[00:00:19.4] ANNOUNCER: Welcome to The Science of Success. Introducing your host, Matt Bodnar.
[0:00:11.8] MB: Welcome to the Science of Success; the number one evidence-based growth podcast on the internet with more than three million downloads and listeners in over a hundred countries.
In this episode, we discuss how to deal with never feeling like you’re enough. We show you how to overcome the insidious trap of people pleasing, look at the most effective treatments for OCD, panic attacks, anxiety and stress. We discover the dangers of toxic perfectionism and how it might be holding you back. We tell you why the word should is so dangerous and much more with our guest, Taylor Newendorp.
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In our previous episode, we discussed the surprising science of creativity. We started with a fascinating look into how your brain creates reality around you and a science meaning to things that often have no meaning at all. Then, we examined the unlikely relationship between doubt, ambiguity and creativity. We asked how you can chip away at your assumptions, so that you can open up spaces of possibility to be more creative.
We explored the foundations of asking truly great questions and examine the way that doubt can be a powerful force for unleashing creative insights and much more with our previous guest, Dr. Beau Lotto. If you want to create epic breakthroughs in your life, check out our previous episode.
Now for our interview with Taylor.
[0:03:05.4] MB: Today, we have another exciting guest on the show, Taylor Newendorp. Taylor is the Founder and President of the Chicago Counseling Center and specializes in the treatment of obsessive-compulsive disorder, perfectionism and anxiety disorders. He's worked as a practicing therapist for many years and completed the international OCD foundation’s behavioral therapy training institute. He's also the author of The Perfectionism Workbook: Proven Strategies to Break Free From Perfectionism and Achieve Your Goals.
Taylor, welcome to the Science of Success.
[0:03:36.4] TN: Thank you, Matt. I appreciate you having me on.
[0:03:38.6] MB: Well, we're excited to have you on the show today. I'd love to start out with obviously you've done a lot of work around perfectionism and you talked about this idea of the myth of perfection. Tell me a little bit about that.
[0:03:50.4] TN: Yeah, sure. I think a lot of people could probably relate to the fact that especially in our culture, there is a lot of importance placed on doing your best, being successful. There's really nothing wrong with that. Where things go skew, if you will, is when people start to form the belief that they have to be perfect in every respect of their life to achieve success. They have to be perfect in their personal and professional relationships. They have to come across perfectly when they're interacting with anyone on any level and they can't let anybody perceive that they might possess any weaknesses, and that they especially tend to live in fear of people knowing that they might have possibly made a mistake at some point in their life.
This myth of perfection, it is a positive thing that it's something that people could and should strive for in order to have a certain amount of success in their life. The problem is that I think most people probably acknowledge that perfection is simply impossible to achieve. That's because perfection is a – it's a subjective thing. Two different people are not going to define perfection in the same way. Again, it's something that no one could ever really truly achieve.
The problem that is happening more and more for a lot of people is that the more they're striving to attain perfection in their lives and they're simply not achieving it, because again, it's unachievable, they're experiencing a lot of dissatisfaction, a lot of discontent, and that leads to really unpleasant things to experience; certainly stress, anxiety, depression that can even drive some people to really destructive behaviors, whether it's eating disorder behaviors and an attempt to achieve the “perfect body.”
Some people turn to substance abuse of some sort or another, because they can't cope with feeling like a failure all the time. There is a big crossover with perfectionism and a wide range of psychological disorders, especially things like eating disorders, like I mentioned, anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder.
[0:06:12.5] MB: I think you bring up a really good point. It's something we talk a lot about on the show, which is basically the idea that you should try to hide your weaknesses, or ignore your mistakes, or bury your mistakes is really problematic and really dangerous.
[0:06:25.0] TN: Yeah. One thing that I just believe as a person and I see the more I'm on this plan and interacting with all different kinds of humans is that no part of being human is having certain strengths and also having certain weaknesses. A lot of people are very scared to show any vulnerability. In my work with people and what I try and touch on in the book is people actually tend to grow more once they acknowledge their weaknesses and work on ways to improve them and mistakes I do not see as a bad thing. There are some mistakes that can have negative consequences. For the most part as people, we tend to learn the most and grow and develop the most from the mistakes we've made in our lives.
