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Perfectionism: The Saboteur of Self Development

Many of us are plagued with the paralyzing, show-stopping effects of perfectionism.  It creates layers of excuses as to why we can’t do something we profess to desire.  Perfectionism tends to be confluence of three factors: fear of failure, fear of looking like a fool, and a fear of commitment.

Fear of Failure

A fear of failure can disguise itself as a strong desire to be prepared. Also known as “Analysis Paralysis”, a fear of failure causes us to keep planning, keep researching, but never taking action. I first really noticed my perfectionism when I started to practice yoga.  I delayed taking my first class because I wanted to make sure I had all the “right” stuff and then I spent hours reading about different styles of yoga, the history of the practice and the philosophy.  I told myself that I was being smart by being so well-prepared; in reality, I was just stalling.

Fear of Looking Like a Fool

We humans crave approval and respect and go out of our way to save face.  Before I even stepped into a studio the first time, I spent hours selecting the best yoga mat, the cutest clothes, the most unique bag and all the other goodies: straps, blocks and blankets.  Then it became an issue of choosing the best class; I wanted to take the beginner’s track at the Yoga Journal conference in San Francisco (which, as wonderful as it is, it is very pricey) – another stall on the path.  I had convinced myself that everything had to be “perfect” before I could practice.

Fear of Commitment

After we have spent countless hours reading, researching and planning, and sometimes spending lots of money, we still hesitate to begin. We wonder if after all this effort to prepare, will it be worth it? We worry that in spite of purchasing the best equipment and educating ourselves that we might not be successful. We fear putting our heart and soul into something that might not work out.

Combatting Perfectionism

I soon realized that perfectionism spilled over into many other areas of my life.  If I couldn’t pay off a debt in one fell swoop, I would give up, thinking that it was no use trying since I couldn’t do it “perfectly”.  If I tried a new hobby or wanted to learn a new skill, I would quickly stop my efforts if once again, I failed to have miraculous and prodigious talent.

  • Ask yourself, “If I fail, what is the worst thing that could happen?”  What is really at stake?
  • Don’t take yourself so seriously; learn to laugh at yourself.
  • Look within. Why do others’ opinions matter so much to you? Why is failure so frightening?
  • Don’t buy all the equipment; just start with the essentials. This frees you to try something new without the pressure of having invested in something too heavily.  You can always buy all the best things later, when the quality of your accessories will mean something to your practice.
  • Successful people are not “naturals” or prodigies.  Rather, successful people committed to practice regularly – hours and hours of practice over several years – to become extraordinary experts. Even in the face of adversity and rejection, their commitment to practice has made them triumphant.
  • Most people are too wrapped up in their own experience to even notice that you are taking personal risks and courting failure. Get over yourself.
  • There are no guarantees, but you’ll never get anywhere if you don’t try.

Today, I’ve accepted that maybe I’ll never be able to lift my body into urdhva dhanurasana, but I don’t need to wait for the perfect yoga mat or to be able to afford unlimited classes with the “best’ teachers. I only need my commitment to continue daily practice and seek the wisdom of my Self.

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