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The Perfection Detox
Tame Your Inner Critic, Live Bravely, and Unleash Your Joy
By Petra Kolber
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Tired. Stressed. Overwhelmed. Just one more email, one more meeting with the kid’s teacher, oh and lose that last five pounds. Today, women are striving for perfection more than ever — and feeling like failures for not meeting unattainable goals. Health and wellness expert Petra Kolber knows this intimately; as a dancer and fitness professional, she’s experienced the ultimately dissatisfying quest for perfection. Her Perfection Detox program helps women to overcome the unhealthy, unproductive demands we place on ourselves — and others. Based on her popular workshops, Kolber’s strategies help women to recognize and constructively root out the perfectionistic impulse to be critical of self or others and to harness the power of our own internal resources, willpower, and habits.
With simple steps and strategies such as adjusting your internal monologue, cleaning up your vocabulary to include more positive language, becoming a passionist rather than a perfectionist, and more, The Perfection Detox is an essential guide to a healthy, full, authentic life.
SO HOW DOES A RECOVERING PERFECTIONIST WRITE THE PERFECT INTRODUCTION? HOW does she craft an opening paragraph in which she earns your trust, and where you will fall in love with every one of those words? How does she write an opening built upon the wish that you will be seized suddenly by the feeling that you are about to have an encounter with a trusted friend?
The answer is, she doesn’t. She doesn’t, I don’t, no one does… no one knows how to write that perfect page. And this represents the quintessential perfectionist’s predicament: what we are striving for, and what actually exists, can never meet.
So the question then becomes, do I stop because it is impossible, or do I start because I believe this book will make a difference in your life?
Because I have done the work to rewire my perfectionist’s mindset, I was able to begin. I have created and crafted something and released it out into the world, flaws and all.
So, as I began doing the thing that terrified me, that is, writing this first page, I realized that this was the perfect metaphor for how perfection can shape and distort our lives. If I had waited for the perfect word, the perfect introduction, or the perfect moment to begin, this book would never have been written.
While it is impossible for us to get to know each other in a couple of paragraphs, perfect or not, what I hope you can sense is that you and I are kindred warrior sisters. I get you, I understand you, and we have gone through many of the same internal battles.
One of the reasons that I decided to write The Perfection Detox is that I know how lonely the planet of perfection is. I hope that as you finish reading this book, you will feel more of an insider than an outsider, more connected to the women you see all around you, and more empowered to start living your life—a life that is rooted in joy and lived on your terms.
I also consider it an immense privilege to be alongside you for this journey. While our backstories are different, I understand the deep pain and the constant struggle that come from living a life constantly monitored and judged by perfection.
There is a different way of moving through your days. A way of living that allows you to dance with your dreams instead of dodging potential mistakes. A life rooted in optimism, joy, potential, and possibility. A life that is waiting for you to take a spin with her, fully engaged with your heart and soul.
Now is the moment to take the first step back to your authentic self and toward your abundant future, as you would not have picked up this book (unless you thought this was a book on juicing) if you believed perfection was working in your favor. Before we get to those steps, it’s important first to think about what we mean when we expect perfection; what is this “perfect” that we’re so infatuated with?
FIRST THINGS FIRST: DEFINING PERFECTIONISM
To say that something is a perfect fit is to suggest that there could be nothing better. To do something perfectly means to have completed a task with a sort of divine level of skill and to have produced a product that is spotless, flawless, pristine. Culturally, we have been taught that perfectionism is something to be proud of.
But true perfectionists are unlikely to ever experience feelings of pride or satisfaction. They are more likely to feel disappointment and despair, perpetually dogged by the belief that they or others haven’t reached the golden ring of a flawless and faultless life. And therein lies the tortuous problem: perfect doesn’t exist; it’s nothing more than a subjective, slippery conjuring of one’s mind. Perfectionism, while not a disease of the body, is a cancer of the spirit and one that if left unmanaged will cause great damage to our life.
“Perfect” is only a word until you attach a feeling or expectation to it. Some people might be ambitious, have high standards, and strive to be virtuous without being a perfectionist. Perfectionism, as a personality feature, does not guarantee success; moreover, there is overwhelming evidence to suggest that perfectionism is, ironically, an obstacle to achievement of potential.
