Refinery29 is teaming up with The Laughing Cow for an #AntiRoutin e mission that’s all about shifting your perspective to unlock new possibilities. Say goodbye to your monotonous routine and instead, make the choice to switch it up with simple lifestyle changes that will garner lasting, positive effects. Ahead, one writer takes on the challenge.
Somewhere and somehow down the line, I developed an obsession with perfection. It’s pretty apparent; from the tiniest of tasks to assignments at work, very rarely is anything I do “good enough” — at least, to me. While being so “type A” is often frowned upon, I don’t fully agree.
I believe my type A-ness has fueled my success — from surviving a rigorous college to landing a job as an editor in New York City, a place I’ve dreamt about forever. Still, despite these accomplishments, I admit there’s a major drawback: I’m not that happy.
Not too long ago, I found validation in popular Instagram memes like, “Work harder than you think you did yesterday,” from author Alex Elle. Perhaps it’s a little silly, but to me, sayings like this told me that if I continue busting my ass — taking advantage of every moment there is — I will leave behind a “legacy” worth mentioning. Always do more, never less. It took a much-needed, involuntary wake-up call from a friend for me to realize that too much structure, discipline, and sacrifice was having a negative effect on my productivity, mood, and overall wellbeing. Frustrated and desperate for change, I hired a certified life coach to help me stop having my act together.
The key to a more stable life lies less in controlling the world outside of you and more in cultivating a strong sense of self.
Unlike therapists who often work with issues of the past, life coaches tend to focus on the present and the future. Mine — coach Ryann Pitcavage — believes in taking a holistic approach. I came to her seeking ways to ditch my type A personality for good, but through our sessions, she helped confirm a paralyzing fear I’ve been carrying around for years: failing. Subconsciously, fear of failing fuels my strict diet for success and bolsters the importance of having a safety net, aka perfectionism. It then continues to manifest as various routines. Life itself has become a mere formula for me: The more success, the tighter I hold onto routines, no matter how miserable they make me.
Yet, the reality is, “We don’t really grow in our comfort zones,” Pitcavage says. “Limiting ourselves to our comfort zones is an easy way for us to feel confident, powerful, and in control without actually having to take any risks.” Makes sense, right? Sure. “We fear taking risks because we deeply fear messing up,” she continues. “Therefore, we limit our growth, as we actively avoid too many new, unknown, uncertain things.” Here’s the kicker, though: “We give too much meaning to our failures or errors; rather than simply seeing them as mistakes, we see them as inherent character flaws in ourselves — that we are a failure rather than being a human who is experiencing a failure.”
While Pitcavage’s coaching gave me several “aha” moments, the statement above resonated with me the most. I’ve spent so much time striving for perfect that the stakes of leaving such behavior behind became higher than anything else I had to lose. Why? This space of being “the overachiever” is where I’ve gotten my “acceptance, approval, praise, recognition, love, etc.,” Pitcavage ultimately concluded.
Unless you intentionally seek out experiences outside your comfort zone, your sense of personal power will be dependent upon ups and downs of crises that happen in your life.
In an effort to rewire my brain, she offered an explanation: “The key to a more stable life lies less in controlling the world outside of you and more in cultivating a strong sense of self.” Furthermore, she said my progress should be intentional. “Unless you intentionally seek out experiences outside your comfort zone, your sense of personal power will be dependent upon ups and downs of crises that happen in your life.”
Bingo! I needed to be challenged. Therefore, for a week in January, I set out to loosen up and relinquish control.
Email was the first step. My type A personality enables my bad habit of checking work emails long after I’ve left the office — I refresh my phone’s mail app at least five times during my evening commute, scanning three different inboxes for unreads and anything marked urgent. And it gets worse when I finally make it home — throughout dinner, while catching up on shows, and especially right before bed, my fingers stay busy typing away responses.
So to confront FOMO directly, on Monday around 6:30 p.m., I made the conscious decision to stash my phone far away from reach, only pulling it out once back at my apartment to charge for the upcoming day. Of course, I scrolled Twitter a few times and responded to texts, but fighting the urge to email was surprisingly easy. And in general, I felt way less anxious, which honestly led to the best sleep ever.
For the next 72 hours, I tasked myself with finding opportunities to be more spontaneous. I updated my online dating profile, adding pictures and quirky details about myself in hopes of sparking new interests. It paid off, too, and I soon matched with a Harlem-based attorney. He seemed sophisticated, more so than anyone else I had previously considered, and he was physically out of my comfort zone, since I reside many train stops away in Brooklyn. Making the first move was my second bold step. Swapping numbers and feeling safe agreeing to go on a date planned completely by him followed suit. The only details I knew were when and where we’d meet — a far cry from my usual first dates, which I tend to schedule at familiar spots near my apartment or job, so I have an escape route should anything go wrong.
On this date, I lowered my guard and ended up learning a) attorneys are great at asking questions, meaning I don’t always have to take the lead, and b) not every connection needs to be a “love connection.” Getting to know someone should be fun! Less pressure opens doors, if I can remember to keep my mind open as well.
Another cool benefit of the date was discovering how much I truly enjoy Harlem, a neighborhood I hadn’t previously explored. As a Black journalist and creative writer, the neighborhood’s historic and cultural vibes spoke to my soul. I can’t wait to return on a slow summer weekend and explore with friends.
On Saturday, I chose to expand my taste for global cuisines. Taking a peek at my past food delivery orders, it was obvious I’m very faithful to Italian, Thai, and Mexican dishes — so I decided to head to a Jamaican spot in Queens, ousting my habitual dining habits. Looking over the menu, I ended up chatting for hours with my Caribbean-born waiter, who was eager to diversify my palette. He encouraged me to try delicious goat stew, rice and beans, grapefruit soda, and a new favorite of mine: fried ripe plantains. And after hearing his many stories about growing up in Jamaica, I even decided to begin planning my first international trip — a goal I’d put off due to “not having enough time.”
‘Perfect’ has lost its magical spark, its authority, and its place in my ‘routine.’
My last challenge really involved pushing myself to the edge: participating in a hip-hop cycling class. For context, I barely have rhythm on the dance floor, let alone while riding a stationary bike and doing coordinated hand-arm movements in a crowd of hardcore spinners. I was sure I’d be judged. Setting fear aside, I went for it. “Intense” doesn’t even begin describe what I endured over the course of 45 minutes. But as hard as it was, I still had an amazing time. Hair crazy, legs sore, heart pumped — I would gladly do it again. I came to class with assumptions about being laughed at, yet I left relieved, feeling healthy and inspired.
I’m proud of myself for stepping outside of my comfort zone for the sake of my own happiness. Not only do I feel like a weight has been lifted from my shoulders, but I’m also better equipped to handle whatever stunt life has in store for me, and I’m thankful to the life coach for assisting me in pulling me out of my fear. “Perfect” has lost its magical spark, its authority, and its place in my “routine.” From now on, I intend to turn failure on its head by celebrating it as a means to grow stronger, learn deeper, and become a better me.
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