Every year, I write down what I want to achieve in the coming year and store it in the Notes on my phone. I read somewhere that it’s best to state resolutions as if they’d already happened or are in the process of happening. (So: “I write 3 books,” not, “I will write 3 books.”). It’s supposed to entice your brain into acting to achieve what it already believes is true. I don’t know if that’s really how brains operate, but I’ve gotten in the habit of it and it works for me.
Earlier this year, I came across a list of statements. A couple of them were: “I have a great literary agent who sells my book easily,” and, “The house is in my name alone and I have a job that lets me make the payments.” For a minute I wondered why I’d make a list of these very obvious things. But as I looked at the date of the note and thought about it, I realized that they’d once been resolutions, things that felt impossible to achieve in another time. In the intervening years, they’d somehow crossed into the realm of the obvious truths of my life. I took a moment to feel gratitude.
So I wrote my 2016 list. They included the things you’d expect: more writing. Selling a book. Starting CrossFit. It was a long list.
And then I wondered if I’d achieve them all. I felt a heaviness. I try so hard, every day, to live a life I can be proud of. But some days I fail. When I do, I feel an underscoring of certain fundamental flaws in myself: laziness, unwillingness to do what I say I’m going to do. The chatter in my head gets ugly.
I’ve always struggled with this paralyzingly perfectionism. To that end, I recently started reading yet another book on the subject: Better Than Perfect. The premise is that there’s something better than trying to live a perfect life: allowing for the fact that we all live an imperfect one. I was only able to get to page 3 before my eyes filed up with tears, it got too hard to read and I had to put it down. It cut so close to home. I felt the incredible weight of all the judgements I make about myself every day, just how deeply unkind I can be to myself. I’m still reading the book, but I can only get through it in small doses.
With an understanding of my punishing perfectionism I went back to my 2016 list. The goals on it were full of ambition and dreams, all worthy, all important. I will still go for all of them. But I realized the list needed one small edit. At the top I added:
I am imperfect.
Present tense. Not something to strive for, but something my brain needs to accept with compassion. With that addition, everything that followed on the list felt a little lighter.
Here’s to an awesome 2016.