Three Signs I'm Lost In Perfectionism (And Their Self-Care Antidotes)

Here I am, enjoying a beautifully imperfect baby shower with some of my favorite ladies in the world. 

Here I am, enjoying a beautifully imperfect baby shower with some of my favorite ladies in the world. 

Hello all!

I hope it’s been a good week for you.  By good, I mean I hope it’s been a week where you’ve balanced the inevitable struggle of creating a satisfying life with the soothing aspects of self-care.  I hope you did all of this while learning something new and/or important about yourself in the spirit of your own growth.  

In other words, I hope you’re fully living your beautiful life!  Personally, that is what I am shooting for these days.

Of course, sometimes, I forget how to do that.  This happens when I’m surviving a string of sticky days while still half-moved into my new house.  In these stressful moments, I feel out of control.  This feeling of powerlessness causes me to feel like get my act together.  I attempt to do this by becoming overly interested in how my life needs to look great from the outside, and ignoring my own very real self-care needs.

During these moments, my mind tells me that the most important things I can do is balance meaningful work with earnest volunteering and take in massive amounts of organic green vegetables and fancy protein powers, all while choosing the perfect earrings that complement my tastefully understated outfit.  Then my mind reminds me that I should be Instagramming all these great moments to get thousands of little heart affirmations that prove how wonderful my life looks to the rest of the world.

This all sounds good until I check in and realize that this is my perfectionism flaring back up.  As social researcher Brene Brown eloquently describes it:

“Perfectionism is a self-destructive and addictive belief system that fuels this primary thought: ‘If I look perfect, live perfectly, and do everything perfectly, I can avoid or minimize the painful feelings of shame, judgment, and blame.’

Perfectionism is addictive because when we invariably do experience shame, judgment, and blame, we often believe it’s because we weren’t perfect enough, so rather than questioning the faulty logic of perfectionism, we become even more entrenched in our quest to live, look, and do everything just right.

Feeling shamed, judged, and blamed (and the fear of these feelings) are realities of the human experience. Perfectionism actually increases the odds that we’ll experience these painful emotions and often leads to self-blame: ‘It’s my fault. I’m feeling this way because I’m not good enough.’”

Ever since I was young, I have yearned so deeply to finally become perfect.  I so hoped it would solve all the problems that felt way too big and scary for my young self to handle.  This means I’ve danced with perfectionism long enough to know that it absolutely NEVER gives me what I am looking for in my life.  

What I crave most is creativity, connection and a deeper relationship with my own spirit. And yes, perfectionism promises these things.  It does an amazing job of telling me just how bulletproof I will be if I can just get my healthy eating together and figure out how to break through to the next income bracket.

Because it is so seductive, I always forget that perfectionism doesn’t work, and I keep trying for it anyway.  

I’ve come to recognize that like any addiction, I will work with perfectionism for the rest of my life.  Rather than try to make my perfectionism go away -- thus adding a heaping dose of perfectionism on top of my perfectionism, woah -- I’ve come to recognize the warning signs of becoming lost in this fear-based mindset.  

My Perfectionism Tip-Offs:

Tip-Off #1: When I’m stuck in my perfectionism loop, I don’t feel close to people.  I don’t feel close to people because I am mercilessly comparing myself to them and usually ending up either better or worse off than them, in my estimation.  I feel a lot of competition and stressful energy in our interactions.  This makes me feel really separate and lonely.   

Self-Care Antidote:  When I notice I am feeling competitive or lonely, I reach out to another human being who understands perfectionism.  I call a trusted friend and tell her how messy everything feels right now.  She sympathetically hums along with me as I tell my big, bad truth, and relates to what I’ve said because she goes there too, sometimes. By the end of our chat, she reminds me of my infinite strength. I leave our conversation feeling much more connected to someone I care about, and usually also to the world as a whole.  If I can’t find a friend for this vulnerable connection, I write my messy truth in my journal.  My journal is such a great friend -- she just listens and listens, like she has all day to hear me out.   I almost always feel better afterward.