[0:07:18.9] MB: For somebody who's listening that maybe has a tendency to hide their mistakes, or not want to acknowledge their weaknesses, how can they start to chip away at that, or move towards an acceptance of being imperfect?
[0:07:33.9] TN: Sure. One thing to think about is what I just touched on, which is this shared human condition, which is that we're all imperfect and that's just the way it's supposed to be. It's the way we all are. One thing I found really helpful in my work with people is using cognitive behavioral therapy techniques, and e specially the technique within cognitive behavioral therapy, which is understanding any unproductive, or unhealthy thinking you might be engaging in, which ties into the beliefs you hold on to.
Really taking a look at how realistic, or unrealistic those beliefs are and starting to chip away at your beliefs in a way that feels better to you, for lack of a better phrase, and also can lead to more acceptance and productivity.
[0:08:27.8] MB: I definitely want to dig into cognitive behavioral therapy and the implications of that. Before we get too deep down that rabbit hole, I want to come back and understand and dig into this idea of perfectionism a little bit more.
[0:08:41.3] TN: Sure.
[0:08:42.1] MB: Tell me about some of the tendencies, I think you call them the five tendencies of toxic perfectionism. Tell me a little bit more about how those manifested and what each of those are.
[0:08:52.9] TN: Yeah, definitely. Well, the first thing to understand is that there's overlap among all the different tendencies that people who struggle with, what I call dysfunctional perfectionism tend to have. Really quick, I just want to say perfectionism itself, it's a personality trait and people may have some traits that fall under these different perfectionist categories. When I go over them, it's not that anybody fits into just one box. People often share a few of these different, what I call toxic tendencies.
The first one that people really tend to get stuck in and struggle with is what is known as people-pleasing perfectionism. This occurs when people for whatever reason, sometimes it's because of their family environment that they grew up in and certain expectations are placed on them. Sometimes it's because of beliefs they come to form because of expectations placed on them by teachers, coaches, mentors over the years.
People start to form this idea that everything they do in their life must be done in the service of helping someone else feel good about them, if that makes any sense. In essence, they're not really doing anything for themselves. Every action they're taking is designed to please somebody else, and they really feel that they have to get this external stamp of approval to feel good about themselves at all.
This drives people to work excessively. They put self-care way, way, way on the backburner. These are people who get burnt out very frequently, both academically and in their professional careers. These are people who may not be fully honest, or be their true selves when it comes to any personal, or intimate relationship. Again, it all falls under this umbrella of they feel like they have to do everything just to make other people like them.
Again, this is something that is pretty much an impossible and unachievable goal, because I'm of the mindset that no matter what you do in your life, there's no way to please everybody all the time. That's one of the most toxic tendencies of perfectionism.
[0:11:15.0] MB: Before we dig into the next one, I'd love to talk a little bit more about people-pleasing, because I think that's something that resonates for me for sure and I'm sure many listeners also struggle with it. Tell me more about the root cause behind the tendency to want to be a people pleaser.
[0:11:29.7] TN: Yeah, that's a great question. It's hard to know the root cause for everyone, simply because everyone's an individual. One of the reasons I mentioned that perfectionism does seem to be a personality trait is because there's some evidence that's starting to show that this is actually a tendency that people are born with. When you look at people who struggle with perfectionistic tendencies, not all the time, but more often than not, there is a history of other things within the family.
It could be history of things like anxiety, depression, OCD, even a history things like substance abuse and that sort of thing. There's more and more research showing that it's very possible there's actually a genetic component that's influencing people's perfectionistic tendencies. Having said that, people can be born with this genetic predisposition, if you will, and then grow up in an environment that influences these 10 entities even more and really solidifies that what really becomes a need, a perceived need to please to everyone.
Again, everybody's different. A lot of times it does arise out of the environment we grow up. I use an example in The Perfectionism Workbook about a young woman I worked with. She was the youngest of four kids in her house, both parents were a highly successful, very well-liked individuals, her older her siblings all excelled in school, all did very well with their extracurricular activities, had an older brother who was an amateur athlete for a number of years.
