Mindful Mondays – What I Learned About Perfectionism from Yoga

Posted 04.29.2013

yoga-perfect1The best coaching question I was ever asked was about 15 years ago when a woman who was coaching me while I was a corporate VP asked, “What would it take for you to stop judging yourself?”

That question hit me like a ton of bricks because it cut to the quick of my perfectionism and feeling like I never measured up to my own expectations. I’d like to be able to report that I was immediately transformed by the question and it was all sunshine and roses from there.  That wasn’t the case, but, by raising the question, my coach succinctly framed something for me to work on for the next fifteen years.

Last week, during a yoga class, I realized that I still have opportunities here. You could say that I have a way to go before I perfect not being a perfectionist. Guessing that I may not be the only person reading (or writing) this post who’s a perfectionist, here’s an update on how I’m doing and what I’m noticing.  There might be a point or two here that will resonate with you.

So, as I’ve written here several times before, I’ve been practicing yoga regularly for the past two and a half years. Yoga has had a lot of benefits for me and one of the biggest is not taking myself so damn seriously (which is probably the root of a lot of people’s perfectionism). If you take yourself seriously in yoga, you’re going to end up driving yourself nuts because nobody starts out (or ends up) perfect in yoga.  One of the best yoga teacher cliches is “It’s not yoga perfect, it’s yoga practice.”  Or, to quote one of my favorite teachers, Alison, “You guys look so serious! Come on, it’s just a freaking yoga pose!”

So, gradually over the past couple of years, my yoga practice has helped me to lighten up. And then I started 200 hour yoga teacher training about a month ago. (Don’t worry.  I’m not going to be teaching a room full of yogis anytime soon.)  Teacher training is great  – I’m learning a lot more about yoga and, to my surprise, more about myself and that perfectionist thing.

I really thought I had more or less licked it as far as yoga was concerned and then last week when I was taking a regular class with my teacher training leader, Birgitte, it reintroduced itself to me. When we were in a basic pose called Warrior I and I suddenly realized I was having an inner dialogue that went along the lines of, “I really need to get this super right because Birgitte is teaching.  I’m going to align my hips like they’ve never been aligned before. Blah, blah, blah.  Yadda, yadda, yadda.”

What was up with that and where did that come from?

So, the bad news is I’m still a perfectionist. The good news is I’m getting better at recognizing it – and it only took 15 years and hundreds of yoga classes! As Srikumar Rao might ask, “Good news, bad news, who knows?”

What’s your experience with perfectionism?  What are the pros and cons?  If you’re a perfectionist, what helps you keep it dialed in at a useful level rather than all the way to the right?