Tip-Off #2: I know I’m in perfectionism mode when I feel really bad about making mistakes.  I beat myself up for anything I’ve done wrong (especially when I’ve disappointed other people).  Then I start drudging up any and all mistakes I’ve made in the past.  I use the words “should have” a lot, and say them to myself in a really mean tone of voice.  I become a total people-pleaser who will say or do just about anything to ensure that someone isn’t mad at me. By the end of this inner tirade, I have about as much self-esteem as a piece of used chewing gum.

Self-Care Antidote:  I take a deep breath and gently say, “Wow, I’m being really hard on myself.”  Then I bravely take responsibility for what I’ve done.  If I can fix something, I fix it.  If I need to apologize, then I say, “I’m sorry.”  I recognize other people’s part in the mistake and don’t take on their responsibility. I say the Serenity Prayer over and over.  I remind myself that everyone is allowed to make mistakes, and that I’m included in the idea of “everyone.”  I ask myself, “what’s right about this mistake?” and see if I can find a creative reframe.  I live and learn and trust that I can’t see the whole scope of the issue from the place I’m standing.

Tip-Off #3: I’m definitely in lost in perfectionism when I am overly critical of my body.  I can especially tell it’s perfectionism when I’ve felt fine about myself the day before (or hour before), and then suddenly my face and stomach and thighs all look weird.  In these moments, I am lost in shame and just want to hide from the world.  If I am getting dressed to go somewhere, there’s usually a huge pile of clothes on my bed, because nothing I put on looks right.

Self-Care Antidote:  First, I sit down and drink a glass of water.  This helps me to get back into my body.  If I am hungry, I eat something, and if I’m not, I don’t.  If I am going out, I consider canceling so I can spend the night relaxing (because I’m usually stressed in these moments).  If I can’t cancel, I put on my most flowing, happy-making dress and a beautiful shade of lipstick.  I tell myself that I love the people I love because they are fascinating people and not because they have perfect bodies.  I listen to affirming music and dance, because a body is a wonderful thing to dance with.  I remember that most women (and a lot of men) I know are struggling with body image, and that I am so not alone. When I have a calm moment, I ask myself what is really going on -- because it’s almost never really a body-image issue -- and share it with a friend or my journal.

***

These are my biggest perfectionism indicators.  Of course, there are more that can come up in a variety of ways. (Procrastination is a big one that will warrant its own post someday.)  

Your tip-offs might look a little or a lot different for you.  What’s important is to notice when you’re moving into perfectionism and feeling lonely, empty or overly critical.  When you get a glimmer of this awareness, then use your best self-care techniques to gently yet surely guide yourself back to your center.  

You’ll know when you are back in touch with your heart and spirit.  The warmth of this connection with yourself is accompanied by many delicious sighs, and the feeling of real self-friendship.

Looking at this issue is important, because when it goes unchecked, perfectionism will suck the life out of all of us.  Many people spend their whole lives distracted.  Now more than ever,  we need every ounce of life we can get.  This life is the only thing that will help us to continue showing up bravely, and creatively working with the many hurt places in our world.

When we can mindfully work with it, perfectionism will transform into real compassion.  We see how we are all struggling with real problems, and despite those struggles, most of us are still showing up with our amazing human powers of dignity, kindness and ingenuity.  

With clear eyes, we take off our shields of perfectionism (thanks for that image, Brene) and finally show our messy, beautiful human form.  In that moment of immense bravery, we allow ourselves to be inspired by and inspiring to others.  Finally feeling the sticky air of real life, we let the immenseness of the world in, which has never smelled so real, so gorgeously good.

XO,
Gracy

 

Ending Overeating with Dignity, a Conversation with Sensible Life Coach Max Daniels

Oh how I love the simple clarity of Max Daniels, a sensible life coach who specializes on the issues of women, body image and eating with dignity our current food culture. A former binge eater, she has found a way to eat and live with sanity and has taught many other people -- mostly women who think getting thinner will solve everything -- to do the same. 

