Episode 61 | Petra Kolber | Perfection Detox

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For over 20 years, Petra Kolber has choreographed and starred in over 100 award winning workouts. She’s an inspirational speaker presenting workshops around the world. And, she has been a  consultant to many of the top companies, including Reebok and Gatorade.

Over the years, I’ve run into Petra time and time again at fitness conferences. It’s easy to spot her from a block away, because she radiates confidence, vitality, and a  passion for life. It was only through reading her newest book, The Perfection Detox, that I started to understand her inner struggles with perfectionism, and the destructive impact it had on her life. In her book, she outlines 21 steps to breaking free from the need to feel perfect.

As a two-time cancer survivor, she is passionate about waking people up to the precious gift of time. Her mission is to inspire people to move more and fear less, so that they can stretch their dreams, strengthen their courage muscle and build an inspired life, full of joy and gratitude.

In today’s show, you’ll discover…

•  How to tame your inner critic, dissolve your fears, and step into the life you deserve.
• Specific steps to break free from the need to feel perfect
• Techniques for being a “healthy perfectionist” without being neurotic
• Mirror talk…how to avoid getting caught up in your inner critic when looking in a mirror
• Strategies for managing your “doubt demons”

Connect With Petra Kolber

Website | Book | Instagram | Twitter | Facebook |

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Kathy Smith: Petra, welcome to the show.
Petra Kolber: Thank you, Kathy. It is such a privilege to be with you here today.
Kathy Smith: Let’s start out. In your book, you admit that you’re a perfectionist. I don’t know, like in other programs, if you’re a recovering perfectionist. We’ll get into that. But you found that it was crippling you. So can you take us back to the place and time and give us a little snapshot of what does a day look like in the life of a perfectionist?
Petra Kolber: Great question, Kathy. I think for each person, it’s different. Everybody’s journey is different. For me, looking back when I start sharing this topic with people like you and I. They’ve been with us in the fitness industry for so many years, and the first thing they’ll say is like, “Oh Petra, from the outside looking in, you look like you had so much joy, you were having a great time.”
Yes, I was. We’ve both been very blessed to have an amazing career. And for that, I’m so grateful. I had moments of joy and, Kathy, unfortunately now looking back, most of my career was driven by fear, doubt, and this idea I was never smart enough or perfect enough to be labeled a fitness expert instead of it being fueled by joy, and positivity, and all these opportunities that were amazing. I mean, I got to go around the whole world, and I still had a great time.
The big difference for me personally, Kathy, is when I woke up in the morning– and I think this shifted as my platform became bigger and as– I hate this word expert– but as people were positioning me as the fitness expert, I suddenly had this idea that to be the expert, I needed to know it all, I needed to look a certain way. And that was never put on me by the companies I worked with.
So I think the day kind of started with, “Oh my gosh. Is today going to be the day when people find out I’m a fraud? Is today the day when I’m going to be asked a question in the public that I don’t know the answer? Is today the day that I mess up big time in my step choreography?” And at the end of the day, if the answer was yes to any of those, so what? So I make a mistake. So I don’t know the answer. But those years, Kathy, if any of those things should’ve happened, I would have been crippled and literally put back my whole next week, month, two months would’ve been filled with this ongoing, “Oh, I should’ve known more, I should’ve done this, I should’ve spent more hours rehearsing in my hotel room. ”
So instead of embracing this idea of being a human being, warts and all, my hits and my misses, I had this idea that perfectionism was the only way to move through life, and that’s when it became absolutely crippling.
Kathy Smith: I can so relate to so much that you’re talking about. And it’s interesting. As I came up through the ranks, I think part of what saved me from some of that– and I did experience some of the things you’re talking about– but what saved me is almost lack of awareness in a sense that I didn’t know what I didn’t know.
