8 ways to let go of perfectionism in your meditation practice
Meditation has benefits for almost everyone, but for perfectionists it can offer some unique benefits.
“First and foremost, mindfulness meditation helps a person become more aware of their thoughts,” says psychotherapist Paige Rechtman, LMHC. “Many people don’t realize they have perfectionist thoughts, so one of the best side effects of meditation is becoming aware of those perfectionist thoughts that are not serving one.”
When you tune into the chatter in your head, you stand a chance: do you want to adjust your self-talk?
“When you become aware of perfectionist thoughts, you can learn to observe them in a new way so that you don’t get caught up in them – that is, you get better at separating yourself from your thoughts so you don’t have to believe them or give in to them, ”explains Rechtman.
Another school of thought teaches that meditation can just help you accept yourself for who you are, perfectionist tendencies and everything.
“Meditation is not about being the opposite of yourself; it’s more about accepting, ”says meditation and yoga teacher Brenda Umana, MPH, RYT-500.
“What would happen if you fully acknowledge and accept this? [perfectionistic] Side of you I think the fruits live in this study, ”says Umana. “Something that fascinates you so much – like perfectionism – can begin to dissolve.”
Ready to See the Mental Health Benefits of Meditation? Consider these strategies tailored for perfectionists:
Gratitude grounds us in what is good rather than what is perfect. It’s no surprise that incorporating appreciation into meditation can be helpful for perfectionists.
“The perfectionist often thinks about the future or tends to be afraid because something can always be better,” says Umana. “Including a gratitude component, even something as simple as ‘I’m grateful to be able to breathe now’ can really change the tendency to perfect everything.”
When you sit down at your chosen meditation spot, simply thank yourself for taking the time to do something for yourself.
Even if you feel like your session was lackluster, once it is over, try to find one thing that could benefit you.
This will turn the script of self-criticism upside down.
“Gratitude gives body and mind the opposite message of the inner critic’s voice, which is often very loud for perfectionists,” says Umana.
Start with a guided meditation
It’s hard to just fall to the ground and be instantly happy no matter who you are. Those new to meditation and those with perfectionist tendencies may find it easier to have a session with a guide.
Online or in person, guided meditation provides a framework of instructions – a treat for those who prefer structure and rules.
Even better, the soft voice of a video or audio session will often remind you that whatever happens – racing thoughts, distraction, impatience – is fine.
“This is a really great place to start because you won’t feel so alone as you move through these perfectionist thoughts,” says Rechtman.
Check out the wide variety of guided meditations on YouTube, Spotify, or other apps, or find a local, personal studio that offers guided classes.
Try “I am” statements
Too often, those of us who strive for excellence aspire to the future. This can be a future version of ourselves or a future situation in life.
According to Umana, the inclusion of affirmative “I am” statements brings us back to the present. That is the point of meditation.
Umana suggests meditating on the following phrases:
- I am exactly where I need to be in life
- I am perfect the way I am
- I am safe in my body
- I am open to change
Are you doing something “wrong” on purpose (yes, really!)
As absurd as it may sound, making a decision to intentionally do something “wrong” while meditating may actually be to your advantage.
Try not to follow each of your guide’s directions or purposely daydream for a few moments instead of staying in the present.
Then take stock:
- Has it all gone haywire?
- Was your meditation a total broke?
- Did practicing help you?
Your answers are likely to be “no, no and yes”.
Once you find that things haven’t gotten out of hand due to a mistake, it can ease the pressure to do everything perfectly.
Non-judgment is a hallmark of mindfulness-based meditation practice. For perfectionists, this can be the most difficult element to master.
If your inner teacher is telling you that you are not good enough or berating you for being unable to let go of perfectionist tendencies, consider the concept of radical acceptance.
“If we try to let go of something but fail, we can feel worse,” says Rechtman. “Instead, think of acceptance.”
Rechtman suggests asking:
- How would it feel to accept the fact that letting go isn’t working right now?
- How would it feel to accept the perfectionist part of you right now?
- How does it feel to accept that what you do is difficult?
“Accept, accept, accept,” she says. How’s that for a one word mantra?
Nobody developed mindfulness by being hard on themselves. Compassion is an essential tenet of all meditation traditions, and for good reason.
When we feel compassion for ourselves and others, we overcome the barriers of judgment that make us feel unworthy, insufficient, and separate.
True unconditional compassion is just that – unconditional. That said, it doesn’t depend on how well you’re performing, how straight you sit, or how long you hold your pose, even if your legs are falling asleep.
When you cultivate a sense of compassion for yourself, you become free from the rigidity of right and wrong and allow yourself to be who you are.
Practice the “beginner’s mind”
In his classic book “Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind”, Shunryu Suzuki writes about approaching meditation from a new perspective every time you sit, as if you had never practiced before.
He warned that it is our prejudices about meditation – how to do it, whether we are “good” – that prevent us from being fully present.
When we come to each exercise with the beginner’s mind, there is nothing to hold on to, slide away, or grasp. We just sit with whatever comes up.
Keep it up!
If you are a perfectionist, you may not be able to meet your own expectations to begin with to marginalize meditation. But don’t forget that there is a reason it is called “practice”.
Just keep sitting with whatever comes up. That alone is enough.