Perfection is elusive for a reason.

When was the last time you assessed your self-care routine? Most of us probably have some form of self-care that we practice, but it’s easy to fall into a rut and lose sight of the reasons why we started implementing those specific self-care practices in the first place. That’s why it’s a great idea to step back every once in a while to see if your self-care practices are still working the way you need them to.

The purpose of having a self-care routine is to be attentive to your overall well-being. Tending to your physical, emotional, mental, relational, and spiritual health builds up a buffer against the stresses of life and helps you feel like your best self. While it’s true that certain self-care practices are more enjoyable than others (e.g. exercising may always feel more like a chore than meeting a friend for coffee), the variety of self-care measures that contribute to your flourishing are all equally important tools in helping you improve your well-being.

Practicing self-care is fairly straightforward. Your goal should always be to be mindful of what you need and then to implement practices that help address that issue. For example, if you know that you have been feeling low energy for a while, you might consider implementing self-care practices like exercise, getting enough sleep, and making dietary changes (after consulting a professional). Or, if you have been feeling overwhelmed and directionless in life, you might make an appointment with a therapist to help you figure a few things out. By tailoring the self-care practices you use, you can specifically address any areas of your life that are being affected by stress.

The pitfall of perfection-seeking

Sometimes, however, in the quest to take full advantage of all of the amazing benefits that self-care has to offer, it’s easy to focus on finding the “perfect” self-care practice. This happens when we start to look for a routine that will solve all of our problems and focus on being “perfect” at it. Suddenly, it becomes less about doing what’s best for our overall well-being and more about being perfect at practicing self-care.

When this happens, what was meant as self-care can have an opposite effect on your well-being. Instead of exercising to feel better and increase your energy levels, self-care becomes more about never skipping a workout and pushing yourself to the max instead of listening to your body and exercising according to how you feel that day. In cases like this, self-care turns into a source of stress instead of a stress reliever, because every time you don’t follow your self-care routine perfectly, it feels like a failure.

Derailing discouragement

Another pitfall to be mindful of if your self-care routine is feeling stagnant is when the quest for perfection in your self-care routine turns into discouragement. The trouble with using perfection as the measurement for success with your self-care routine is that you (and everyone else) will always fall short. It’s not because you are a “failure” at self-care or that you are weak. It’s just that being perfect all the time is impossible for everyone. If you tell yourself that you can only be perfect, it’s easy to feel discouraged when you fall short, and this can make it tempting to abandon your self-care routine altogether. After all, it’s easier not to feel disappointed again and again by not trying.

If you’ve found that you’ve slipped into letting perfection dictate your self-care practices, try some of the following strategies to reset your routine and to get it back on track.

One helpful way to combat perfectionism in self-care is to embrace a spirit of flexibility. Real life is rarely predictable and routine. Instead, we go through different seasons of life (jobs, relationships, and family all change with time), and those shifts often prompt changes in the way we approach self-care. Perhaps it made sense to journal and reflect on your day in the evening before having children, whereas now it makes more sense to do that early in the morning before anyone else is up in the house. What worked well for you in the past might not work well for you right now, and that’s OK. It’s perfectly OK to outgrow a self-care routine.

I’ve also found another strategy that can be useful for combating perfection is to take an unstructured approach to practicing self-care. While there are different ways to approach this, one way is to create a list of self-care activities that resonate with you and then to try to complete one of the practices on your list each day depending on the time you have and what you think you’d benefit most from that day.

I use this strategy myself and I record what I did that day on a monthly calendar in my planner to help me keep track of it all. For example, one day I might run, another day I might meet up with a friend, and on another day I might take some time to quietly reflect and work on my goals. I try to keep the focus on practicing self-care in the way I need to for that day instead of trying to stick to a “perfectly” consistent self-care routine.

Whatever the self-care methods you practice, one thing’s for sure—you’ll succeed not by seeking an elusive sense of perfection but by personalizing it to fit your life.