She grew up with this expectation that she had to be the best. What she saw was that the more success everyone in her family had, the better lights they were, the more friends they had, the more people were coming around her house day in and day out. She started to internalize and come to form this idea that for me to make other people happy, for me to feel good about myself, I have to please others. The best way I know to do that is to always be at the top of the class. I have to be the best on my volleyball team. I have to not just volunteer for, but be the head of every extracurricular activity I can think of. These are ideas that if people start to believe them at younger ages, childhood, adolescence, they become solidified in early adulthood and it's really at hard to shake those beliefs.
[0:14:03.7] MB: I have a couple questions around this, but want to – I'm curious, how do you ultimately overcome the tendency of people-pleasing? I'm also really curious for somebody who is in that world of wanting to please people and having your identity be routed around feeling like you need to achieve and be successful to be loved, if they resolve that issue, do they then stop being productive? Do they then stop on the journey of success? Or how do you think about that piece of the puzzle?
[0:14:32.7] TN: Yeah, that's an excellent question as well. That's actually something I hear my clients express a fair amount is this fear that if they stop operating the way they have been, if they give up some of their beliefs and their perfectionist expectations of themselves, that somehow they will then flip to this total opposite, which is being a completely unproductive, unliked person.
All I can tell you is I've never once seen that happen to anybody as they've worked on trying to overcome their own perfectionistic tendencies. I think the reason for that is because they have set the bar so high for themselves that they can take the “risk” of lowering the bar a fairly decent amount and they're still going to be performing at a higher level than the average person. They're still going to be liked, just as well as they ever were.
I think one of the most important things for people-pleasing tendencies to explore is when you're undertaking any action and you behavior engaging, or engaging ion, how much of it is because you truly want to because it's something that feels meaningful and fulfilling to you? How much of it is because it feels like it's something you have to do, something you should be doing to make other people like you?
I think a lot of times when people can start to make the distinction that well, I actually about 85%, 90%, 99% of the time, I'm doing things because I feel like I have to. This is something I need to do, I must be doing to have other people like me, then that's where it's crossing the line. It's not really a meaningful fulfilling activity for the individual. They're simply doing it to have other people approve of them.
[0:16:24.4] MB: How do we start to chip away at the foundations of that, or move towards overcoming that tendency?
[0:16:32.3] TN: Yeah. It does take a decent amount of work. This is something I really don't sugarcoat at all, if people want to work on trying to make some changes in their lives and overcome these tendencies that are causing them more harm than good, causing them more stress than fulfillment. It does take a lot of work. It takes a lot of practice. I think the good news is that for people who have perfectionistic tendencies, anyway you're talking about people that tend to be highly intelligent, are usually very creative, people who are persistent, they've learned how to persevere, they're diligent, hard-working.
It's a matter of working with the individual and trying to help them harness those positive attributes they already possess, those skills that they already can implement and just using them in a different way. Really, the main thing to work on time and time again when you're struggling with perfectionism is really taking a look at your own expectations. What are your expectations of yourself? What are your expectations of others and how realistic are they?
It comes back to some of the cognitive behavioral stuff. It's really doing a lot of challenging your own belief system and really being willing to look at things from a different perspective. One of the things I touch on the workbook as well is having what is known as a growth mindset, versus a fixed mindset. People with a fixed mindset tend to operate on the belief that things in life are just the way they are and there's nothing that they can do about them. That can translate to anything. It can be they don't believe they can change the way they think about things, they don't believe there's a different way to manage their emotions, they don't believe that there is any way to function other than what they already know. That's a fixed mindset and ultimately that is very limiting and it keeps people stuck.
With my clients, I talked a lot about trying to adopt a growth mindset, which for lack of a better phrase is just being more open-minded. Even if you're skeptical, at least being open to the possibility that maybe there's a different way for you to look at things, maybe if you're willing to challenge some of your own unproductive thinking patterns and belief systems and start to see things from a slightly different point of view, that is actually a way to feel better about yourself and really reduce stress.
[0:19:07.4] MB: Dr. Carol Dweck, who's the pioneer behind a lot of this mindset research is a previous guest on the show. We'll make sure to include that episode and some other resources we have around fixing growth mindset in the show notes for listeners who want to check that out.
I want to come back to these other tendencies of perfectionism. Tell me about the second of the five tendencies.
