Recovering from Perfectionism: how to use a Somatic Approach to Movement to improve your self acceptance and let go of the fear of failure.
Are you tired of constantly striving for perfection in every aspect of your life, including your fitness routine? Are you ready to adopt a more holistic approach to movement that embraces the wisdom of your body and helps you find greater freedom in your mind?
Keep reading, you will discover how a somatic approach to movement can help you recover from perfectionism and cultivate self acceptance on and off the mat.
The weight of perfectionism
Many of us strive to do our best, to excel in our careers, relationships, and personal growth. However, there is a fine line between being a high achiever and a perfectionist. When you are a perfectionist you don’t only want to get perfect results, you want to be perfect in all aspects of your life to satiate your profound need for validation and sense of control. You feel haunted by self-criticism, with an internal voice constantly reminding you of your shortcomings and pushing you to exceed the high standards you set for yourself.
And you might easily find yourself in a vicious cycle, as the more you strive for perfection and get praised for your excellence by your family, partner, boss, friends and social media followers, the more you reinforce the belief that perfection is the only acceptable outcome, and that anything less than that means failure.
Also, if you are stuck in a punitive movement environment that obsessively teaches you that there is only one right way to practice or that your goal should be to look like someone else, you might find it impossible to let go of the habit to criticise yourself all the time and to embrace instead a more compassionate and intuitive approach to living your life.
Letting go of the fear of failure
Fortunately, a somatic approach to movement can provide a safe and supportive environment for you to train in a way that feels authentic and liberating.
Somatic movement promotes sense of safety and personal expression (the idea is that there are many possibilities to move and always the option to make choices), and helps you trust the wisdom of your body again, especially when you are too much “in your head”.
By focusing on your bodily sensations rather than external outcomes, what it feels like from the inside rather than how it looks like in a mirror, somatic movement can give you confidence and help you break free from your perfectionistic tendencies and embrace the wholeness of who you are, even the “shadows you don’t like. Less pressure to strive for results, more curiosity for what can happen on the mat.
Indeed, in somatic movement there is no right or wrong way of performing an action or creating a shape, only an invitation to become more and more aware of old habitual patterns and to question them so you can find alternative routes that are more efficient and less stressful for your body.
3 tips to approach your movement practice in a somatic way
1️⃣ Recognise and reject diet culture and rigid “cult-like” fitness regimes: Avoid programs or coaches that directly or indirectly promote diet culture or equate fitness with thinness or that make you believe that no pain means no gain. Instead, search for environments that empower you to own your body as it is, and emphasise self-care, self-compassion, and body neutrality. This can help you transform your attitude towards exercise, shifting from viewing it as a chore you must accomplish, to something you look forward to doing for the enjoyment of it.
2️⃣ Embrace playfulness and imperfection: Remember that movement can be much more than hitting a perfect posture or alignment cue, it can also be a safe place to make mistakes, to explore the “what if?”, to uncover new ways to express yourself without judgement, especially when you stumble or you feel a bit silly.
3️⃣ Listen to your body, trust its wisdom and honour its needs: instead of always pushing yourself to perform better, be completely present to what you are doing and move in ways that feel safe and right for your state of body and mind. When you choose to expand your comfort zone, do this in ways that celebrate your whole self and give you a feeling of excitement. Remember, your body is unique and deserves to be treated with kindness and respect (and this is key to a sustainable and long lasting movement routine).
As a recovering perfectionist, I used to be obsessed with achieving excellence in every aspect of my life. This drive to be the best manifested in a nervous stomach ache at just 8 years old and only grew more intense as I watched my body change in my teens and 20s (not an easy thing when you get to spend hours in a pink leotard in front of a mirror during your Ballet classes) and pursued two Masters and one PhD.
Despite my family's attempts to get me to study and worry about the scale less and enjoy life more, perfectionism was already too ingrained in my being to take their invitation seriously. It wasn't until I discovered somatic movement that something began to change. At first, it was difficult to adjust to a new way of being that was less goal-oriented and more present-centred. But I persisted, and the results were astounding. Not only did my body feel more at ease and surprisingly less anxious, but this new approach had a ripple effect on every aspect of my life: I started to take myself less seriously, to be less scared of making mistakes and to dare more.
Now, as a Yoga and Pilates teacher, I am well aware of all the things I refuse to I can’t think of any other ways of sharing my love for movement to my students, which is not infused with a somatic and exploratory approach.