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The Power of Starting Small and Not Needing to Be the Best

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Better to do something imperfectly than to do nothing flawlessly.” ~Robert H Schuller

I have tried for so long to build a meditation habit. Seriously, it’s been one of my biggest goals for more than a decade.

And I’ve tried really hard. I’ve read books, I’ve taken classes, I’ve made accountability charts, I’ve set SMART goals; I’ve done it all.

Sometimes, I’ll fall into a good rhythm, and I might make it onto my mat three or four days in a row. Then sometimes, three whole months will go by without me managing to do it at all.

So what gives? Why can’t I make it happen? What am I doing wrong, after ten years of trying?

I decided to dig deeper into what was happening inside my poor little monkey mind that might be hindering my progress.

It took me by surprise when I realized that no matter what my practice has actually looked like over the years, whether I’d been totally diligent or utterly neglectful, there had been one constant the entire time: I’ve always felt like I needed to be the best at meditation.

Yep, that’s the phrase that actually popped into my mind, word for word, when I tried to unpack what was going on: the best at meditation.

I know what you’re thinking: What does that even mean? How can you be “the best” at something like meditation?

And let me tell you, I know how dumb it sounds. Meditation, by its very nature, is about not having attachment to such things as results or outcomes. I mean, it’s about being in the moment, not about getting an A+ rating or a bunch of gold-stars.

And yet I felt like I needed to be awesome at it. To be better than others. To bypass beginner status and immediately step into the category of “expert.”

I kept getting this image in my head: me, perched perfectly still in lotus position, the dawn sunshine on my face, wind blowing gently in my beautifully beachy hair, my outfit crisp and white, and my face a perfect vision of peace and tranquility.

(Never mind that I am not a morning person, that the lotus position gives me pins and needles, that my hair is more bushy than beachy, and that I don’t even own any crisp white clothes.)

When I dug deeper, I realized there was a follow-on thought from my attachment to this vision and my need for achievement: If I couldn’t be awesome at meditation, if I couldn’t achieve perfection… there was no point.

That was my unconscious thought pattern.

Which was why I always aimed for ridiculously long sessions; if I didn’t have a full thirty minutes to devote to it, what was the point?

It was why I was so disappointed if my mind wandered; if I didn’t give an A+ performance, what was the point?

It is why I’d feel like a failure if I didn’t do it first thing in the morning (even though my late-night work sessions made that completely impractical); if I hadn’t done a dawn session, what was the point?

And it was why I would get so down on myself if I missed a single day; if I couldn’t keep a perfect score card, what on earth was the point?

All in all, it’s no wonder I haven’t been able to make this habit stick. At every step of the journey, I’ve been psyching myself out of making any progress by expecting supreme, utter perfection.

In the past, this type of thinking has reared its head in other areas of my life too: if I can’t go to the gym for at least a full hour, there’s no point, right?

If I can’t eat 100 percent healthy for the rest of the week, I may as well write the next few days off, yeah?

And if I can’t fit in a long, uninterrupted stretch of writing time, there’s no point pulling out my notebook at all, amiright?!

Thankfully, over the years I’ve become aware of these perfectionist tendencies, and have developed a few mental strategies and ninja tricks to overcome them. (Don’t have time for a full gym session? Do half an hour of power yoga in the lounge room instead. Revolutionary, huh?)

But it’s taken me oh-so-long to realize that I was also doing it in my meditation practice; that I was letting my pursuit of perfection hold me back from inner peace.

Now that I know, I’m trying to let go of all expectations on myself when it comes to gettin’ my Zen on. In fact, my meditation sessions these days have been pared right back to the simplest, most achievable, most non-perfect thing I could think of.

Want to know what that looks like? (Prepare yourself for the profoundness!)

Two minutes of meditation, every one or two days.

That’s it.

And, if I haven’t managed to pull it off during the day, I do it in the shower at night, just before I go to bed (yep, standing there, suds and all, with not a lotus position in sight).

It’s minimal, it’s manageable, and it’s achievable. It’s also effective for quieting my monkey mind and giving me the tiny pockets of peace and stillness I crave so much.

I’m now on my fourth week of this new approach, and I’m happy to report that by releasing my expectations of perfection. In fact, by embracing the fact that I am going to mess up, and by giving myself some wiggle room and a short-cut to get around it, I’ve actually been more mindful in the past month than I’ve been for a really long time.