[0:19:28.6] TN: The second one often surprises people. It's a person who is a procrastinating perfectionist. I don't like to make sweeping generalizations, but a stereotype that does still exist in our culture of a perfectionist is someone who might also be known as what they call a type of a personality as someone who is working nonstop. Oftentimes in the American workplace, these people are called go-getters and that sort of thing. There are certainly a lot of perfectionists who operate that way.
There's also a huge chunk of people who struggle with perfectionistic tendencies that spend a lot of their time feeling paralyzed and actually their expectations have gotten so unrealistic and so out of control for them that they just live petrified and fear and they procrastinate. They will put off doing something, because they are afraid that they will not get it exactly right. They will put off things like applying for a job, because they're worried that they don't have the perfect application.
They will put off a social interaction, because they're worried that they will not come across perfectly. What if they don't have the right things to say in a conversation? What if someone notices that they seem a little bit nervous, or tired, or off their game? People who really become gradually more and more isolated because their expectations are keeping them stuck in fear. That can also tie into this this fear of making mistakes and like I alluded to, fears of just not coming across as the type of perfect individual they think they should be.
[0:21:19.0] MB: I think it's interesting, because when you talk about perfectionism many people may think, “Hey, I'm not a perfectionist,” but the reality is all these different tendencies can manifest in a number of different ways, whether you're a people pleaser, whether you're a procrastinator. There's a lot of subtle ways that perfectionism can seep into your life. I think it's really insightful to look at these different angles and ways that it may be impacting you.
[0:21:43.4] TN: Oh, I completely agree. I'll say a couple of things to that. First of all, I'm pretty honest with people. I don't consider myself a perfectionist, but I can fully acknowledge I have perfectionistic tendencies. By that, I mean, I have this underlying sense that is with me most of the time throughout the day and night, that no matter what I've done, I probably could have done it better. Or no matter what I've accomplished in the course of the day, a week, a year, there's this sense that I still could have done more. That's both on a professional level and a personal level.
As a parent, I feel there's always more I could be and should be doing as a dad for my kids to take care of my family. On a professional level, I have this ongoing sense that I could always be reading more, I could always be researching more, I could be finding ways to help more people. It's not something that keeps me awake at night. It's not something that causes an undue amount of stress in my life, but it's certainly there. When I talk about things in those terms, I do find that most people can relate to that to some degree.
The other thing I'll say is that more often than not, when I'm treating someone for perfectionism, they have walked into my office and said, “Hey, I'm a perfectionist. Can you help me with that?” It's more that they have noticed, again this feeling of discontent, that no matter what they've achieved, no matter what's happened for them in their lives, they're not satisfied, they don't feel good about what they've done, they don't feel good about themselves as individuals, so they keep pushing themselves harder and harder that causes a lot of stress and anxiety.
Or on the flipside like we were just touching on, I get people who come in because maybe they've been out of college, or grad school for a year, or two years, three years and they haven't found a job yet, because again, they're frozen in fear. They're so worried that they're not going to get everything perfect, get the perfect position, whatever it may be, that they've been sitting around being inactive for years. That also does not feel good to them.
There is dysfunctional perfectionism, which is when these expectations and these tendencies are impacting you 24/7. There's certainly a fair amount of people out there struggling with that, but I completely agree with you that a lot of people have these tendencies, with a few of them to some degree, it just may not be impacting them to the point where they think they need professional help, or they need to do something like take up a self-help book.
[0:24:22.2] MB: I think it bears repeating that you may not describe yourself as somebody who is a perfectionist and yet, you might be suffering from – you might be a people pleaser, or you might be a chronic procrastinator, or you might be highly critical of yourself and you might have negative self-talk, all of these are different manifestations of what you're essentially calling perfectionism.
[0:24:45.0] TN: Yes. I completely agree. I'm glad you mentioned the self-criticism and the negative self-talk. These are things I see across the board for people that I'm treating for anything. It doesn't have to be for perfectionism, but that is a huge factor with something like depression. People experience low mood, because they're being very, very hard on themselves. Again, it's this idea that no matter what they've done, it's not good enough, they could always be better. If you constantly feel like you're not good enough, of course you're going to feel down, of course you're going to feel depressed.
On the other side, maybe that's causing a high amount of anxiety because you feel no matter what, you should be pushing yourself harder and harder and harder. Those are the types of things that lead to burnout.
