Improving without Perfectionism? How to Get Better and Still Love Yourself

Enough. These few words are enough.

If not these few words, this breath

If not this breath, this sitting here.


This opening to life

we have refused

again and again

until now.


Until now.

                    – David Whyte



This blog post is by one of our soon-to-be YTT graduates, Adriane.

Still Learning…

I will start by noting that I am writing this blog post, not because I have mastered the art of improving through self-love, but because I am the one who needs to learn this skill most.

If you are anything like me, you have been perplexed by how one improves without a healthy does of perfectionism. You need to be a little bit of a perfectionist when striving to be the best, right? Well actually, as I have contemplated this more I have come to realize that perfectionism is the one thing that really gets in my way. It is the source of my negative self-talk and -defeatism. In her book, The Gifts of Imperfections, Brené Brown says, “perfectionism is a twenty-ton shield that we lug around thinking it will protect us when, in fact, it’s the thing that’s really preventing us from taking flight”.

I am well acquainted with the perfectionist self-talk. It is the loudest voice when I feel the most vulnerable. It comes as no surprise, that when I am learning something new, Patty Perfectionist meets me with open arms. In my role as yoga teacher trainee, Patty has been screaming in my ear, each time I prepare for a class, teach a class, and receive feed forward from my peers. With the knowledge that perfectionism is preventing me from progressing as a yoga teacher, the work then becomes about overcoming my self-defeating tendencies so that I can grow.

In her work, Dr. Brown, differentiates between perfectionism and healthy-striving. She says, that healthy striving is self-focused (it sounds like, how can I improve?), while perfectionism is other-focused (it sounds like, what will they think?). Dr. Brown says that self-compassion is fundamental for practicing imperfection. Keeping this difference in mind, I have created the Re-work, Reach Out, and Cope plan for how I can engage self-love and compassion to help me improve as a yoga teacher. My hope is that others, both perfectionist and imperfectionists alike will find it helpful too.

Re-work (Takes some time, be patient)

Check-in: Identify your perfectionist thought patterns. Where does it show up? What does it sound like? How does it make you feel?

Pro tip: If you are keen, you can record your thoughts making written note of every time the thought arises for you in a day. Practice this for a week. See if you can identify patterns.

Check it out: Reality-check your thoughts. See if you can identify evidence that is counter to your patterned thinking. Be honest with yourself.

Pro tip: It helps to write this stuff down. Write down exactly what happened. Ask a friend who was there. It is a lot harder to lie to yourself when you write it down. You might find yourself thinking, well, that isn’t exactly what happened, it was more like….

Rework: Consciously replace the thought pattern. It will feel awkward at the beginning but overtime it does work. See if you can replace your perfectionist thoughts like, she/he is so much better than I am to I really want to get better for me, how can I improve OR I am terrible at this, nothing I do is right to I am good enough and worthy as I am, but I am excited to explore how I can get better at teaching yoga (for instance).

Pro tip: Give yourself a hug. Reworking thought patterns is crazy hard work and it can really help to remember to love you.  

Reach Out (Takes some practice, be kind)

Feel it. Let yourself cry, scream, or just feel bad for a few minutes. Identify how your thoughts are making you feel and just feel whatever it is.

Pro tip: Sometimes it helps to feel the emotion in your body. Emotions manifest their physical form differently for everyone. Where and how do you feel it? Tightness in your chest. A lump in your throat. A dry mouth. A knot in your stomach. Because we feel our emotions physically before we process them mentally, when we learn to feel the emotion in our bodies and focus on that first, we can put space between feeling the emotion and reacting to it. This approach can help us to interject before our usual thought processes take over.

Find a friend. Speak honestly about your experience with someone you trust and know will have the capacity to be empathetic to your situation.

Pro tip: Click here to learn more about the difference between empathy and sympathy

Breathe. Take a few minutes after speaking with your friend to digest what you talked about.

Pro tip: This might mean taking a bath, meditating, journaling, doing yoga, or going for a walk.

Cope (Takes a bit of adjustment, be flexible)

Because the re-work and reach out plans take time it is important to identify ways that you can cope today.

Think about how your perfectionism is getting in your way and identify ways that might help you cope. For instance, sometimes it is hard for me to digest feedback immediately after I teach, so I am going to cope by writing down the feedback in the moment so that I can revisit it later.

Coping will be different for everyone, so think about where you are most debilitated by your perfectionist thoughts and imagine ways in which you can make it a little easier for yourself.

DSC00975In 2014, Adriane combined her life long loves, practicing yoga and teaching, by enrolling in the QSY teacher training program. In pursuit of her first love, learning, Adriane is also a student at the University of Waterloo. Adriane’s other loves include, Sunday cooking, podcast listening, ice cream eating, flower smelling, and hummingbird watching. She is still in search of a program that intersects all her loves.

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