And I’ve definitely ended up with more time spent on the mat through these little baby steps than when I was aiming for giant, dramatic leaps.

It’s been an eye-opening lesson, and one that I’m very grateful for.

So now I want to ask you, dear one, are you letting perfection hold you back from achieving something you really want?

Could you cut yourself a break and aim for “okay” instead of “awesome”? It might sound counterintuitive in our culture of comparison and perfection, but the results might just take you by surprise.

Start now image via Shutterstock

About Jessica Larsen

Jessica Larsen is a writer, creative strategist and full-blown word-nerd. Her blog is devoted to helping heart-centered folk live a fully realized creative life and make their ideas happen. Connect on Facebook or swing by her website to nab yourself a free copy of her eBook, Stop Wishing and Start Working, a love-fuelled guide for writers, artists and other dreamers.

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  • max_Draco

    I must say thanx. I am always trying to be the best at everything. Even when i start something for the first time i expect myself to be perfect at it first time or else i let myself and others down I think. A little disappointment here and there is better than trying to be the best at everything and hurting yourself in the process.

  • DB Hoster

    Great article…very useful stuff to think about!

  • Grateful

    This was so spot on. I had come to the same conclusion and just started yesterday meditating standing up. Well done. Thank You

  • This is so encouraging. I am starting meditation and find my mind wanders a lot and I get hard on myself! I think I may take on your tactic!

  • DogRvr

    This post made me smile, giggle, and feel a little better about not being perfect. Thanks!

  • Jessica, as a word-nerd myself, I saw the word to describe your article used only once. Can you guess what that word is? This story is really about how you craftily beat p_r_e_t_o_i_m!

  • PERFECTIONISM! Love a little word-nerd fun, LifeChangingStories!

  • Thanks, DogRvr!

  • Glad you found it useful, Emily! Baby-steps for the win! 😉

  • Great minds think alike, hey?! 😉
    Thanks Grateful for your beautiful words… x

  • Thanks DB Hoster! Glad you found it useful. 🙂

  • That’s me in a nutshell, max_Draco. I’m still definitely a work in progress, but this mindset shift has made a big difference…
    Thanks for your kind words! 🙂

  • Made me chuckle… trying to be “best” at meditation 🙂 I agree with you about bite-sized pieces of meditation more often though – that’s better than trying to achieve profound hours of lotus-poses… Good Luck Jessica!

  • A good realization. This one catches me off-guard all the time.

  • Tara Woodruff

    Thank You!! This sems to be the Theme for my searches today!! Excellent Advice Jessica!!

  • rd619

    Thanks for the reminder. Perfectionism affects me more than I want to realize because it triggers a chain of events. If I don’t get up at 5:00 am to do my workout. I would skip my workouts. Then if I didn’t workout, I wouldn’t eat healthy, thinking my day is blown, so why not cheat on my diet.

  • Kaylaleigh1207

    Perfect advice (;
    I have felt like this a time or two… or at least once a week! Thanks for the post it was really neat to hear your experience!

  • Danii Turnbull

    Had a similar struggle with meditation which went on for years so can totally relate to your article Jessica. Have finally too found a way to make it part of my ritual. Never thought perfectionism was causing it but now after reading this I can see how it creeps in to all areas of life and that it definitely contributed to the the ongoing avoidance to act. Thanks for sharing.

  • Denny Van Nguyen

    This article was very inspiring to me. I am currently in my last semester of nursing school and sometimes, being as time consuming as it is, I tend to let myself slip on habits that I’ve been working so hard to develop. Over the summer when I found that I had time on my side, I would devote at least 1 hour at the gym. When the semester started up again, it nearly took everything in me to squeeze 30 minutes. Yes, I would say to myself, “What’s the point if I can’t go the full 1 hour”? This resulted in me slipping off the band wagon. Here I am, 3 months later and still fighting to recommit myself. After reading this article I can definitely say that letting go of what I find to be “perfect” to me is exactly what I need to live a fulfilling life. Thank you.

  • Michael Fortin

    Incredible insight! I think you hit the nail on the head as to one of the most harmful mindsets we can have to achieving anything. That perfection mindset, I see it in almost everyone I know and myself. There was one philosophy that really stuck in my mind; ready, fire, aim. It seems like we prepare a little, then prepare some more to get “perfect” conditions, but if those conditions are not perfect we never fire! Instead we should be ready, then fire and aim on the way like 2 minutes of meditation or reading 10 pages of a book. I love this advice!

    Mental Vault