[0:25:31.8] MB: How can we re-conceptualize or deal more effectively with negative self-talk and being very self-critical?
[0:25:39.8] TN: This is an area where I know I've mentioned cognitive behavioral therapy a couple times, this is an area where I really find that mode of therapy, that mode of treatment to be really highly effective. Cognitive behavioral therapy in a nutshell is really getting a solid understanding of how your thoughts, your feelings and your behaviors all impact one another. Whether or not we're fully aware of it, those things are almost always influencing one another.
I truly believe that the way we think about things has a direct impact on our emotions, on our feelings and those can be emotional feelings, it can be physical sensations that go along with stress, it can be muscle tension, that sort of thing. It can be even how we feel about ourselves as people, and the way we're thinking about things, the way we're feeling certainly influences our behavior and influences how we act or when it comes to procrastination, it can translate to a lack of action.
Within cognitive behavioral therapy, a lot of it again is looking at your thought process. What are your expectations of yourself, of others? What are your beliefs about yourself as an individual? Are those just ideas you've been telling yourself, or you've heard maybe from other people in your life, or are you able to use some objective evidence from your own life to challenge these beliefs you form? I really think examining your own thought process is a huge, huge key to overcoming some of this stuff.
Also within cognitive behavioral therapy is a mode of treatment that is much more action-oriented and that's called exposure and response prevention. This is something I use very frequently with people with OCD, anxiety disorders, any specific phobias, or panic attacks. It works very well for people who live in fear of making mistakes. Exposure and response prevention is basically just what it sounds like. It's actually purposely exposing yourself to something that tends to produce some amount of anxiety, or distress, or discomfort for you and then preventing your usual response.
One example would be okay, say someone has an important proposal they're working on for work. The perfectionistic tendency would be that they have to get every single detail exactly right. That might be things like working on it many, many, many, many more hours than anybody else in their position would do. It can lead to things like almost compulsively rereading, rechecking what they've created, what they've written, going over it again and again and again and again, just to make sure they haven't missed a single detail, again out of fear of making a mistake.
The exposure piece would be taking something like that and having the person actually try and work on resisting, or preventing their usual response. It would be okay, write up this proposal and do your best to turn it in without checking them more than twice. I've come up with little ways to try different exposures with people. I will have them send me a quick e-mail without checking it. I will have them tell me something that is inaccurate, or is wrong. I will have them write me an e-mail with spelling errors, or again, where they've just got an effect completely wrong, so they're actually actively practicing making mistakes.
The way the process works is that the more people are actually – they'd seen this thing that causes a lot of distress to them and learning that they can tolerate it, any stress or discomfort around it starts to fade. That actually allows people to see, “Okay, once I get past the anxiety of getting something wrong, I'm actually better able to see what I have learned from it. Maybe I've learned that hey I can tolerate some discomfort, or maybe I've learned that it's okay to not be the world's best speller. It's okay to misspell things now and then. Nobody is judging me negatively and life goes on.”
[0:29:58.0] MB: I love exposure and response. I think that's such a powerful framework. Before we go deeper into that, I want to come back to cognitive behavioral therapy. I want to really concretely look at this for a second. Tell me about how does – someone listening to this episode, how would they implement that into their life? How would they implement CBT at a really specific and granular level?
[0:30:21.6] TN: I think the first step, which is really the basis of any CBT work is learning about it and understanding what are known as cognitive distortions. Cognitive distortions are any unhealthy irrational, or simply inaccurate thinking patterns that people might be engaging in. These are actually things that are pretty easy to find. Even with a quick internet search of cognitive distortions, people can start to learn about all the different categories of distorted thinking patterns that tend to be a product of and further exacerbate things like anxiety, depression and stress.
Some examples, one that I really think is probably the most applicable to people who struggle with perfectionism and people with tendencies is what are known as ‘should statements’. There's a whole category of distorted thinking patterns that simply revolve around the word ‘should’. As people telling themselves things like, “Well, I should be at the top of my class. I should be the top salesman in my company. I should never get anything wrong. I should be happy all the time.”
