“You HAVE to get an A on that paper. Your grade depends on it.”
“Wow. That sucked. You should’ve prepared more and maybe you wouldn’t feel so bad now.”
“Come on, just get up and vacuum. Look how dirty that floor is.”
“Why didn’t you put more effort into that? It could’ve been perfect if you’d tried harder.”
“You only checked off half your list tonight. You shouldn’t have watched that episode of Fixer Upper.”
Are any of those familiar? Do they resonate with you? Do you hear them (or something similar) weekly, daily, or like me– hourly? Unless you’re surrounded by some really critical people, they’re probably not coming from others. They’re not from external influences. They come as the way you talk to yourself, whether you realize it or not.
At their core, they’re the voice of perfectionism. They’re the voice of the SHOULD, the WHAT IF, and the YOU HAVE TO. The voice of burnout. The voice of driving yourself into the ground striving for something unattainable. The voice of oppression.
I’m no expert at drowning out that voice, as you’ll know if you’ve been around for a bit (see here). But, on this long journey to having grace for myself, I’m slowly learning how to displace the voice with positive thoughts and actions, even if just for a little while. I’m slowly learning to let go of the expectations of perfection I place on myself, and choose to love myself instead.
And go back and read that again– CHOOSE to love myself instead. I have to CHOOSE to live in imperfection, rather than being a slave to the voice in my head. It’s not something that comes naturally for me. Maybe it does for some people, but my default is to beat myself up. So loving myself and freeing myself from my own expectations is a conscious– and sometimes difficult– choice.
Anyway, I know I can’t be the only one who struggles to give herself grace, so I hope someone’s heart feels a little less alone as I share my own thoughts and strategies for letting go and loving myself.
1. Create margin in your life.
What does that even mean? In its essence, it means saying no. It means not packing your schedule to the brim. It means not living in a way that you’ll never have time to deal with the unexpected. For me, I love packing my Erin Condren blocks chock full of washi tape and stickers to show myself how busy I am. It makes me feel important to be busy. But at the end of the day, I most often look back and either (a) feel exhausted or (b) hate myself for not accomplishing everything, because my 5:30 appointment took longer than I thought and set me back for the rest of the evening. Give yourself space in your day, and tell yourself it’s okay to have time that isn’t 100% scheduled and planned.
2. Schedule blocks of “me time.”
What? No. That’s stupid. I don’t need to do that… I have fun times already scheduled! Yes, but do you have time to sit and just BE? I’ve found that setting aside time and putting it in my calendar is helping me be more intentional about taking care of myself. At the beginning, I would have to write “5-6 PM Me Time” in my planner, seriously. I think setting a time boundary on it helped me to feel less guilty about taking time to myself, because I knew at 6 PM I would get up and be productive again.
3. Recharge, don’t numb.
Speaking of “me time,” use it wisely. I once read a great article that posed a great question, “Are you numbing, or recharging?” I now can’t go a day without asking myself that question. You can do the same activity, and on different days it could be numbing, or it could be recharging. For example, one of my favorite things to do is watch Fixer Upper (Chip and Joanna are my jam, y’all). When I’ve had a horrible day and I don’t want to deal with my anger/frustration/sadness/feelings in general, turning on an episode would probably be numbing. I’m running to something to escape something else. And that compounds the original problem. But, if I’ve had a horrible day, and I sit down and take time to breathe and process my emotions, and THEN I decide to watch an episode to make me laugh, I’m recharging. It’s all about the motivation behind it– so really stop and ask yourself why you do what you do before that Netflix binge.
4. Hide your to-do list from yourself.
Yes, for real. I make my daily to-do lists in my beloved Erin Condren planner. They’re great, and they usually have a checklist sticker with hearts. But at night, I take an hour to literally close my planner, put it in my bag, and I put my bag in my coat closet, even if for just ten minutes. This has everything to do with giving yourself permission NOT to be productive for a time out of your day. If you can’t see it, the task list can’t daunt you. So choose to make it unseen, and give yourself that space to enjoy just existing for a bit. It’s hard at first, but when you’re intentional about breaking away from tasks, you’ll be surprised how much it becomes a habit. A habit that brings so much freedom.
5. Give yourself reminders that you don’t have to be perfect.
For me, it helps to write reminders and put them where I’ll see them. My love of office supplies helps this one, because I’ll take time once a week or so to write something on a sticky note or a pretty piece of paper, and then stick it to my office computer or put it inside my car’s little catch-all pocket next to the steering wheel. Write something as simple as, “Take a break,” or “Perfection is a trap.” When you have a moment of clarity about your own expectations, take the opportunity to create some kind of reminder for yourself so you can carry that clarity with you everywhere.
All in all, perfection is not attainable unless you’re Jesus. Which, last time I checked, I’m not Jesus and you’re not Jesus, either. This life the Lord has given us is not about being perfect– it’s about becoming whole in Him. We would have no need to cry out to Jesus if the voice of the Oppressor wasn’t constantly trying to remind us of our imperfections. If imperfection didn’t even exist, there’d be no room for growth. And if there was no room for growth, sanctification in the Lord wouldn’t happen.
So, learn to embrace imperfection, and He will grow and change your heart to be more like His. Learn to love yourself exactly as he made you– the beautiful, flawed human that you are.
“I was given the gift [of imperfection] to keep me in constant touch with my limitations. Satan’s angel did his best to get me down; what he in fact did was push me to my knees […] Then He told me,
‘My grace is enough; it’s all you need.
My strength comes into its own in your weakness.'”
2 Corinthians 12:9-10, MSG
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