The key to reaching the highest level of success is a certain willingness to take risks, which perfectionists viscerally try to avoid for fear of making a mistake. Part of the journey of becoming better, whether as a person or in a skill, is having the fortitude and the wisdom to manage and learn with mistakes, stumbling blocks, and disappointment. A nonperfectionist will see a mishap as a mini milestone on the road to success, or check it off as a character-building experience to be folded into the fabric of growth. But a perfectionist sees a mistake as an affront, an intruder to wrestle to the ground. It is not surprising, therefore, that while the perfectionist plays it safe by retreating, the ambitious nonperfectionist soars.
Of course, this won’t be a part of every perfectionist’s experience. Perfectionism is not an affliction that replicates itself in every person. It can affect different parts of your life and isn’t always self-directed. While it’s most common for perfectionism to influence the relationship you have with yourself, it can also manifest in your relationships with other people, including family members, and the relationship you have with work. It takes some exploration of our own lives to determine where perfection is most prevalent, and this is an exploration I’ll help guide you through in this book.
Part of this detox will include assessing the role of expectations and standards in your life, and identifying the difference between being ambitious and striving for perfection (hint: one comes with pain and suffering, the other does not). Being able to spot the difference requires asking yourself some difficult questions. Or rather, asking some questions that might at first seem difficult to answer, if only because we don’t often study ourselves, except perhaps to criticize, but rarely to just observe and take notes.
Some of the questions and topics you’ll need to ponder include: Are the standards you set for yourself reasonable or so unrealistically high that your inner critic is impossible to turn off? Do you see failures as lessons along the way or as catastrophic setbacks, no matter how insignificant? Do you ever allow yourself to celebrate your success or do you immediately place your gaze on the next milestone ahead?
These are the types of explorations that will help you uncover which beliefs and behaviors are working in your favor and which are stopping you from enjoying the life that you are working so hard to create. In The Perfection Detox, we’ll practice enriching the former, and expelling the latter.
Without a doubt, there are going to be aspects of your awesome personality that you may not necessarily want to discard. Your ability to get projects across the finish line in a timely manner, your organizational skills, your reliability in relationships, and your willingness to go the extra mile in whatever you are doing are all wonderful attributes that may have become entangled with your perfectionistic roots. This is why we will work carefully and with compassion with the intention of making sure that you deliver your best, while also feeling your best at the same time.
One thing I know for sure is that one of the most painful experiences to come out of perfectionism is the feeling of isolation, and in this place of separation it is impossible to flourish and thrive. We tend to feel that we are entirely alone in this suffering; that we are the only ones to experience anxiety and depression as the result of a mistake or falling short of a goal, or to feel that we are being crushed by all of the standards expected of us today. I am here to tell you that we perfectionists are more alike in these struggles than we are different.
WHEN PERFECT WENT VIRAL
This is a prolific time for perfectionism, mostly thanks to social media. The filters, endless takes, and frozen moments featured across a growing list of platforms can make it seem as if everyone else is living a perfect life. Everyone but you, that is. For perfectionists, this perception can spark an obsession with the need to keep up with or surpass the lives of others, or to compare to the point of feeling crippled. Among the thousands of women I have talked to and worked with, I would estimate that over 90 percent of them have shared that they silently struggle to try and not compare themselves to the images of perfection that cross their screens. While even nonperfectionists will casually flirt with comparison, they aren’t nearly as susceptible to falling into a destructive relationship with it as us perfectionists. In most cases, this susceptibility is such an ingrained part of who we are that we are not even aware of it, likely because its origins occurred so long ago.
The seeds of perfectionism are often planted early in life, by way of genetic origins or childhood experiences. As my own story will reveal, children of alcoholics are especially prone to becoming perfectionists. Perfectionism gets activated as a vehicle to try to protect our environment and maintain the illusion that our family is just the same as everyone else’s, and we also desperately desire to create some semblance of control. We see perfection as a tool to fit in, never make a ripple, and pretend that we have mastery over our life.
But in practice, instead of the picket-fence, prize-winning life, perfectionism leaves us with a bounty of psychological distress. To perpetually strive for unattainable perfection means to fear failure, to avoid risk, to swim in doubt and anxiety, and to normalize negativity. Nothing is ever good enough for the perfectionist, and the world around us reinforces the illusion.