All these things are telling themselves over and over again that they should, or again, feel they have to be doing. That can be a pretty destructive distorted thinking pattern. Other thinking patterns that people get stuck in that's into being productive is all or nothing, or what is known as black-and-white distorted thinking. It's really, that's a very limiting one, because in any given situation you're really only giving yourself two options. An example would be, I have to be perfect or else, I'm a complete failure.
When you really have people look at beliefs like that and break them down, that's when change starts to occur. People can step back, look at things like that a little bit more objectively and say out loud, that's unrealistic and are those really my only two options in life? If I'm not perfect, does that necessarily automatically translate to me being a complete failure? No. Most people would say it's not.
To get back to your question, I really think learning and familiarizing yourself with all the different types of cognitive distortions that are out there is the first step when it comes to cognitive behavioral therapy. Then breaking down how you tend to feel, how you tend to react when you're thinking those things.
Again, for the person that's highly self-critical and is always beating themselves up over and over again, they can recognize that the more they do that, the worse they feel. Again, it can be feeling down, it can be feeling dissatisfied, it can be flat-out anxiety and panic. It's understanding the connection between thoughts and feelings and then like I touched on how those things might be influencing the way you're behaving in any given circumstance, whether it's a social interaction, or whether it's a task you're working on for work, whatever it may be.
Really, it's getting a clear, clear picture for yourself of how those things are all influencing one another. Then with CBT, really coming back to the thought process again, again and again and really challenging it. One question I frequently ask people and this is not something I came up with, this is an old-school standard CBT question is okay, this thought you're telling yourself over and over again about yourself, or about other people, whatever it may be, if you had to stand up in front of a judge and jury in a court of law and prove beyond the shadow of a doubt that this thought you were thinking is 100% true, what a holdup.
If it's a distorted thought, almost every time the answer is no. People can identify, I have no evidence to back this thought up. I have no evidence to show me that I'm a failure. I have no evidence, no hard evidence from my own life to show me that people don't like me. Time and time again, it really comes back to challenging the unproductive thinking. I'm trying to gain a new perspective and people do see that has a direct impact on another feeling in general, how they're feeling about themselves and has a direct impact on how they're acting.
[0:34:41.9] MB: It seems like expectations are at the root of many of these tendencies and limiting beliefs.
[0:34:48.2] TN: Yeah. Again, I think this is where I have the advantage of being a therapist, being a counselor where I have the time to really help people explore those expectations, again where they came from, were these direct messages they were receiving from other people in their lives, or these things that have been influenced by our society in general, I can tell you for a lot of people I work with, male and female who are struggling with any eating disorder or body image issues. A lot of people get into these societal expectations of how they “should look,” how their bodies “should be.” When it crosses a line and to again, these perfectionistic expectations of how they think they should look, that's where it can get really destructive and unhealthy.
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[0:37:54.0] MB: I want to come back to exposure and response, because I think that's such a great framework, even things as simple as social interactions. We've had previous guest on the show Jia Jiang, who talked about the idea of rejection therapy, which is a great way to get comfortable with uncomfortable social interactions. Tell me a little bit more about the science behind why exposure and response is such a useful tool for dealing with any discomfort, or negative experiences that we have.
[0:38:24.7] TN: Yeah. What tends to happen for people if there is something that causes them anxiety, if there's something that causes them discomfort, more often than not, the response is to try and avoid it somehow. Or if they're feeling really uncomfortable, try and instantly distract themselves by any means they can think of. Avoidance and distraction are the most common ways people tend to react to something that causes discomfort.
What happens over time is the more people are avoiding something, it's actually increasing their anxiety around it. An easy example would be something, like someone who has a fear of dogs. It can be for whatever reason, maybe they had a bad experience when they were younger, or dog tried to bite them, maybe not. Or for whatever reason, they formed this fear of dogs. Because dogs make them uncomfortable and they tend to get stressed and anxious around them, their solution is to avoid it.
Again, what's happening over time is the more they're making all these efforts to stay away from dogs at all costs, it's helping that fear just grow larger and larger in their brain, and t no point are they giving themselves the opportunity to learn that if they actually faced a dog and hung out with a dog, that anxiety around the dog itself would probably start to fade some.
The science behind exposure and response prevention is helping people identify really specific triggers that do tend to produce that discomfort, or distress for them. Then gradually, systematically having them start to face those triggers in any way that they can think of, in any way that their counselor can think of.
