Trying Not to Try: The Wild Mind Workings of a Recovering Perfectionist

By Andrea Wachter, LMFT

If you are someone who has struggled with eating and body image, there's a good chance you have also struggled with perfectionism. If this is the case for you, you’re likely no stranger to the concept of trying.

Back in the days of my eating disorder, my trying looked something like this:

  • Trying to lose weight
  • Trying a new diet
  • Trying to recover from a binge
  • Trying to work out
  • Trying to work out more (Pull up a chair, this could take a while!)
  • Trying to improve my looks
  • Trying to get a boyfriend
  • Trying to look good
  • Trying to fit in
  • Trying to do well in school
  • Trying to be cool
  • Trying to be perfect

Next up were my early years in recovery:

  • Trying to listen to my body
  • Trying to eat intuitively
  • Trying to get it right
  • Trying to let go of being perfect
  • Trying to be perfect
  • Trying to be balanced
  • Trying to be healthy
  • Trying to be a good person
  • Trying not to beat myself up
  • Trying to get a career
  • Trying to get “likes”
  • Trying to let go of caring about “likes”
  • Trying to keep up with the daily grind
  • Trying to do the right thing
  • Trying to know what the right thing was
  • Trying to look good
  • Trying not to care how I looked

These days it's more like:

  • Trying to be more present
  • Trying to surrender
  • Trying to live in acceptance
  • Trying not to get injured
  • Trying to be kinder to myself
  • Trying to find my glasses
  • Trying to have a balanced life
  • Trying to be peaceful
  • Trying to welcome all emotions
  • Trying to age well
  • Trying to surrender to aging
  • Trying to practice gratitude
  • Trying not to lose my keys
  • Trying to practice mindfulness
  • Trying not to beat myself up
  • Trying not to try so hard (I told you this could take a while!)

Recently, while on a lovely walk in the redwood forest, (my personal place of worship), I started thinking about all this trying. How for as long as I can remember, I have been trying, and then more recently, trying not to try so hard. I'd set out to take a lovely, quiet walk and commune with nature, yet that day, my mind was as busy as ever. I decided to call order in the court.

Hey! Can we give it a rest? Can we just stop trying? Can we stop trying to stop trying? Can we admit that the only reason we ever try to get or get rid of anything is because we think we will feel better if we did? Can we cut out the middle man and just cut to the chase?

And then, perhaps being witnessed by the majestic trees, the swaying ferns and the glistening creek, or perhaps because I made a conscious decision to drop trying (the new stop, drop and roll), something inside me gave way. My little tryer said, "Uncle," and I began to steer my mind to the breeze, my feet on the ground, my arms moving in time, my breathing, a bird song. Much like pointing a tantruming child back to something soothing in the present moment, I steered my busy mind back home, back to reality.

The promises of attainment, achievement and accomplishment will pop up again and again, I’m sure. Many of us have been raised on way too much Disney and happily-ever-afters. But I’m onto it now. I am onto my mind’s seductive nature. Our minds seduce us into thinking if we just got this fill-in-the-blank, we would be happy, but all we have to do is remember the last several hundred things we were convinced would bring us happy-ever-after-ness to see that it’s not the case. If it were, we would have just lived happily-ever-after.

So, if you struggle with a busy little tryer inside of you, see if you can reel it back in now and then. Notice the simplicity of the moment. Remind your mind that anything you acquire will have pro’s and con’s and ups and downs so there really is nowhere to get. This is the best news of all.

In any given moment, we all have a feast of temptations to take us away from this moment. And then we have this moment. Reality. Right here. Right now. We get to choose… fantasies and fears or that which is actually, factually here. This breath. This surface. This sensation. This sound. I’m willing to give it a whirl if you are.

Andrea Wachter is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and author of Getting Over Overeating for Teens. She is also co-author of The Don’t Diet, Live-It Workbook and Mirror, Mirror on the Wall: Breaking the “I Feel Fat” Spell. Andrea is an inspirational counselor, author and speaker who uses professional expertise, humor and personal recovery to help others. For more information on her books, podcasts and HuffPost blogs, please visit www.andreawachter.com

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