I see gratitude and hear appreciation as people tell me how I’ve inspired them to become sugar-free, or at least to greatly reduce their sugar intake. People are amazed that I would give up alcohol (that’s a positive and negative sense of amazement on their part, by the way!) A common question is that without sugar and alcohol, which I also gave up since its effect on the body is so similar to sugar, how do I celebrate? You should see me!
Why sugar-free? Because I saw what it did to my mother: dementia and hardening of the arteries that lead to a stroke and then further complications. I feel it robbed her of her vibrancy and ultimately of her life. I don’t want that for my life. So, I quit sugar.
This isn’t an article about the health impacts of sugar, though I’d love to talk to you about it anytime. This is an article about “perfection” — and getting stuck in it and by it.
Generally, my attitude doesn’t involve perfection. Good is often good enough. Done is better than perfect. I didn’t think of going sugar-free as a decision involving perfection (even though some have said they thought so), but instead as a decision to give me a life I wanted to live. At first, I was proud of myself and my accomplishments. My health showed the benefits of being sugar-free in the numbers I’d get back from blood tests. But with time I felt I “had to” be perfect at being sugar-free; after all, I’d told people I was living that way.
Let’s stop and talk a moment about what perfection is and why it can be a problem in your life. Perfection is generally seen as a state of flawlessness. Seeking perfection on a task seems admirable and even achievable. Seeking a perfect grade or attendance record is possible. Oooh, wouldn’t a perfect job be grand?! What about perfection in life, though, is that achievable or desirable? Humans are not machines. Yet, you may hold yourself to that standard. Let me point out that machines don’t stay perfect for long: they start to wear down with use. If machines aren’t perfect forever, why should humans be perfect — ever?
Striving for goals is an increasingly common approach to life and a mindset in modern times. I see the problem being that the striving can lead to judgment, and that leads to not accepting your humanness. And that’s where I found my problem to start.
It Was a Trap
I had set myself up for a fall. I struggle against rules, especially rigid rules, and zero sugar is a pretty rigid rule. I relaxed that rule a bit after a few years. Relaxing my rule lead to discomfort when people would share their awe because I knew I wasn’t totally sugar-free. I was 98% sugar-free … then 95% sugar-free. And my discomfort grew. And the percentage sometimes dipped lower, and I kept being defensive about being “only 95%” sugar-free. Then, I fell off the wagon — privately. My shame at not following my rules had me hide my human-ness. And the shame grew.
In processing where my shame and were coming from, I examined perfection. I see it in others. The way they dress or speak, the way they design and execute a project, or in their physical fitness, can lead to black and white thinking, all or nothing thinking, and “stuck” thinking.
Stuck is what I was feeling. My coach helped me work through how I’d boxed myself into my own head and thinking that my decision to go sugar-free had to be a perfect action. Going sugar-free doesn’t have to be all-or-nothing thinking, it’s a lifestyle I’ve chosen. It’s not been forced on me.
Maybe you don’t have the luxury of privately falling off the wagon of whatever rules you’ve made for yourself, so you suffer in private and act perfect in public. Is that eating away at you? Is that impacting your performance and results? Is that ultimately hurting your health? It sure could be!
After processing my self-imposed rules with my coach I was able to relax and drop my shame. I realized that each time I wanted to eat some sugary treat I had the opportunity to decide if I wanted to indulge or not. I didn’t lock myself into thinking that since I’d fallen off the wagon, I should just quit trying since I’d just fail again. I realized something was triggering my cravings and testing my willpower. My sugar-free rule isn’t about perfection. The rigidity came from being afraid I’d never break my addiction to it and that I’d end up like my mom. My reality is that after this many years of being essentially sugar-free, it doesn’t have the tight hold on me it did back then. I can indulge in sugar now and then; I know the consequences. I have free choice and free will.
Do you have a “perfection rule” you’ve put on yourself? Have you thought about why? Have you explored the consequences of breaking that rule? What about other ways of thinking about accomplishing your goal, have you explored that? Can you find the shades of gray in reaching your goal to counteract the black-and-white thinking a perfection rule can induce? Of course, your reasons for having such rules might be more than a preference, such as being diabetic or alcoholic — great reasons to think much harder about breaking your rule.
Perfection can also lead to inaction because of the fear of failing, or it can lead to never completing a goal because it never reaches your expectations. Both scenarios are limiting and stifling. Also, when you have either fallen off the perfection-wagon and are struggling with getting back on track or are struggling with staying on the wagon, the expectation of perfection for yourself or by others can lead you to not ask for help when you need it. That’s a lonely and sometimes scary feeling.
I want to learn to be more gentle with myself, to not expect perfection of myself. I’ll always strive to do a good job at whatever I tackle, to do my best at it. If the finished product isn’t up to standards, I’ll work at getting back on track. If I fall off a lifestyle choice, I’ll get back on it.
I’m not perfect, but I try to live up to my expectations and goals. When it doesn’t happen, I’ll get back up again. And again and again, if I have to.