In our conversation, we talk about why diets don't work, how different eating structures work for different people, and the diet-free guru who changed both of our lives.  

To learn more about Max's work, please visit her websitesign up for her mailing list (I love her weekly Tuesday emails), and follow her on Facebook.  

10 Self-Care Hacks to Survive the Summer Heat

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Hello lovelies,

Today we are emerging out of a three-day heat wave in Washington, DC.   Yesterday we hit record highs for June, and it was reflected by the many sweaty, sun-dressed people I saw dragging themselves along the glaring city sidewalks at midday.

Being 30 weeks pregnant - oh wow, there so much extra blood in my body right now! - with a broken A/C unit and a backyard full of poison ivy (meaning I get to walk my dog through the sunny, hilly streets of our new neighborhood) means that I am experiencing a whole new definition of the word “hot.”

In Ayurveda, we talk about heat in terms of a concept called pitta.  Pitta is the element in all of us that is driven by fire.  It gives us our ability to digest anything (thoughts, experiences, food) and is responsible for our keen intelligence and quick sense of humor.  It loves to express as leadership, ambition and sexuality.  It gives us life!  Without pitta to animate us, we would be such lifeless lumps of clay or windy wisps of people.  

When pitta gets too hot, as tends to happen during a swampy DC summer, we experience the imbalance as chronic crankiness, itchy rashes and burning indigestion.  People with out-of-whack pitta get red in the face as they lay on their horns in traffic.  They micromanage projects until they alienate everyone around them and generally suck the fun out of all situations.

Although iPhone gods have promised me that the temperatures will cool off later this week, I was inspired to make a plan of how I will get through my first big, fat pregnant summer without turning into a pitta monster (as may have happened before).

I thought that especially those of you who live in hot summer climates could also use a few cooling reminders.  So with that, here are my...

10 Self-Care Hacks to Survive the Summer Heat

1. Keep your oven off.  Instead, enjoy a lot of no-cook foods like this salad, these energy date bites, and of course, my favorite 10-minute spring rolls.  Slightly bitter foods, like red leafed lettuce, aloe vera juice and sweet stone-fruits (plums and peaches), also help to cool down our fiery pitta.  Melon is also great, but plan to eat it on its own as a snack about 20 minutes before you eat anything else. This is because we digest melons so dang fast that it can cause digestive issues when consumed with slower-assimilating foods like grains, meat and dairy.  I like to snack on a few pieces while I’m cooking lunch.  By the time I am putting food on the table, I’ve given the melon a good head start.

2. Reclaim the siesta.  There is a reason why people in hot countries rest after lunch.  It’s hard to do anything else when you are that hot.  Luckily, resting post-lunch helps with digestion, too.  Ayurveda recommends a tiny nap after lunch, resting on your left side to increase digestion, and a digestive walk after dinner, when it’s cooler.  If your office doesn’t have a nap room, then try implementing this practice on weekends.

3. If a nap is not going to happen, meditate or practice a few minutes of a cooling pranayama (yoga speak for “special breath”).  This one looks really silly, but dang if it doesn’t work wonders in just a few breaths.

4. Plan to come home hot.  Fill your fridge with spa-like lavender-scented cold towels and stick a bottle of rosewater spray next to your condiments.  Make homemade popsicles from blended farmer’s market fruit and eat one right when you walk in.  When you come home sweaty, use the towel to wash your face, arms and feet.  Then spritz on the rosewater.  Finally, put your feet up and eat a popsicle.  Notice how you feel 10 billion times better afterward.

5. Count to 10.  Continued, oppressive heat means that tempers will flare.  This is why the murder rate always always rises along with the temperature.  Although I haven’t truly considered acts of violence, I know that I need to watch my emotions when I am too hot.  Taking a moment to diffuse my anger may sound simple but it has saved me from ugly, unnecessary fights in the moment and the painful apologies that come after.

