It doesn’t have to be perfect

New Year’s Eve is now a few weeks behind us. How are the resolutions going? This is the time that many of us lose steam, as life gets in the way of our best intentions. The amount of time it takes to commit to change can be hard to find. If I follow recommendations for a healthy lifestyle, I will need at least 30 minutes to exercise, another 30 or more for seated meditation and who knows how long for planning and preparing healthy meals? It can be discouraging.
Then a funny thing can happen: my mind starts to talk me out of the very things I am trying to achieve! Today, there’s not enough time to go to the grocery store, so I may as well eat pizza. And since I didn’t make a healthy choice, I’ve already blown it for the day, so how about a brownie for dessert? Tomorrow there isn’t time to exercise for 30 minutes, and 15 minutes doesn’t meet my goal, so forget it. I’ll try again another day. Or maybe I won’t! You know what? I can’t keep up with my goals, I’m obviously failing, and I should just forget it. Maybe next year I can get healthy.
Sound familiar? These are examples of all or nothing thinking. If I can’t do it perfectly, I shouldn’t do it at all. This type of thinking can derail the best intentions, and it is surprisingly common. When I first started offering yoga and mindfulness practices to patients, I unintentionally fed into this tendency. I would write out an energizing yoga sequence and ask my patient to practice it every morning. Or I’d teach a 15 minute meditation practice, suggesting they should do it every night. Then, they returned for follow-up looking sheepish, telling me “You’re going to be mad at me, but…” They weren’t doing the practices. The excuses varied, but most represented a form of all or nothing thinking. “If I can’t do it exactly the way she recommended, I shouldn’t do it at all.”
Needless to say, I’ve changed my language a lot. I recommend that each person strive for a goal of daily practice, but commit to what they can. I feel consistency is more important than the time spent in practice. So, for me a 5 minute meditation on a busy day is a great break to allow myself to relax where I can, and is much better than ignoring my need for silence altogether. Parking farther from the door and taking the stairs is better than no exercise at all. Sometimes, just taking a deep breath and becoming aware of the sensations I feel while breathing is the only practice I can manage. That single moment, though, demonstrates a commitment to self-care, that I am worthy of that presence. I acknowledge that my practice may not be perfect, and I’m not doing it all. But I recognize the importance of self-care, and keep showing up each day. And that’s enough.

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