And I would get up, and because I was passionate, and because I had a speech coach early on, and I remember right before I was going to go on one of the national talk shows, I was training with a speech coach, and I was going through those nerves that you’re talking about. And just so the audience knows, everybody gets a little nervous whenever they have to get on stage or get on a talk show. And the difference between having a few nerves that actually become motivating, and get you up, and get your endorphins, and gets all your brain cells really shooting on all levels and the difference between it just shutting you down where you can’t think, that’s a huge difference. And the first one is good. The second one is not.
But what happened to me early on is I had a speech coach, and he said exactly what you did, Petra. He said, “Listen, people love other people who are human. So don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Don’t be afraid not to know the word. Don’t be afraid to mess up on your choreography or not know the answer and own it.”
“I don’t really know but let me check that one. That’s a great question.”
Petra Kolber: And I think everything you said about nerves being good, I always say nerves are respect for your audience. And I think, Kathy, you are such a pioneer in the industry. Like you said, sometimes being the first out there, I’ve got to say, I think I was looking at you also, like the Jen Millers of this world. And again, instead of using– I was so motivated and inspired by these incredible female leaders in our industry, and yet I made the mistake of comparing myself.
And I’ve seen this in a lot of people. Like you had this great coach at one of the pinnacle moments in your career when you’re going on live TV. And they’re giving you permission to make mistakes. Unfortunately, my coaches that I remember way back were always my dance teachers. And unfortunately, those were the voices in my head versus a coach that said, “Yeah!” I thought perfection is what people wanted. In fact, it actually separated me, because no one can relate to perfection.
So again, it’s knowing that– like you, if I stand up now and I’m not nervous, I’m concerned. Because to me, that means I’m phoning it in or I’ve become a little too lax in this gift of being up in front of others, hopefully inspiring them. But now I see nerves as motivation, like you said, to fuel. If I’m not slightly anxious, I know my presentation’s not going to be great, because I need that spark of adrenaline. But it stops before it paralyzes me. It allows me still to be in the moment, Kathy, with my audience. Right now, while I’m talking to you, I’m listening to you, what you’re saying. I’m not five questions ahead going, “Oh my God. Is Kathy going to ask me a question I don’t know the answer of?”
So it’s just managing our nerves, managing my state so that I can be the best that I can be. Not my perfect self. Because that’s not the truth of who I am. But be in the moment and hopefully be of service in conversation with the people who are in front of me.
Kathy Smith: Okay. Let be play devil’s advocate. Can you be at the top of your game, can you play in the orchestra, can you be the winning team on the field if you’re not striving for excellence and if you’re not trying to be the best you can be? So therefore, what is the difference between striving to be the best and being a perfectionist?
Petra Kolber: I think that’s a genius question, Kathy. And also, I get that a lot from high-functioning executives, and they’re like, “Well, if I let go of perfectionism, I’m not going to be successful.” But the words you used is excellence.
And again, perfection is only a word. So I always come back to this metric basically because my fitness years were spent so many times measuring things. I use the definition of whether perfection is good or bad in your life. Is it helping you excel or is it crippling you? Here. Let’s use the measurement of joy. Let’s use the measurement of creativity, possibility. Does the word perfect energize you? Does it make you like, “Look, I want to be the best that I can be.” Absolutely. I want to work harder than I probably than I ever have, Kathy, because I consider this work so important. Yet I am fueled now by possibility and the idea that if I don’t know it all, I’m going to learn it.
But again, I would say perfect is only a word until you attach an emotion to it. So the word perfection, to me, is so laden with doubt, and fear, and worry, I prefer not to use it. For some of your listeners, they might say, “I strive for perfection as I’m at work, and I love every second of that.”
Then I’ll say, “Don’t change a thing.” And if the word perfect doesn’t add joy to your life but sucks the joy out of you, maybe we need to reframe it. I think a big pushback I often see, Kathy, is, “Well, if I stop trying to be perfect, that means I’m no longer going to be successful.”