The body, in many cases, can become an object of hyper-focus for perfectionists, especially for women. We are more prone to placing extreme emphasis on self-presentation, which can influence eating behaviors and lay the groundwork for eating disorders to develop.
While not everyone’s perfectionism will take them this far, many women fall into the trap of viewing the latest diet or weight-loss fad as a bright and shining beacon, the path to happiness that has thus far eluded them. As women, we have become convinced that as our waistlines shrink, the success and love we experience will expand. We keep setting goals that are either impossible to fulfill or come at a price too high.
When I was younger, I had both anorexia and bulimia, two disorders that kept me separated from being able to live in the present moment and step into my full potential. Never able to be thin enough to satisfy my need for control or eat enough to satisfy my loneliness, I lost six of my best years to a dysfunctional relationship with food. The false illusion of mastery kept me isolated, ridden with anxiety and wrapped in shame.
Many of the women I’ve spoken to over the years, while not always having dealt with an eating disorder, share the mounting pressure they feel as they try to keep up with the photographs and videos they see every day. We have become so used to the airbrushed and Photoshopped version of reality that we no longer know the difference between realistic and impossible-to-meet expectations. It’s absolute madness, and the message it sends has many worried about how to raise daughters with a strong sense of self-esteem or how to protect them from the dangers of trying to live up to what is on their news feed.
If you have young daughters or nieces, I hope this book will give you strategies to help them be the best version of themselves (instead of perhaps trying to replicate their favorite Instagram or reality star). I also hope that in the pages ahead, you will discover how to release the anchor of unrealistic expectations before it sinks you. For me, these expectations multiplied exponentially, until I found myself in desperate need of a detox.
MY PATH TO THE PERFECTION DETOX
There was a time in my life when I thought I had it all figured out. Professionally I was climbing the ranks just about as fast as anyone could in the mid-nineties. By trading in my dance shoes for fitness sneakers, my background in musical theater became a catalyst for my fast-found success as a popular aerobics instructor in New York City. I became a sought-after fitness expert, starring in many best-selling DVDs, working with a range of celebrities from Olympians Nancy Kerrigan and Dara Torres to beloved athletes like George Foreman. I was speaking and presenting to thousands of people each year and I had won pretty much every fitness accolade there was to win. I was teaching to packed classes throughout NYC and I had even been on the back of a Special K cereal box. In my field these were meaningful accomplishments. Yet none of it was ever good enough for me.
My inner critic would remind me every day that I was not quite enough. I was a fraud, she kept telling me, an imposter, and one day I would be found out. The more I tried to ignore this voice, the louder she got and the more she chipped away at my self-esteem and confidence.
She would never let me forget that my father was an alcoholic and everyone around me knew it. She always reminded me that my dance teachers thought I would never amount to much. And she never failed to send me reminders that the choreographer I worshiped thought I needed to lose weight. My inner critic seemed to thrive when I was about to find the courage to begin dancing with my life. Just as I was about to be gifted with an incredible opportunity, the voices of my past that reminded me I was too fat, too stupid, or just not enough would speak up.
Eventually my perfectionism led to anxiety, which courted me as a constant companion. While at first my symptoms were subtle and easy to hide, they slowly grew into full-blown panic attacks. As with any perfectionist, I tried to manage my symptoms perfectly—the trouble was that while I could hide my racing heart, the tightening of my chest, and my rushing thoughts of how could I leave the room without anyone noticing—I could not hide my last symptom, which was an instant full-body sweat. This was uncomfortable, extremely embarrassing, and more public proof of just how imperfect I was. After every panic attack I felt drained, lost, sad, exhausted, lonely, and even more imperfect.
As my panic attacks became more frequent my calendar began to empty out. For two years, I turned down high-profile work such as appearances on the Today show, The View, and CBS This Morning out of fear that I would lose control as my anxiety and panic attacks took over. The only thing I knew at that time that I could do perfectly was have a full-blown panic attack—I just never knew when or where it was going to happen. The tighter my grasp for control, the more I felt it slipping entirely out of my hands.