6. If heat-induced anger is an issue for you, try this emotional release. If you’re feeling hot and bothered, first take the steps you need to cool down.  Then, when your mind is calmer, see if you can narrow your anger down to one clear demand (ie, I want you to take the trash out on Friday mornings without me reminding you).  Continuing in your state of calm, express that demand in some form.  Perhaps you calmly say it to the person (and resist the urge to apologize after you do), or maybe you just need to write it down on a scrap of paper which you can burn or toss afterward.  Regardless, you are angry for a good reason.  Thinking it through and expressing it will make you feel better and perhaps improve your relationships.

7. Submerge thyself. This is a little obvious, but being emerged in cold water does such wonders to cool us all down in mind/body/spirit.  Hit the pool (I wish I lived in Austin so I could go to these pools every day), find a hike with a swim (I love this one near Charlottesville, VA) or turn your shower to cold for the last minute.  The cold shocks us back to who we are and gives us a gateway to our soul, according to this modern yogi.

8. Laugh more.  I find that tapping into my sense of humor diffuses heat-induced tension.  I giggle a lot with the people I love (or just myself sometimes).  Sometimes we need to bring in the bigger guns.  Try this video on male/female relations or this sad cat diary.  

9. Get lost in a story.  Summer reading is such a lovely way to mark the season.  My recommendations are this extremely well-researched work of nonfiction that reads like a novel, and this series on the deeper nature of female friendships that could take you the whole season to get through, but will be well worth it.

10. Do less, or almost nothing.  When I’m hot, I always feel overwhelmed.  When I’m overwhelmed, I have difficulty establishing my priorities, which means I can begin acting out of anxiety.  Lately, I've been reading a page in the Tao Te Ching before bed every night before bed.  This ancient Chinese Taoist reminds us of the power of non-action.  We exhaust ourselves by acting out of anxiety.  Instead, we should relax and wait for a deeper impulse to move.  I find that when I have the patience to wait and see, taking action is much smoother and more effective.

From the text:

“Therefore the sage keeps to the deed that consists in taking no action and practices the teaching that uses no words.”

***

The ancient masters have spoken.  During the summer, less can be way more, especially if you want to be a happy human being.  

So now, take a moment to go drink cool water and take a few deep breaths.  When you get home, wash your feet and put them up the wall.  Modify your self-care for the season, and see how much the world supports your nourishing efforts.   

For one, I’m 100% in support of them.  You, my hot little tamale, deserve all the coolness available to you.  Soak it up, drink it in and share the benefits in terms of your loving attitude and spot-on sense of humor, especially when it comes to the hard parts of life.  It’s truly the best gift we can give anyone around us, ourselves included.

XO,
Gracy

Do You Think You Feel Too Much? Or Too Little?

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Hello Beautiful!

Oh my, we made it into our new house!  My partner, Micah; his cat, Dinah; my dog, Poncho and I are finally all living under one roof.  (Well, we almost are except for a few pet problems.  Read more about those dynamics here).  

We’re now in a beautiful old house with a grand wooden staircase and epically big backyard.   We have a lazy front porch and sweet neighbors.  I love it so much.

But oh lordy, is moving ever stressful!  As I packed up box after box, I told myself that it was just a move.  I could totally get through this.  The movers would show up, take our stuff to our next location and by the end of the day, we’d fall asleep in our new bed.  Along the way we would decide where things go, keep the pets from becoming traumatized and hopefully drink enough water.

Simple enough, right?  Technically that is what happened.  By the time we went to bed, exhausted, everything was under one roof and our bodies were unharmed.  The pets might have been a little traumatized.

However, there were so many emotional moments that didn’t fit into that direct narrative.

