When people ask me for my best piece of advice in regards to eating disorder recovery, they are often baffled by my reply:
Aim to be mediocre.
I don’t blame them for this reaction. I was quite skeptical about it myself when my therapist first entertained the idea to me.
But it doesn’t make sense
I mean, wouldn’t it make more sense to shoot for greatness? Wouldn’t I recover faster — and better — if I did everything perfectly? But the answer to that, my friends, was a hard no. Because, as is often the case for those who struggle with eating disorders, I also struggle with an extreme case of perfectionism.
Why not strive for perfect?
In my eyes, however, my tendency toward perfect was not an issue. I was seeking treatment for an eating disorder, not for perfectionism — and besides, “perfectionism” isn’t a diagnosis in the DSM-5.
I turned my nose up at the notion of aiming to be average, and not soon after, my recovery flat lined.
This frustrated me to no end. I was doing everything my treatment told me to do? I followed my meal plan,and I went to support group, and I abstained from excessive exercise. So why wasn’t my mental state getting any better? I was doing everything perfectly.
Hate to break it to you…
That was exactly it.
I was doing everything perfectly. Not because I wanted to, but because I had to. I was still obsessed with looking perfect, acting perfect, getting perfect grades, being the perfect employee. I was eating, sure, but the food wasn’t the problem. It was the perfect.
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Can you relate?
My desire for perfection was what I used to mask the underlying problems in my eating disorder. I used it to fuel a sense of control and earn accolades so I could have at least a moment’s escape from feeling worthless.
What I really needed to do in order to recover was to learn to let go of perfection.
And so, for me, that meant shooting for mediocrity in my life. I needed to learn to be comfortable with myself as an average human being. I needed to learn that I don’t need to earn my value as a person. So, I made it my mission to give it my “just enough” in life.
Can giving “Just Enough” work?
Not long after, I realized that by giving tasks just enough effort, I made room in my life for what really mattered: family, friends, games, relaxation, passion projects, and more. And these are the things that helped launch me into a strong, lasting recovery.
This simple act of letting go to the need to be perfect helped me find my sense of self-worth deep inside me. By aiming to be mediocre, I untied myself from the notion that my productivity and accomplishments were what made me valuable.
The shocking truth…
And I was shocked to realize that I could be just as successful — more, even — by aiming to be mediocre than I ever could be in aiming to be perfect. Because it wasn’t about producing soso work. It was about shifting the way I approached it.
It makes complete sense why something like perfectionism would go hand-in-hand with eating disorders, and it’s why my recovery tip is mediocrity. Mindset is one of the most important tools in the recovery toolbox, and striving to be average, I’ve found, is one of the best ways to reach a pro-recovery mentality.
Because realizing that “being the best” isn’t what life’s about can help set you free from the claws of perfection.