I knew then that just as surely as my calendar was going to go blank, my life was going to continue to shrink unless I got to the bottom of my problem. I spent seven-plus years in therapy dedicated to overcoming my anxiety, therapy which at the start was also supplemented by prescription medication; I studied the best literature and research on the subject; I completed a positive psychology program led by author and Harvard University lecturer Tal Ben-Shahar; and I have tried and tested many strategies in my laboratory of life. These along with my professional experience and insights into the healing powers of physical movement were the raw material that became the Perfection Detox Program. I knew that others could use the lessons that I learned to help them eliminate their own perfectionistic tendencies. What I didn’t expect was how high the number of these women would be.
TWENTY-ONE STEPS TO BREAKING FREE FROM PERFECTIONISM
I suspect that perfection has wreaked havoc on your life as it had on mine. The only difference between you and me right now is that I have lived on both sides of the condition. It took me seven years to untangle, deconstruct, and wrestle my doubt demons to the sidelines, but once I did my life expanded in ways beyond my wildest imagination.
My intention with this book is to share with you the best tools and strategies from my own journey to help you fast track your path to a life of joy and freedom. In this book, you will find my seven-year process of detoxing from perfectionism compressed into just twenty-one steps.
I know how limited your time is and how many things you have on your to-do list, so I thought the best way for us to become acquainted was to give you the Cliff’s Notes version for the journey ahead. I have tried to make this book as efficient as possible, without short-changing you on the how and why of each step.
The twenty-one Perfection Detox instructions are divided into three parts, each of which has a distinct focus and intended outcome. Here’s what they look like:
Part One: Tame Your Inner Critic and Explore Your Potential. In this section, you will uncover the negative voices of your past and discover whom they belong to. You will also dissect and release any limiting beliefs that have allowed perfectionism to move into the driver’s seat of your life.
Part Two: Shift Your Focus and Live Bravely. This is where you will discover how to reclaim your true self and remember the good of who you are. By shifting your focus away from the negative voices of your inner critic to the positive focus of a life well lived, you will create a strong and healthy foundation from which to build your best future.
Part Three: Liberate Yourself and Unleash Your Joy. Part Three sets the stage for your abundant future. It is designed to short-circuit your doubt demons and hardwire your mental state to one of optimal joy, positivity, and potential.
Even though, as mentioned above, perfectionists share a lot of the same internal struggles, everyone’s perfectionism is unique, and there is no one-size-fits-all solution. With this notion in mind, I’ve designed this program to allow you to focus on the areas of your life most affected. While I do recommend that you complete all twenty-one steps, aim to finish as many of them as you can. You might find that some of the steps speak to you more than others—and you should be sure to spend more time on the ones that hit your own perfectionistic nerve.
The program is designed to be completed in a sequential order. Based on the science of positive psychology, my life lab, and the thousands of hours I have spent teaching this material, this detox is built on a methodology that will allow you to drive out perfectionism without disrupting your day-to-day life. That being said, you know your story, your struggles, and your most tender pain points. This is your journey, and your intuition will be one of your greatest guides throughout this detox. If any of the steps do not resonate with you, feel free to skip them and perhaps revisit at a later time.
THERE IS NO PERFECT WAY TO DO THIS
While there are twenty-one steps, this does not mean the program needs to be completed in twenty-one days. For some of you, it may be the perfect match. One step per day, one section per week, three weeks and you are done. For others, it will be a less compact process. You may breeze through a few steps and then find one that you want to sit with for a while. Take as long as you need, try each one on for size and then, just like a good friend, you will find certain steps will be your best companion at different times of your life.
I encourage you to take what works, stay with what works well, and remember this is not a race but a dance. A dance that spirals inwards and leads you back to the person you were before perfection cast its ugly spell on you.
I have seven steps that I recommend for success with the detox:
1. Complete each step in the order that they appear.
2. If a step does not resonate with you, leave it and come back to it at another time.
3. If a step feels particularly useful or rewarding, play with it for as long as you like before moving on.
4. Stay curious during the detox and welcome the revelations about yourself.
5. Some days you will rock the detox and some days just showing up will be enough.
6. Do your best, and that will be perfect.
7. The perfect time to start is now.
IT’S TIME TO LIVE THE LIFE YOU DESERVE
Here’s the absolute truth: You deserve a life filled with joy, hope, and possibility. If you have picked up this book, you know deep down that you are yearning for this life yet to be lived, with fear diminished, anxiety and regret reduced, and optimism restored.
My hope is that this book will be a resource that you come back to again and again. Whether you have a lazy afternoon (we can dream, right?) or just five minutes before an important meeting, this is your handbook for taming your inner critic, living bravely, and unleashing your joy.