My answer to the people in front of me is, “To be successful, do you have to be perfect? Because I would think to be the perfect leader, how are the team you’re trying to manage ever going to be inspired by you. They’re going to be probably threatened because you do everything so flawlessly. Do you leave room for others to make errors? Are people fearful of your leadership skills because you demand perfectionism? ”
Now I’m not saying you don’t demand excellence and you’re not asking people to do the best that they can, including yourself. I want to be virtuous. I want to work hard. But yet, Kathy, I think the trouble happens when perfectionism becomes the basement. That’s the bottom level. If it’s not perfect, I’m not going to speak about it. If it’s not perfect, I’m not going to show it. And if it’s not perfect, I’m not going to ship it. If it’s not perfect, I’m not– so in actuality, sometimes perfectionism actually separates you from your greatness.
Kathy Smith: You’re talking a lot about business right now. But I’m also relating it to your relationships, to your personal relationships, to your kids. And I see this same philosophy with families where it can be very, very destructive when hold this ideal that we’re only good if we’re perfect, if we have 4.0s, if we get this on our SATs, if the house is perfectly clean, if the meal is perfectly cooked.
And one of the things that I was wondering as you mentioned earlier about the emotional hit you get from that word perfectionism. And I’m wondering if part of that hit is you don’t feel worthy. Is it you don’t feel worthy or maybe there’s some shame there? Or if you can’t project that you’re perfect to the world, then you feel that, “I’m not good enough.” Because I know that that’s the feeling that I get sometimes.
Petra Kolber: I think that word that you said, Kathy – worth – is huge. This idea that we’re not worthy of the– I’m going to say the word– the perfect relationship. Let me reframe that. We’re not worthy of the relationship that we desire, we’re not worthy of the job of our dreams, we’re not worthy of whatever it might be, that idea that we’re either– someone’s told us we’re either not enough or we’re almost too much of something. It’s about trying to fit in and so we have this idea of worth. And like you said, especially with relationships.
Hey, the relationship we have with our loved ones, our kids, and the relationship we have with ourselves, if we’re going for the perfect relationship– I remember someone once saying, “The true relationship begins where the love story or the love movie ends.” Everything’s perfect, and they kiss, and the movie fades to black. And that’s when the real work starts.
So if we’re going into our relationships with our partner, our husband, our wife, our kids and we’re looking to them to be perfect, which is more of another oriented perfection. We’re expecting them to be perfect without even realizing, because that in turn is a reflection of how we’re showing up.
It will never survive. It will never thrive. There will be negativity, there will be hurts and wounds that are not talked about because it’s not perfect. And I think especially with children, we’re seeing anxiety now on the rise more than ever – even more so than depression. Research is showing depression’s coming down, but anxiety’s on the rise. Like you said, 4.0 is not enough. It’s not just about school. It’s the extracurricular activities and how am I the perfect mom at the PTA? Oh my gosh. It’s just unrelenting.
And while we’re still– I think the lid’s coming off. I think– I love this idea like the Wizard of Oz. I think we’re beginning to pull back the curtain, because it’s become– it’s like, we can’t not talk about this right now, Kathy. Because kids are killing themselves. Eating disorders are on the rise. Anxiety’s on the rise. Stress is on the rise. So this is something we have to address, and how can we do it in a way where it’s a conversation that– this requires work. But can we bring a sense of ease to it, knowing that we’re not the only ones, knowing that probably every single person to our right and to our left, at some point in their life, has felt, “I’m not enough. I feel like a fraud in my own life.”
Kathy Smith: So true. Petra, here’s what’s happening right now. I’m going to run downstairs. I had this vinegar, and cayenne, and turmeric. And I got some cayenne stuck in my throat, so don’t go away.
Petra Kolber: Do what you need to do.
Kathy Smith: We’ll just cut this off. Give me 30 seconds.
Petra Kolber: Don’t worry.
Kathy Smith: I’m not perfect, no.
[silence 00:17:37 to 00:18:16]
Kathy Smith: That is hysterical. So my new drink is this: apple cider vinegar, turmeric and cayenne. And I’m loving this except I made it too strong. Right at the beginning of the interview, I took a sip and I’m going, “Oh shit. I can’t breathe.” Hold on. I’m drinking some water right now. Hold on.