These were moments such as:

-- watching the sweet college-age movers sweat profusely as they struggled up and down our new set of stairs with heavy boxes and awkwardly shaped pieces of furniture for hours while I could only watch, feeling so guilty and helpless to stop their suffering (other than buying them Gatorade and thanking them too many times)

-- During the last part of the day, as we were doing the final clean of Micah’s old apartment, we got mysteriously locked inside of the basement dwelling.  Micah panicked and I went into total dissociation mode (vacuuming, eating chocolate and ignoring the reality that we were really trapped inside).  Finally he was able to flag a hilarious British couple who were walking down the street, and they generously kicked the door in (Apparently a screw had caught the inner door.), and we all celebrated our release.

-- Taking Poncho for his first walk around the new neighborhood (because our backyard is still filled with poison ivy due to our property manager’s landscaper being a flake) and sauntering down a street with him, only to be told by another dog-walker that we had just gone through a big patch of poison ivy.  I came home sobbing and was eventually soothed by a bowl of Micah’s delicious oatmeal and Paul Simon on the turntable.  (Luckily the dreaded rash never showed up -- just my fear of it.)

***

These are just a few of the emotional moments from this past week.  Together, they fill in the spaces of that direct story, turning the beginning, middle and end of our move into a richer narrative that perhaps even ends with a moral.  (The moral I am thinking of now is that we are getting stretched to our limits in order to help us take in more as parents come this fall).

As uncomfortable as they have been, these moments taught me a few life lessons, increased my patience and strengthened my resolve to create a beautiful living space.  When I look back, these emotions will create the stories for us to share with others and laugh about, again and again.

Often, we can tell ourselves not to feel so much.  Many of us have gotten a reputation for being “too” sensitive or emotional.  I know I was certainly given that label, and have tried extra-hard over the years to keep things cut and dry, lest I show my weakness to the world.  Others fear that they don't feel enough.  I don't relate to this extreme as much but I imagine it's quite frustrating.

Of course, I always failed in the process of trying to hide.  It’s just not who I am or how I see the world.  My creative life force is very much tied to how much I allow myself to feel, and when I try to cut that off, I end up binging on brownies or getting terribly passive-aggressive with the people I love.

Emotional intelligence is getting more and more attention in our culture.  (Invisibilia is even dedicating their whole third season to it!) To me, this phrase describes the art of feeling and understanding what it is I am feeling.  It means understanding that it’s ok to feel differently about things that come from the people I care about, and realizing that articulating these differences can actually create more intimacy.  It’s realizing that I feel certain ways for certain reasons, and allowing my emotions to teach me important things as they come and go.

This might sound incredibly simple, but I think we all need a bit of orientation in this arena.  To me, it’s a fairly simple process that might,however, take me a lifetime to fully implement.

First, we have to slow down enough to actually feel things.  This means letting go of the numbing patterns that keep us from checking in with ourselves.  Habitually smoking pot, drinking nightly glasses of wine and watching copious amounts of Netflix might feel relieving in the moment, but really they keep us from peering into our intelligent inner worlds.  

Next, we need avenues into understanding these inner worlds.  Journaling and long walks help me process the complex workings of my emotions.  Traveling, especially when I am going on a retreat, really helps me understand myself.  Although I am not having one right now, getting my period has always been a powerful window to see into my real emotions, especially when I don’t immediately dismiss everything that I am feeling as PMS.

Finally, we can surround ourselves with people who validate our feelings, even if they don’t always agree with them  One of my favorite sayings is that feelings aren’t facts.  We are allowed to feel however we feel, and we don’t have to be held accountable for those feelings forever.  People who have done their own emotional work will get this and give you the space to break down, open up, and then move right through your different feeling-states on the path to healing.  

(Right now I am taking a great e-course with Diane Musho Hamilton through Ten Directions called Willing to Feel.  Our weekly lessons remind me that it’s safe and intelligent to feel.  I don’t know if they will offer it again in this format but if they do, I highly recommend it.)

