It took me six years to complete an 11-month yoga certification training. My mind intellectually knew the importance of having a growth mindset (mistakes are part of learning, the important thing is to try, etc), but the gap between the amateur I was and the teacher I wanted to be was so vast, I was afraid it would swallow me whole if I even attempted to take a step forward. There’s a visceral fear with perfectionism that can be paralyzing, at least in my experience. It reminds me of somatic teacher Prentis Hemphill teaching: “Perfectionism is a commitment to habitual self-doubt.”
I often encourage my clients to aim for C- work. Usually they look surprised — what? don’t try to do this perfectly? — and then, I might see facial expressions soften and shoulders drop slightly.
In their book Reclaiming Body Trust: A Path to Healing & Liberation, Hilary Kinavey, MS, LPC and Dana Sturtevant, MS, RD write:
“When we tell people to go for a C- in this work (as opposed to an A), they are often surprised—and a little resistant—only to later find this to be one of the most helpful foundations for deepening their roots into body trust. Diet culture and perfectionism go hand in hand. This work is messy, uncertain, different, imperfect, and human. We encourage doing this kind of badly some of the time (but not all the time), and remembering how this will get easier with time and practice, not in relentlessly chasing perfection…
When you begin to embrace the concept of C- work, experimenting and taking risks becomes more possible. It’s easier to approach eating with the attitude of just seeing what happens when we do this versus that. With the concern of “getting it right” reduced, there’s more permission to try new things.”
This would be a neat and tidy post if I could simply say, I challenged perfectionism, aimed for C-work and made steady progress towards my goal, The End. but there’s more to it than that.
What really helped me cross the finish line to certification was getting support. I reached out to my former yoga classmate Sarina, now a yoga teacher, who fittingly wrote a children’s book called Can Do It!. Her affirming support gave me the accountability I needed to steadily start turning in those yoga sequences that were tripping me up. I had reached out for support a few times along the way but I needed to keep looking for the right kind of support. Can you relate?
Our culture tends to focus on outcomes and external measures (e.g. diet mentality) but there are many benefits to taking a more process-oriented approach (e.g. Intuitive Eating). I learned so many things in my long journey to learning how to teach yoga:
I learned the importance of continually checking in with my body and heart. The clarity that teaching yoga still mattered inside (even as my mind struggled to articulate exactly why) allowed me to hang in there and not give up. There are other times when a goal has become more of a “should” and doesn’t feel as aligned anymore and the wisest thing to do is to allow your mind to catch up to your heart and let it go.
I learned the importance of beginning again. Sometimes life took my attention elsewhere for several months (or years), and I needed to move through the awkward discomfort of beginning again. I also learned that even if I fell into the abyss of incompetence, there was a soft landing place (compassion) and I could climb back out and try again.
Finally, I remembered the lesson my mom taught me about courage years ago through her example: You can’t tell courage looking from the outside in, you can only tell courage from the inside out. For whatever reasons, this process was hard for me. I could dismiss my experience (“this shouldn’t be hard; it’s not hard for other people”) or simply acknowledge the truth of my experience, and recognize that taking a step forward was courageous.
How about you?
Does perfectionism (fear; a commitment to self-doubt; all-or-nothing thinking) get in the way of your self-care practices, personal goals or healing your relationship with food?
Would you benefit from lowering the stakes and aiming for C- work?
Have you checked in with your heart lately to see if this goal still resonates?
Do you have the support you need?