Petra Kolber: Okay. No worries. I had a coughing fit on an interview last week and I don’t think they edit that. I was in the closet just coughing my brains out and that was just on water. I’m like, “Oh, my God.”
Kathy Smith: We’re going to cut all that out so don’t worry about that. Just let me get my thought back, Petra.
Petra Kolber: About relationships in terms of kids.
Kathy Smith:It’s crazy how far it’s gone, but we are starting to see a little bit of movement. I don’t know if you saw on TV recently, but they were saying that Justin Bieber is now coming out on Instagram and people are showing their pimples and their dark circles. And now it’s becoming a little hip and cool to be a little more real on your Instagram posts and such, which is tiny ways that that generation’s saying, “Don’t put me in this perfectionist pool here, because it’s a losing battle.” So I’m glad to see some of that is turning around.
But let’s get back to your story, because what was it, where was it, what was it where you thought, “Oh my gosh, this is not going to work anymore.” Where did you bottom out where you knew you had to change and write a book like this?
Petra Kolber:I think, Kathy, I hi– they say life throws you a rock, a pebble, or a brick wall. Think about perfectionism or anything that we consider not positive, we tend to put it in a little box and push it away. And so as my anxiety was kind of becoming greater around this, it was becoming harder and harder for me to hide it. Because what happened is, like you said, you get nervous and you have a little bit of anxiety. It didn’t stop that. For me, it started moving into panic attacks. Because I feel, the minute you try to put a lid on something, it only gives it more ammunition.
So I wasn’t talking about it, I wasn’t looking at it. And so I began to have panic attacks. And the interesting thing is, Kathy, I never had one ever when I was presenting on stage in the fitness world. Because I believe I had all the traditional symptoms of anxiety. I got shortness of breath, my heartrate began to increase, and I felt like I just needed to get out of the room. But there was one symptom I couldn’t hide. And literally, within 0 to 60 seconds, I would be covered in sweat – fully covered. Now Dan Harris, he wrote the book 10% Happier. He talks about his breakdown on television. That’s exactly what happens to me. But my sweat was even worse than his.
And I think because when I was presenting, I was meant to be sweating, it was never an issue. But I had this idea, “Oh, my gosh. I’m on TV or if I’m in an interview and I suddenly start having this anxiety, it’s going to be a huge, huge symptom of just how imperfect I am.”
My brick wall moment was, Kathy, it was around New Year’s – I think about 2005. And I was doing a lot of work with Health Magazine at the time and they had a relationship with this CBS early show. And Health Magazine called me up and said, “Oh, we’d love you to come on and do the Fit in Six Minutes or Get a Six Pack in Two Seconds for our New Year’s show.”
And I was like,” Oh, thank you so much. Unfortunately, I’m booked already.” And I put the phone down. I wasn’t booked. My schedule had become so scarce because I kept turning everything down. And Kathy, at that moment, my heart said, “Enough.” It actually spoke louder than my head.
And as long as my head and my heart were not in sync with each other, there was always this static. And my head always won. Not this time. And before I knew what I was going to do, it was two weeks before the moment they called me, and the actual show was going to be filmed. I picked the phone right back up, and I said, “Do you know what? I’m changing things around. I’ll make myself available.”
I mean, the bottom line is, Kathy, I hadn’t changed anything around. But this was my wake-up moment. They said, “Oh, we are so excited to finally get you on the show. We’ve been trying to get you on for two years.” I had been turning down work like the CBS show, the Today show, the View for two years. But because I knew it was not something my career or my heart would’ve wanted to do, I just put it in a box. I never talked about it, I never thought about it. And this was my wake-up call.
I said, “Oh, my God. I thought perfection was going to make my life bigger.” It was making my life smaller, and smaller, and smaller. And that’s when I said, “Enough. Enough. Enough.” And I started doing the work. I started researching it. I was in therapy for a while. I went back to school. And all this accumulated in this book. And before I even wrote this book, Kathy– both you and I, we do talks and presentations and I think without realizing it– and I’m sad that I did this for so many years– I kind of was positioning myself as this person who had it all dialed in.