What tends to happen, more often than not, it's not a 100%, nothing is, but more often than not, when people gradually and systematically expose themselves these feared stimuli over and over and over again, the brain starts to engage in new learning. The brain starts to adjust, new neural pathways are formed and that directly translates to feeling us anxious. In a nutshell, people start to learn, “Hey, I can handle this. I've spent most of my life avoiding this and reinforcing this idea I was telling myself that I can't deal with this, I can't tolerate this, I can't handle this,” but once they actually face it and endure that initial discomfort around it, like I said the brain starts to figure out, “Oh, actually this does not need to be perceived as a threat and I can tolerate this.” Even if there is ongoing discomfort around it, that discomfort tends to be far less and it tends to come and go much more quickly.
[0:41:05.7] MB: It's really interesting that the more you avoid something, the greater your fear and anxiety around that becomes. I'm curious, and this was the next thing I wanted to dig into, how does that relate to the connection between perfectionism and OCD?
[0:41:22.1] TN: Okay, great question. The first thing I’ll say is a lot of times people are curious, or don't seem to really get it when I say I treat perfectionism. Actually, the way I became exposed to perfectionism as an issue and as a clinical issue, I was primarily through my work with people with obsessive compulsive disorder.
Just to make a quick distinction, OCD is very much, it is a brain disorder. Most of the research points to the fact that people are most likely born with OCD and they experience events later on in life that tend to have a pop out, or come to the service. Perfectionism itself is not OCD. Like I said earlier, it it's more of a personality trait. People can possess perfectionistic characteristics without having obsessive compulsive disorder.
The overlap is that for people with OCD and again, this is a blanket statement. There are a bunch of different subtypes of OCDs. This is not really doing it justice. For a lot of people with OCD, they are engaging in compulsive behaviors to get a sense that things feel just right. You could use any number of examples. Again, it's totally subjective based on the individual.
One example could be okay, I walk into my office and I close the door behind me. Then I get the obsession. The obsession is an intrusive thought, or doubt that did I close the door behind me? Because that doubt is so strong for the person with OCD, then they then feel the need to engage in a compulsion. The compulsion would be like, “Okay, then I need to check the door handle again and to make sure it's closed.” They would do that.
Again, the nature of the disorder is that no matter how many times a person engages in a compulsion, there’s still the lingering doubt. People will often describe that they will go back to a compulsive act over and over and over again, until something changes a little bit in their brain and again, they just get this feeling where they get this sense that then it feels right, then it feels it's okay and they can move on.
The crossover with that and perfectionism is that again, someone may not have OCD, but they may be engaging in a perfectionist behavior, like I alluded to, okay. I'm going to read and reread this e-mail over and over and over and over again, until I can make sure it's just right. I can make sure it feels okay and it seems like it's mistake-free and I feel like it's perfect, or as close to perfect as it's going to get.
That's one example of how there can be a crossover. Again, there are many different types of OCD, but one of the subtypes is people who struggle with things like organization and symmetry and they can again, translate to anything. It can be feeling everything on their desk has to be lined up just right, clothes have to be put away in their drawers a very specific certain way. That gets jumbled up along a lot of times with feeling like things have to be perfect, for lack of a better word.
[0:44:33.1] MB: I want to come back to now and talk about the solution to some of these challenges, which you talk about and describe self-acceptance and self-compassion. I love the way you phrased it in the last chapter of your book, which is being enough and achieving your goals without fear. Tell me more about that.
[0:44:51.4] TN: Yeah. One of the reasons I wanted to talk about working towards goals and trying to achieve goals is because I think it's very important to have goals. That's what keeps us moving forward in life. Again, whether it's a personal goal, a professional goal we set for ourselves. It's something that drives us. It's something that keeps us moving forward and it can translate to people achieving a high amount of success in their lives and achieving contentment in their personal lives, achieving a sense of self-satisfaction.
The problem with perfectionism is that more often than not, when people are striving towards these goals, first of all, the goals they've set for themselves are unrealistic, many times unattainable, impossible. The work they're doing towards those goals is motivated by fear, it's motivated by stress. Again, it's this sense that is something they absolutely must have to be doing, or else they're worthless as a person.