Have confidence in this process and trust the moments as they unfold. Lastly, before we begin, I invite you to place three ingredients into your heart. These are: Acceptance, Love, and Courage. Acceptance will help balance your judgment, Love will manage your fear, and Courage will help soothe your anxiety.
With The Perfection Detox, you will finally be able to release the fear that is rooted in perfectionism and soar into a life of your dreams. And as Elizabeth Gilbert said, “Perfectionism is just fear in really good shoes.” Now is the time to take off the fancy footwear and step into the life that is waiting for you.
TAME YOUR INNER CRITIC AND EXPLORE YOUR POTENTIAL
Noticing the Noise
IF YOU’VE EVER TRIED TO MEDITATE, YOU KNOW THAT IT’S INCREDIBLY DIFFICULT TO ACHIEVE A “quiet” mind. No matter how hard you try to focus on your breath, there are those pesky thoughts determined to break into your consciousness…“Oh no—I forgot to pick up my dry cleaning, what am I going to wear to the party?!” “I can’t believe I overslept this morning, when am I going to find time to prep for my meeting?” “Is it my turn to do school pick up today, I think I remember Sara mentioning she needed to switch her day?”
While it may not appear so, this inner chatter is not frivolous. It’s part of the internal monologue we all have that in large part shapes our sense of who we are. I’m not referring to the part of the thought thoroughfare that’s congested with trivial to-do traffic, but the deeper, more consequential dispatches that impact your identity. The ones that tell you you’re not good enough or smart enough or perfect enough; the ones that echo deep-seated insecurities, perhaps entrenched long ago. Powerful messages of this sort are there, whether you realize it or not, and they must be deciphered and dismantled if you want to live bravely and unleash your joy.
In this first step, we’re going to turn our focus to this inner chatter and work on identifying your top three negative thoughts that seem to play on repeat. I’ll help guide you first toward awareness of what your internal monologue is saying to you, and then later we’ll work on replacing the self-destructive messages. But before we get into that process, I want to give you a little glimpse into what goes on in your mind each day.
A DAY IN THE LIFE OF YOUR MIND
Researchers at the Laboratory of Neuro Imaging at the University of Southern California have determined that you have about 70,000 thoughts per day, or approximately 48.6 thoughts per minute. And a whopping 95 percent of the thoughts you’ll have today will be the same as those you had yesterday. (Some people say that these kinds of stats are impossible to prove, but I suspect there’s a lot of truth to these figures.)
This wouldn’t mean much if the thoughts were neutral, but they’re not: 80 percent of our habitual thoughts are negative in tone. This is not a character flaw, but an evolutionary, self-preservation device dating to our first days on earth, when the ability to detect a threat could mean the difference between staying alive or becoming dinner.
The challenge, and why this detox is imperative for your health and happiness, is that your brain cannot tell the difference between your perception of a situation and the reality. Your internal chemical response will be exactly the same whether you have a thought that makes you feel anxious, such as, “They are going to find out that I am not as smart as my resume suggests” or you have a hungry animal chasing you down the street (side note: if this happens, you may want to consider moving). In either case, your body will be flooded by a quick release of adrenaline and cortisol and transported into full-blown stress mode.
For perfectionists, the predisposition toward negativity can be especially destructive because it feeds on our insecurities, creating an airtight loop of doubt and self-criticism. Unchallenged, repeated negative thoughts become the joy-stealing monsters that cloud our perception of ourselves, our relationships, and our expectations. They affect most aspects of our lives, snuffing out dreams, deflating desires, and keeping us from reaching our potential, which, in an ironic twist, is what the perfectionist yearns for more than anything else.
For most of us, the doubt demons have grown so powerful that we don’t even notice how they’ve positioned themselves into the driver’s seat of our lives. We think we are in charge of our journey, but we are not. They are. It’s time to take back the control.