And one day, I did a talk, and I casually mentioned these feelings of anxiety. And I felt the whole room kind of lean in. I was like, “Oh, my gosh. I’ve struck something here.”
And I just kind of followed it and then after my talks in the past, you might have a couple of people saying, “Oh, I really liked what you said.”
There was a line of women waiting to talk to me, going, “Oh, my God. You feel anxious too? You don’t feel like you have it all together?”
I said, “Oh, my gosh. This is what we need to be talking about.” And those two things together was when I decided, “I think this is going to be the work I want to start doing, and researching, and putting it out in the world.”
Because I know they say, “You teach what you need to learn.” And so that’s what I’m doing.
Kathy Smith: Well, it seems like perfectionism can be the shield that we use to protect ourselves, and it can start to isolate. I mean, you start to feel isolated from other people because a bit of what it boils down to, it’s a comparison game. Part of perfectionism is you’re comparing yourself to other people. And so if I’m going to be perfect, I have to be better than everybody else. I’m not saying that’s what you were thinking.
But I know for myself, if you’re going to be the best presenter at so-and-so or if you’re going to be the best– if I’m going to be the perfect presenter or the best presenter, then you see, “What is everybody else doing?” And that becomes a game of isolating yourself. So instead of being a team player and part of the community, people start to notice that you might have an air of just superiority in a sense. And I think this idea, when you start to break down the walls and the facade and you start to show your human side, that every single person, as you mentioned, goes through this at one time or other and to certain degrees.
What I find for myself, I was going through it depending on the crowd I was in. So certain times, I wouldn’t feel it and then other times, I would feel like I was being judged and so therefore, I needed to up my game, I had to show up and be hair, makeup, the newest outfit, the newest this, the newest that. And the interesting thing is my life– and I have to giggle to this day right. I’ll pull something out of my closet, I have a shoot like tomorrow, I’ll pull something out and I’ll go, “Oh, my God. This is five years old,” or whatever, and I’ll show up. And honestly, I’m just not obsessed with it anymore. I still want to look good. I still want to present my way in the best way possible. But what I’m finding is it’s my attitude, it’s my spirit, it’s my intention that really is shining through depending whether I have whatever the latest on or not.
Petra Kolber: Yes. Absolutely. Comparison is the thief of joy. Like you said, I don’t think– if I’m being completely honest, Kathy, look, if I was– you start comparing yourself. I would watch other presenters and other speakers, and I would suddenly go, “Oh, my God. Their so much better than I am.” Which maybe they were. Maybe they weren’t. They were just different. But I was comparing the material versus what we bring. We could all show up tomorrow and do the same exact thing. But it’s that uniqueness. And again– and I know you know this– it’s often the floors that we have, the things that we try to hide that actually are the very things that are going to make us do our best work.
Like you said, for me, it’s about ease. As I get older, I still, yes, I want to be excellent, I want to do the work, I want to prepare, I want to show up. And then, I just breathe a little bit into it so I can be more present and bring my full self versus just what I used to think was the full package.
Because I thought the full package meant just my highlight reel. Steven Furtick has said, “The reason we’re all struggling with insecurity is because we’re so busy comparing our backstory to everybody else’s highlight reel.”
We all have a story and I don’t think I’ve met anybody, Kathy, that never has a doubt. We all have doubts about ourselves. But then what am I going to do with that? If it’s something I can go and learn, then go and learn it. I don’t let it paralyze me anymore. And like you said, this is all about community. The reason people love your show, it’s community. We’re all coming together trying to be the best that we can be, and we just drop this edge of it, having to be perfect versus being the best that you can be. You’re still going to work hard, you’re still going to do the research, you’re still going to show up, you’re still going to want to dress to impress, but it doesn’t have to be the perfect outfit.
Oh my gosh, Kathy, when I used to do photo shoots, I would go out for two days prior, trying to find the perfect outfit. It was exhausting when in reality, I could’ve probably been spending those two days much better used – doing some research, meditating, getting comfortable with who I am, researching the photographer. But yet we do the best that we can with what we have at the time.
