I’ve always been a fan of self-improvement, creating an image of my future self and setting goals to become that perfect image. The New Year creates a convenient opportunity to refresh those goals—maybe add some more—and try again. In fact, I get so excited about the New Year and New Year’s resolutions that I pile goals on as I would pile food onto my plate in an all-you-can-eat buffet. Just as that approach to dinner leads to pressure on my stomach, this approach to goal setting leads to pressure on my spirit. If I pile my aspirations too high, eventually they will topple—and most of the time, it doesn’t take long.
This approach to life and the New Year is debilitating. I’m trying to balance all of my new goals on top of ones that I am already struggling with. I layer and layer until eventually I crash—but then I don’t blame it on the ridiculous amount of broken goals littered around me; no, I blame it on my inability to balance them.
This is perfectionism.
I—along with many, many people—want to be perfect. If I am less than the perfect student, the perfect wife, the perfect neighbor, the perfect employee, the perfect church member, then I am a failure. This is an impossible standard. So when I fall, I fall hard, and at times I feel so bruised and cut that I wonder at the point of getting back up again—because I know I won’t be able to make it to that perfect image of myself.
My problem is that I want to be there all at once; I need to be perfect now. And as a result, I set myself up for failure. The point I am missing is that perfection is a process. Professor of marriage and family therapy Jeffry H. Larson said:
Mom taught me the value of setting realistic expectations. . . . She taught me that process or effort is more important and manageable than the final outcome. [“What Do You Expect?: A Key to Personal Happiness,” 14 July 2009]
This way of looking at goal setting takes away the pressure of being the perfect etcetera, etcetera. Its emphasis is not on whether I measure up but on whether I get up.
A couple weekends ago, I gave up. My homework was piled as high as my dishes and my garbage cans. I was exhausted and didn’t want to do anything. I spent the whole day in my pajamas on my couch watching Netflix in an effort to drown out my disappointment with myself. And then I finished the season of the show I was watching. It was 8 p.m. I looked around at the mess. I looked at myself and decided that I was going to do something. Doing homework felt like too much, so I turned on my audiobook, put up my hair, and set to work cleaning. I cleaned for three hours, and during those three hours, I was happy. I was proud of myself. Cleaning the apartment was not the most important thing I could have done that night. It was not the hardest thing that I probably should have done that night. But it was something, and that made all the difference.
I love this quote by BYU psychology professor Marleen Williams:
Christ’s admonition “Be ye therefore perfect” is not a commandment to possess all skills, knowledge, and good qualities immediately. It is a commandment to enter into a covenant process that involves repentance, change, and growth. This process is dependent on the Atonement. [“A Gospel of Relationships,” 4 May 2004]
The advice from Williams and Larson perfectly coincide. My Savior and Heavenly Father know my potential for perfection, but what they care about right now is that I am working toward it. They care that I am keeping my covenants and relying on my Savior’s Atonement to do so. With their advice and with the eternal support of my Savior, I want to set a new resolution, a resolution to focus not on my progress but on my process.