- "Embarking on Petra Kolber's detox program, will leave you lighter, healthier, and happier. The prescriptions in the book add up to a near-perfect antidote to perfectionism."—Tal Ben-Shahar, lecturer and author of New York Times bestseller Happier
- "The Perfection Detox is a breath of fresh air for anyone familiar with self-doubt or self-criticism. A compassionate and inspiring guide to recovery from perfectionism, Petra turns the best insights from positive psychology into practical strategies for living your best life, perfection not required."—Kelly McGonigal, author of The Willpower Instinct and The Upside of Stress
- "The Perfection Detox will change the way you think about life and success. In a fast-moving, hard-charging world, it's easy to drive ourselves to despair with impossible metrics and a belief that we're never enough. Petra Kolber teaches us how to thrive in a new and better way."—Dorie Clark, author of Reinventing You and adjunct professor, Duke University Fuqua School of Business
- "From the moment I met Petra 25 years ago she has always had such a positive, infectious attitude. She helped me realize that perfection is a goal that ultimately holds you back from your full potential, rather than help you achieve it. Her program will empower you to discover the joy and freedom that is waiting for you on the other side of perfectionism."—Dara Torres, 5-Time Olympic swimmer, author of New York Times bestseller Gold Medal Fitness and Age is Just a Number
- "Perfection is SO over rated! Thank YOU Petra Kolber for proving it with your trademark courage and strength. This book is a brilliant step by step guide to unleashing potential from someone who's truly done it and inspired so many of us in the process."—Sarah Robb O'Hagan, author of Extreme YOU and CEO Flywheel Sports
"Petra Kolber teaches us recovering people-pleasers beset by anxiety and impossible standards how to embrace our cracks and find out light. I can't think of a more joyful, authentic, perfectly imperfect person to be the messenger for this movement. It's time to transform our inner prisons into freedom and joy by celebrating the very flaws that make us who we are."
—Jenny Blake, author of Pivot: The Only Move That Matters is Your Next One
"This is the book that all women need to read. This is my kind of detox! Petra will help you lift the pressure, the façade and the unrealistic expectations that we put on ourselves. I am filled with hope that women may finally stop striving for perfection and start living their beautiful imperfect lives after reading this book."
—Lisa Druxman, author of The Empowered Mama and The Founder of FIT4MOM®
"Petra is a guiding light to all of us who don't feel like we are enough. Perfectionism is an unnecessary epidemic and this book could not be more relevant or timely. If you give yourself a hard time and want to feel like the worthy, confident, whole person that you truly are at your core, this is a must read."
—Susie Moore, Confidence Coach and author of What If It Does Work Out?
"If the affliction of perfectionism is causing you pain and eroding your relationship with yourself and others, then it is time for the Perfection Detox. Petra's message is simple and yet profound! The 21-step program sets the stage for a future where doubt demons don't control your actions and where you ultimately get to enjoy the life you deserve filled with possibility. Taming your inner critic is a valuable life lesson for us all!"
—Kathy Smith, New York Times best-selling author and fitness icon
- "Petra Kolber's new book, The Perfection Detox, is an absolute masterpiece. It needs to be read by any driven, success-oriented person who seeks the most out of life. Her recipe for happiness, joy and health of the mind, body, and soul is extraordinary. Read it and your life will be positively IMPACTED forever."—Todd Durkin, MA, CSCS, Owner, Fitness Quest 10, Under Armour Training Team, Author, The IMPACT Body Plan & WOW BOOK
- "WOW! Petra has given not only clarity and validity to an issue I have experienced my whole life, she has also given me the step-by step plan to deal with it, fully and forever, with love and compassion. Every paragraph is packed with the most potent and empowering wisdom, not only from Petra's incredible life experience in the sometimes gruelling fitness and personal development industries, but also from her extensive professional training and the amazing, generous women she has worked with who were willing to share their stories. The world can now let out a sigh of relief thanks to the groundbreaking information and tools in this book, not only for us Perfectionists, but for the people who share our lives and our hearts. Let the detox begin!"—Alice Bracegirdle, CEO of BellyFit Enterprises, Inc.
- "Calls on women to recognize the negative effects of perfectionism and offers a step-by-step program to eliminate self-criticism, guilt, and shame."—Publishers Weekly
- "Offers tips and tricks to help you fight unrealistic expectations and negative feelings."—Spry Living
- "Fantastic... highlight[s] some scary truths about perfection."—Greatist
- "Will change the way you look at life by helping you overcome your self-doubt and restoring self-esteem."—Washington Book Review
- On Sale
- Aug 14, 2018
- Page Count
- 256 pages
- Da Capo Lifelong Books