Kathy Smith: So let’s switch gears here and get back to the book, The Perfection Detox, and talk about your 21-step process. First of all, how did you come up with the 21 steps. How did you process yourself and start the journey toward more progress, less perfection, and is it possible? Have you reached the point where you’re not obsessed with these thoughts anymore?
Petra Kolber: Yeah. Let me start with the end bit. I don’t know if perfectionism ever can be just knocked on its side. What I do know for sure, yes, the difference in my way of being, and my way of life, and my sense of ease can’t even compare to when I was being strangled by perfections, let’s say. And an interesting thing, Kathy, once I’ve made peace with this part of myself, what happens is you then dare to go for your dreams. So I wrote this book.
I’m now a keynote speaker, all the stuff I would never have dared doing. The challenge is, the bigger our dreams, the more our inner critic goes, “Oh, yes. She thought I was gone. This is perfect territory for me to tell her just how much she should be downing herself.” But what I do now, I see it for what it is. It’s just a thought. I don’t give it any ammunition, and I let it move on.
Kathy Smith: Well, in your book, I know you call these the doubt demons, which I love that term. So just take us through one of those doubts. Let’s just say, oh, my gosh. You’re going to give a keynote and doubt pops up. How do you start to unravel that ball, that doubt so that– it’s easy to say, “Okay. Just take a look at it.” But I’m thinking back the way you described it before where it was like, “Oh, my God. My heart’s racing. I can’t breathe.” So how have you made it to where now it’s just you can hear it, you can see it, and you let it go?
Petra Kolber: That’s a great question. The first thing, is just being aware of it. There’s three parts in the book and I’m kind of just really quick tap on them and then come back, because it’s kind of a parcel to unpacking that question.
So the first one, part one is just identifying your inner critic. And that’s even noticing the noise. Now I can catch it for what it is versus it just felt like this overwhelming pressure of nerves and anxiety, and I never stopped long enough to actually look at what was under that.
Then part two is about shifting your focus, because it’s not enough just to– the universe isn’t like a vacuum. So if you notice something and you move it out, you’ve got to put something positive in its place.
And then, part three is about really tapping into your joy. So to answer that, let’s say I’m doing a keynote and all of a sudden, I’m like, “Oh, my God. Who am I to be doing this? It’s an audience I don’t know. It’s a big audience.” So first thing, I call it the STOP method, the S, stop, stand up. You’ve got to move your state. Perfection loves inactivity. It loves idleness. Because it can take root. The first thing is S, stand up.
T, I take a walk. I move my body, and this is what you do so well, Kathy. We’ve been doing fitness for so many years, but I was never doing from the idea of, “This can actually empower me. This can change my state.”
For many years, I was doing it to lose weight or look a certain way. And then, O, I paused and I observed my surroundings. That could be I’m looking out, I’m expanding my eyes. I’m looking at something, stretching my imagination. Or I’m listening to the sounds around me. I’m doing something with my senses to bring me into the present moment.
And then, P, I pick a positive thought. Now taking speaking for example, in that particular instance, for me, it always comes down to one thing. I move my thought and my focus off me and onto my audience. Because when I’m feeling incredibly anxious and it’s spiraling out of control, I put the focus on me versus my audience. And I’ve kind of got this false idea that I want to get that five-star evaluation. That’s not about me. It doesn’t matter if it’s five star. What I want to do, I want to shift the focus onto my audience and make it a five-star experience.
Hopefully, there’s going to be enough people in our audience that go, “She’s speaking to me.” It doesn’t mean it’s going to be everybody. If I’m worrying about everybody in that room loving me, I am going down the rabbit hole of doubt and despair. So it’s really just like, S, Stand up, move your state, notice. T, tap your toes if you can’t take a walk. O, observe your surroundings to get into the present moment. And then, what can you do to anchor that so it can move you into that next experience with a positive mindset?
