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Embracing Optimal, Releasing Perfect

This is a picture of my garden:

After neglecting it for over a month, it was completely overrun with grass and weeds that were unsightly and depleting nutrients from my plants I wanted to thrive. Every time I looked at the garden, I felt overwhelmed by the sheer volume of weeds and the amount of work I knew it'd take to get rid of them without using harsh chemicals. So instead of doing anything about it, I just kept ignoring the problem. But the problem didn't go away. As these things tend to do, it only got worse.

On a whim of inspiration, one morning I put on a playlist that I knew was one hour long and committed to pulling up weeds for the duration of the playlist. Whatever I got done in that time would be the extent of my weeding work for the day. This helped me stay focused and motivated and didn't feel as daunting as deciding to stay out there for however long it'd take for it to be "perfect".

I realized that the perfectionism in me was starting to feel more like something keeping me stuck in stagnation. I thought holding idealistic standards for myself was about making sure I succeeded, but in reality, the perfectionism had become debilitating and was holding me back. Wanting things to be perfect prevented me from ever getting started, from ever even trying. And if I dug a little deeper, what was really beneath that rigid mindset of perfectionism was fear. I was scared to fail, scared of being negatively perceived, scared of not being enough. Of course, I'm no longer just talking about my garden, but about ways that perfectionism bleeds into many areas of life- even writing this blog post.

As I pulled the weeds, I thought back to one of my yoga teachers talking about "optimal" alignment vs "perfect" alignment in asanas (postures). Whereas perfect alignment deems one set way a posture should look, optimal alignment considers your whole being from complexities like anatomical differences to subtleties like the mood you're in when you practice. Striving for optimal instead of perfect allows us to make space for experiences, mistakes, growth, and grace. There are so many ways that perfectionism can keep us trapped in rigid mindsets, negative thought loops, relentless comparisons, and feelings of inadequacy. For me, perfectionism tends to keep me stuck in inaction because I want my first version of anything to already be the final, ideal product that is loved and validated by all. This way of thinking can not only lead to feelings of shame and self-punishment, but also rob us of enjoying the journey and of being mindful in the present.

Releasing perfect and striving for optimal is both freeing and empowering. Do you find yourself tethered to perfection? Do you notice not wanting to try new things because you might not get it right away? Or do you delay launching creative projects because they might need to be revised? Do you ever have performance anxiety or find yourself engaging in discouraging comparisons that deflate you? Yoga can help free you from perfectionism's bondage and embrace optimality instead, not only in terms of how you approach your physical practice, but your mindset and perceptions as well that extend far beyond the mat.

Optimal- not perfect!

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