Then a lot of times when people don't achieve those unrealistic goals they set for themselves, that just sets off a whole other cycle of self-criticism and negative self-talk, which is perpetuates anxiety and depression.
One of the areas of CBT that I touch on towards the end of the workbook is acceptance and commitment therapy, which is again, not doing a full justice, but in a nutshell, understanding what you value in your life, what is most important and meaningful to you. Then taking a look at whether or not the goals you've set for yourself actually fall in-line with those values, and if there’s things that are going to actually help you have more of a sense of fulfillment in your life.
When people are setting goals for themselves that are more based on what they value in their life, what is meaningful and important to them and they're making those goals specific and measurable and again, meaningful, that actually tends to provide a lot of natural motivation for them. It starts to translate to this sense of they're doing something that they a want to do, versus this perceive me that it's something they have to do to again, please others, or something they absolutely must do if they're ever going to feel slightly decent about themselves as a human being.
Along with the acceptance piece of things is a mindfulness component. This is an area that I really found to be highly beneficial when I'm working with people who've come in seeking help for really any issue. I think you guys know, really at its core, mindfulness is more about just observing things, observing how you're feeling, observing what it is you're thinking about, observing how you and others are acting in your daily life and trying to just make observations without touching any judgement to them.
The problem with dysfunctional perfectionism, again a lot of it comes back to these expectations people place on themselves, is that if they're not achieving what they think they should be, then that leads to a lot of negative self-judgment. The more they're judging themselves negatively, again that's just going to perpetuate things like stress, insecurity, anxiety and depression.
[0:48:22.4] MB: What would one piece of homework be that you would give listeners to concretely implement some of the ideas and themes that you've talked about today?
[0:48:30.4] TN: I think the first thing for anybody that thinks that this might be causing some amount of unrest in their life is to sit down and do what I call a self-inventory of your own expectations. I know we've talked about that a lot, but it's the keystone towards working on all this other stuff we've been addressing.
The first piece of homework I give people when I meet with them in my office is the same thing I would recommend to anybody out there, is take some time to sit down and just be completely and totally honest with yourself, what are your expectations for yourself? Really try and be as thorough, as comprehensive as possible. What are your expectations for yourself when it comes to finances? What are your expectations for yourself when it comes to personal relationships? That can be friendships, it can be intimate relationships, it can be family relationships.
What are your expectations of yourself of how you “should be” when you're interacting with people socially? What are your expectations of yourself when it comes to your lifestyle? That can include your health habits, exercise, diet, whatever it may be. What are your expectations for yourself as far as how you want to feel? Again, what are your expectations as far as what you want to achieve for yourself?
More often than not, when people sit down and they're really honest and they take time and they do this homework assignment really well, they can sit back, read over and recognize, “That's unrealistic, that's unrealistic, that's causing me a lot of distress.” When people are able to step back from their own thoughts and expectations and get a little bit more of an objective perspective, that's the groundwork you need to start to really challenge and change any unproductive thinking and work on just accepting yourself as you are, and working towards more realistic and again, more meaningful, more fulfilling expectations.
[0:50:34.1] MB: Where can listeners find you and your work online?
[0:50:37.8] TN: I've tried to make my website from my practice a pretty good resource for people, and that's just chicagocounselingcenter.com. I've got a few blog posts on there that address perfectionism, address different subtypes of obsessive compulsive disorder, some of the treatment methods we've talked about, like exposure and response prevention, CBT, mindfulness. I also have links to other great sites that are out there for resources. I have a link to my book on there.
When I created The Perfectionism Workbook, I really tried to make it as comprehensive as possible. I try to think about all the different facets of perfectionism I've seen and really countless clients I’ve had over the years, and I've tried to throw in pretty much every different treatment technique I've tried with people that's had any positive result. It's a very skills-based book, it is a workbook, it requires a lot of work on the individual. So far, the feedback I'm getting on it is that it's practical, it's helpful and it seems to be a pretty decent resource for people struggling with some of these tendencies.
[0:51:48.2] MB: Well Taylor, thank you so much for coming on the show, for sharing all this knowledge and wisdom with our listeners. It's been a pleasure to have you here.
[0:51:54.8] TN: Thank you very much, Matt. I appreciate you taking the time. It was a pleasure speaking with you as well.
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