Kathy Smith: I would use every single one of those before any one of my appearances. My routine was I would stand up. I’d typically go to the bathroom, and in the bathroom somewhere– I pick the bathroom because you’re hopefully alone in there. And then I would start doing what I call potty squats, which just do squats by the toilet there– 20 potty squats and then go up on your toes. And then I do a thing with my mouth where I make a big O shape or a U shape and then I make a sound like, “Hahhhh,” or something like that.
And you’re absolutely right. The last thing is when you hit the stage– or not even the stage– when you walk into a room somewhere. Because I know a lot of people who have social anxiety and want to look perfect or whatever, when you walk into a room, you take the focus off what you look like and you start thinking about, “What am I going to talk,”– or “What’s happening with everybody else in the room? What can I learn? What new thing am I going to learn about my friend today?” And just shifting that mindset so you’re focusing on the other person and not yourself really starts to bring down that anxiety.
It’s interesting that you go through this checklist. I have done so many of these things to be able to deal with anxiety when you’re in the public eye, and I think you’re bringing all these great tools for people and you’re serving such a big audience, because as you said, every single person is impacted by this at some time in their life, whether you have to get up at a wedding and give a toast, or whether you’re giving a presentation at work, or whether you’re going out on a date with somebody, and you’re on a dating site, and you have to meet somebody for the first time.
Your confidence is jolted all the time unless you start to take some action and do some of these steps that you talk about. So there’s 21 of them. I know we don’t have– obviously, we just touched on them today. But that’s why it’s important to pick up the book. I read it cover to cover. There’s a lot of these daily detoxes, these daily exercises.
I think what’s great about the book really, Petra, is that it becomes a workbook of a sense. I mean, you can go through it at whatever pace you want, and you can go back, and re-read, and rethink. And just like with exercise, you can start to strengthen these different muscles whether it’s letting go of fear, letting go–oh, a great one. Why don’t we finish off with just the one of checking out the mirror? Because the mirror, especially as we age, we can have a tendency to come in the bathroom in the morning, look in the mirror, and go, “Oh, my God. More wrinkles, more bags, more this, more that.” And it’s not a good way to start your morning if that’s what your first thing out of your mouth is.
So what is your technique for making peace with the mirror when it comes to perfectionism?
Petra Kolber: Okay, let’s be– I’m going to be 100% honest, Kathy. Out of all of the steps, this has got to be the hardest one I think for me now, especially as I’m getting older. Here’s the thing. It’s not what you see in the mirror; it’s really what lens do you look through? And if we can just look at ourselves with this idea that, “If I can love all of myself,”– and it’s not just look in the mirror and blowing yourself a kiss. Unwavering self-esteem, unwavering confidence allows us to bring our best self into the world. And what I just keep coming back to is, “What do I want to bring into my day?” And what I notice is I look at my whole self in the mirror.
As a tendency, you tend to notice what you don’t like about yourself. So if I’m not paying attention to my mind and my heart, my eyes are going to go to my neck or my wrinkles. And then, I just go, what do I choose to do with what I see? Do I choose to see my wrinkles as a liability or as a sign of my wisdom? Do I choose to look at the wrinkles around my mouth as a sign that I’m getting older or a sign that I’ve lived a life. And now, I look at my face as it’s getting a little older. This is a face that has been through ups and downs. It’s been through cancer.
Just really quickly, Kathy, I was going to the gym last week, and I still have to work the work. It’s just like strength training. If you don’t work the work, it won’t work. And I was doing some abs. I was doing the plank. And I realized– I caught myself, Kathy, going “Oh.” I was kind of beating my stomach up. And then, I just said to myself, “Stomach, thank you for being with me through all these years. Let’s do this together.” And I started laughing to myself, going, “We can always be kinder to ourselves.”
And a mirror is just a reflection. What I’d encourage everybody to do, get out of the mirror for a day. Obviously, you have to just check yourself before you go out to work or whatever. Because I have appeared occasionally at the gym without checking myself out, and I’m like, “Oh, my God. I should’ve looked a little harder in the mirror,” – a bit mismatched and toothpaste in the corner of my mouth. But at the end of the day, is it really what we look like that matters or is it what our heart is bringing into the world? We are going to be the hardest on ourselves.
