Perfectionism and control creep back up in my life in stealthy little ways. It typically starts out innocently enough, with some new habit or idea I want to implement. Perhaps simply refocused intention on an area of my life where I want to grow or improve. Then, I start spending much of my mental energy on this new habit. The cycle of effort and achievement then give me a sense of control and self-improvement.
This sequence has sprung up in my life countless times. It’s one of the main reasons I cannot be trusted to have a daily planner. The temptation to track, plan and measure my life is too strong in me! But, now I can see that this cycle often gets triggered by a fear or other unpleasant emotion that I don’t want to experience. Sometimes, even healthy habits become unhealthy as I rigidly hold on to achievement and control as a way to keep painful feelings at bay.
During the peak of COVID-19 quarantine this spring, I enjoyed my long runs on Sunday mornings. After a week or two, I had the impulsive idea to run a half marathon (13.1 miles) each weekend and then I posted that declaration on social media. For a while, it was quite fun and I enjoyed the encouragement folks left me in their comments. I still felt present and prayerful during my runs and tracking it was more of an afterthought.
Overtime, however, the need to accomplish this weekly goal started to feel oppressive. Especially as school started, fall busy season at work kicked in, and I got the upsetting diagnosis of diabetic retinopathy. My long runs became something I “had to do” as I focused on achieving the outcome: run 13.1 miles and post the proof on FaceBook. After taking a few weeks off running during our Humboldt trip this summer, my pace was discouragingly slower.
I could feel myself mentally “checking out” when I ran: caught up in my thoughts but not really feeling my body, hearing the music, or experiencing the world around me. Instead of looking forward to my weekend long run as a prayerful, meditative time with God, it was now something I had to check off the list so that I could feel accomplished and in control.
Have you ever fallen into this? The experience of doing something good for the wrong reason. Or focusing on outcomes instead of enjoying the process. It’s all too familiar for me. Fortunately, I’ve now had the experience of being present in the moment, trusting God and letting go of control, many, many times. Letting go is a process and takes some time, but there are concrete steps I know to take now. One of them is to stop monitoring, calculating and judging my actions.
In the case of running, the past two weekends I did something very different. I ran without music and did not track my distance or speed. I did wear my pedometer and I generally knew how far I ran, but I didn’t try to hit a certain pace. I didn’t have “proof” to post on social media! I just ran to enjoy the process of running and resting in prayer for a couple hours. It’s much more fulfilling and enjoyable to run for the simple joy of running, rather than for the sake of saying “I ran”.
Maybe there’s something you used to love but now do out of a sense of obligation…? Perhaps you’ve also fallen into the trap of measuring and quantifying an activity to the point that it’s no longer enjoyable. Asking for God to illuminate where you are striving to accomplish rather than resting in his grace and provision is a great place to start. He knows what’s best and will gently prompt us, when we stop long enough to ask.