, where I snapped a picture of my purple face and SWtrainingday1the copious amount of sweat that is the result of pursuing total hydration as a goal. The picture also serves as a reminder to actually put the packed cooler of water into the car.

The picture and the story behind it serve as a baseline for this journey, and I’m interested to see the difference between today and October 21st when the race finally rolls around.

It also serves as proof positive that the “half-marathon where I can make all of my silly mistakes before the St. Jude half-marathon” is needed in my case.

As for tomorrow, Training Day 2, “they” say that I need to run hills.

Ahhhh…..”they” are so funny.