Where they say, “Love thy neighbor as thyself,” I think that’s the hardest thing we will ever do – is truly love ourselves. But it’s only when we can do that– it is not a selfish act. It’s actually a selfless act, because then you’ll be able to love those around you in the way that they deserve, and you’ll be able to share all of you – the wrinkles, and the little softness, and the curves that are getting there. And again, I want to be fit, I want to be healthy, but not at the expense of my happiness. And so again, make peace with the mirror as it is a reflection of the greatness and the beauty of who you are.
Kathy Smith: I love that. That was so well said. And just a little bit of an addition to that. When you start to approach life like that, there’s more opportunities that arise. There’s more things that you’re willing to jump into. I know even with love making, I have friends and people that write me, and send me notes, and whatever. And they won’t make love anymore because they don’t want their husbands or their significant others to see them without their clothes on. Or if they do make love, it’s only with the lights off.
Or they won’t play tennis anymore because it’s like, “Oh. I’m not as good as I used to be.” Or they don’t ski anymore because, “I used to ski so well. And now, I don’t ski so well anymore.” And all of sudden, their world is shrinking and getting smaller and smaller, and to be able to have that confidence you talk about – make love and yeah, your stomach’s not going to be as tight as it used to be. But it still can be a whole lot of fun.
Petra Kolber: And think of the experience that you have– you bring to the event. And Kathy, I am so happy you said this. Because this is something that we don’t talk about. We laugh about it, but yet I know, look, I’m single and I’m almost 55 and the idea of being naked in front of someone, I’ve got to say it’s a little horrifying. I’ll be honest. Just naked in front of myself, it’s not easy. But at the end of the day, when we look back on our life, like you said, do I want to have said no because I felt a little jiggly or I had wrinkles? Oh, my God.
And I love what you had said before. Let me circle back quickly. Let’s get curious. Curiosity. Let’s get curious about our lives, about the lives of those people that we meet, take the spotlight off all this negativity that we see about ourselves, and start to put the spotlight onto all that we are versus all that we’re not. With age comes wisdom. And a little softness just means maybe the softer I get, maybe my heart gets a little softer. And it’s not easy, but man, it’s worth exploring. And face yourself in your relationships and the dating, which I have to dive back into that pool soon just with curiosity and kindness.
At the end of the day, when we can love ourselves, we’re going to be able to love those and give other people around us a chance to explore this way of being too. And I think the world’s ready for it. And I know our girlfriends are already for it, and our partners are ready for it. And we just need to be the brave ones that take that first step.
Kathy Smith: I agree. And what I love about what you’ve just said, and what’s in your book, and the way you approach it is you’re always encouraging people to shift their perspective to one that’s more nurturing. And you just said it now. Imagine with a little more kindness, with all your imperfections.
You actually have an exercise in your book where you say, “Write a short letter to one of your imperfections and imagine it’s your best friend who is struggling with it.” Now with that lens of acceptance and compassion, imagine your best friend or let’s say your daughter or somebody very close to you, you wouldn’t beat them up.
You wouldn’t say, “You’re bad.” You wouldn’t have those kinds of negative, harsh thoughts. You’d be loving, you’d be kind, you’d be compassionate. And I think these terms for our own beings are so important. Because we have a lot of good years ahead of us, and we have a lot of laughs, a lot of adventures, a lot to learn, a lot of curiosity.
Petra Kolber: And hopefully a lot of love making to.
Kathy Smith: Yes. So all me up if you need any dating tips and I’ll give you the dating tips. But listen. It’s been a delight to have you on the show. I can’t wait to talk to you more and actually see you in person.
The big take away here today is pick up Petra Kolber’s book. It’s called The Perfection Detox. And Petra, you also have a great podcast. Is it the same name?
Petra Kolber: Yes. Perfection Detox. Thank you. You were so generous to be, I think, the first guest ever on my show. So thank you for that.
Kathy Smith: You’re so much. You’re a delight. And such good information. So thank you so much for being here.
Petra Kolber: My pleasure. Thank you, Kathy.

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