Progress, not Perfection

I have no moderation skills. I tend to think in black and white, all or nothing, good or bad, success or failure, and I think most addicts think the same way. This kind of thinking limits us and prevents us from success. 

In reality, habits and our self-control lie on a continuum. Some bad habits aren’t as bad as others (e.g. throwing your clothes on the floor instead of the hamper versus hard drug usage), and some bad habits aren’t even bad if practiced in moderation (e.g. binge watching television versus enjoying an episode or two at a time, or having a drink with dinner versus getting black-out drunk at a party). 

Who can relate? When I’ve set a resolution to clean up my diet and I cave into my cravings for ice cream, chocolate, or some other junk food, I tend to think in those black and white terms. I feel like a failure because I had one candy bar, or one soda, and I give up completely. Feeling depressed, I turn to food to make me feel better because ‘I already broke my resolution, so what does it even matter now?’ 

Instant perfection. When I resolved to quit smoking (cold turkey), I caved the first day. After I had had one cigarette, I felt that I had failed, that I was a weak person, that I could never quit smoking, so I jumped right back into smoking a pack a day. It’s crazy to think that I didn’t recognize that smoking one or two cigarettes a day was a huge improvement from smoking an entire pack a day. I should have congratulated myself because I was making progress, but instead I hated myself for not being perfect. 

Relapse can be the best way to get sober. Honestly, most of my friends who are sober now, myself included, relapsed. Hard drugs are the ultimate short-term reward, and learning that, in the long-term, we could never have normal lives, that we could never balance our lives with drugs thrown in the mix, and that the long-term consequences really did outweigh the short-term reward was a process. Almost all of us had to relapse, and I’m grateful for my numerous relapses because I learned and grew from them. 

It’s all about changing our mindsets. When we think of our relapses as failures, we define ourselves as failures, and the situation seems hopeless. When we think of them, instead, as learning experiences, we can use the knowledge we gained about ourselves and our habits during our lapse to continue making progress in our future. 

Perfection is unsustainable. When we make goals, we have to keep them realistic. Vowing to never eat junk food is unrealistic. What about pie at Thanksgiving? Or s’mores at a campfire? Focusing on perfection is exhausting and depressing; it’s an uphill battle you’ll never win. Focusing on progress, on the other hand, is fun and rewarding. ‘I ate one donut instead of three,’ or ‘I only chew on my nails when I’m stressed, rather than all the time.’  

You’re not the only one. People, especially online, don’t share their struggles and aren’t open about their mistakes or imperfections. It may seem like you’re the only one who is struggling and that everyone else has it all under control. The truth is that not one of us is perfect, everyone is struggling with something, and not one of us has it all figured out. So, there is absolutely nothing wrong with you; you’re perfectly normal. 

Imagine you’re working out at a gym and you have a personal trainer. This trainer is yelling at you, telling you how pathetic and worthless you are. You’re probably not going to have fun, and although his criticism might motivate you to push yourself for that short session, you’re likely not going to keep going back because the experience was so depressing and negative. Imagine, instead, that you have a different trainer. Now this trainer is pushing you to do your best; he’s high-fiving you and telling you how much great progress you’re making. You’re still motivated for that session, and now you’re having fun, feeling good about yourself, and you’re much more likely to keep going back. 

Love yourself. I guess what I’m trying to say is that we all hold ourselves to a higher standard than anyone else. We are our own harshest critics, and we can’t make progress towards our goals if we’re constantly putting ourselves down. So, change your mindset. Start acting like that upbeat trainer that’s constantly congratulating you. Praise yourself when you do little things like brushing your teeth, or doing your laundry, or being on time to work. There are so many successes in our everyday lives, so much good work we do, but we totally ignore them so that we can spend all of our time and mental space on the one or two negative things we did. So, seriously, I know you’ve heard it before, but you have to love, accept, and be kind to yourself.

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