Again, this process might be incredibly simple….or amazingly profound.  I can’t decide. What I do know is that buried feelings are almost always at the root of my clients’ self-care blocks (and mine too).  People who are feeling their feelings don’t often go on weekly shopping binges or eat whole pans of brownies.

From seeing their breakthroughs, I can tell you that feeling anger, grief and shame are all really necessary to be a happy, balanced person.  Sharing those feelings in the safe space of a group will set you free in so many amazing ways.  You will authentically understand yourself and begin to give others the space to do the same.

Once you do, your life will get amazingly awesome.  Of course, there will still be so many hard moments -- house moves and poison ivy and getting locked in a basement.  But as you trust yourself and your feelings, you will learn to see them for only that -- something to experience, learn deeply from and perhaps even laugh about in the future, again and again.

XO,
Gracy

New home, new beginnings

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We made it! We moved! Our bodies and belongings and pets now live under one roof of a house that gazes out to this backyard. 

It's been a very imperfect move. Our new house was filthy when we got here so we've had to deep clean as we go. Our pets (Poncho and Dinah) are very unsocialized with each other and need to be separated, which puts us all on edge. Even the beautiful backyard is filled with poison ivy! Plus boxes, so many boxes, to unpack and our energy reserves are shot. 

It's all very stressful and my self-care routines are uprooted as well. The only thing that helps right now is beauty. A cup of coffee in my favorite mug, Paul Simon on the record player, the gorgeous Blessingway ceremony that dear Nic gifted me this weekend. 

My friend Louise told me about a John O'Donohue quote that reminds us that beauty is strong enough to hold us through our vulnerability. 

As I transition so deeply into this new life that is both so messy and so full of promise, I will be calling on beauty (especially the beauty of friendship) often to pull me close, brush my hair back, and remind me of my strength. It's the simple fuel that keeps me going. For this moment, it's all I need.

Transitional Moments

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Ok, today is the day! Poncho and I are moving out of our beloved apartment. It's been such an important space for both of us. 

I've gone through so many big life experiences here and Poncho has barked at so many delivery people through the window. It's been an epic phase of life and now we are transitioning to our next big stage. 

I've been reflecting that transitions are both an easy place to buckle and an opportunity for immense strength (think of flexible joints on a bridge and how much support they provide). 

I'm getting so overwhelmed in moments and then finding that I can surrender into the stress and move with unprecedented calm. This all feels like ninja training for motherhood. 

So onwards, today we will pack and load and unpack. We will stress and surrender and be relieved. We will move forward, imperfectly and with love.

Managing Your Own Feelings

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This might be my most "duh" post ever, but I want to share something that feels revolutionary to me (lest it might rock someone else's world too). 

As a result of a few current life experiences, I've been learning a lot more about emotional intelligence. Before, I intellectually understood that it was a good thing to listen to my emotions but I so often didn't trust them, especially when they conflicted with what other people wanted or thought. I tried to drop all angry, sad or scared feelings before I even understood them. I thought this made me evolved but I now know that this is called "spiritual bypass." 

Now, by courageously feeling and trusting my feelings, I realize that I can let them go but only after I learn from what they are telling me. I'm learning that it's ok to feel differently from other people and express that, even if it means admitting I am hurt or angry or disconnected.

And instead of alienating everyone, my relationships are getting so much better - especially the one with me. 

Again, this might be stupidly simple but with habit change, I think it's a good idea to start in an incredibly basic way. For me, that means embracing how I feel, trusting that it's right and giving others space to do the same.

Three Steps to Help You Transition Like a Champ

Do you struggle during transitions?  Ok good, you're human!

Transitions are naturally destabilizing moments when we either thrive to a new level or completely fall apart.  

I've found that self-care is a powerful tool to keep me steady and grounded, even within huge life changes.  Trust me, I'm using it now as I go through a HUGE life transition. 

Watch and learn my three steps to help you transition like a champ!