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Lessons from a Recovering Perfectionist | Dr. Vickie Bhatia

Dr. Vickie Bhatia (she/her) is a licensed clinical psychologist and Whole30 Certified Coach who helps her patients improve mood, overcome fear and anxiety, increase self-worth and connection, and handle emotions in a healthy way. She’s also a self-proclaimed recovering perfectionist—something we have in common. I used to think about perfectionism as one of my best personality traits. So why did striving for perfection feel so lonely, painful, and exhausting? Today we discuss the dark side of perfectionism—how it impacts our fears, self-talk, careers, and relationships; the difference between striving for excellence and perfectionism; how to spot your perfectionist tendencies in the wild; and techniques to help you look beyond your drive for perfection and start showing up authentically.

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THIS EPISODE’S GUEST

Vickie Bhatia

Licensed Clinical Psychologist, Whole30 Certified Coach

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Show Notes

Dr. Bhatia is running a September Whole30 online group focused on emotional eating, and an October Food Freedom online group for those who need a little extra support in learning how to make “worth-it” decisions. Details and a sign up can be found here.

#melissaurbanreads

Loving What Is, Byron Katie

MU: 00:00
Hi, my name is Melissa Urban and you’re listening to Do the Thing, a podcast where we explore what’s been missing every time you’ve tried to make a change and make it stick. Today my guest is Dr. Vickie Bhatia, a licensed clinical psychologist and Whole30 certified coach. Her integrative evidence based practice helps her patients improve mood, overcome fear and anxiety, increased self worth and connection, and handle emotions in a healthy way, as a Whole30 certified coach, she helps people find lasting change with their relationship to food and address their mental health in a holistic manner. Today’s conversation is all about perfectionism and we have a lot of collective experience in this room. Both Vickie and I identify as recovering perfectionists, although we both fight this tendency regularly. It was really interesting to prep for this conversation while overlaying one area in my own life where perfectionism is currently rearing its ugly head. This podcast, I swear the Universe and Gretchen Rubin have blessed me with this podcast to show me all the holes in my own personal growth and help me level up. Like you think I’m helping you here, but in every darn show so far, I am only talking to myself. With this podcast, I’ve had to deal with things like procrastination, excessive comparison, excessive fixing, going back and editing and rewriting and listening again and again and again.

MU: 01:42
I don’t know why it’s coming up with this project where I’ve been able to process and deal with it in other projects like my book writing, but for whatever reason, this podcast has triggered my perfectionism in a major way and I’m so glad that Dr Bhatia and I were able to talk about this today. In this episode, Vickie and I cover the dark side of perfectionism, how it holds us back in so many areas of our life, the difference between striving for excellence and being perfect, how to spot perfectionist tendencies as they’re rearing their ugly head. And at the end she takes us through an almost meditative practice for sitting in our emotions as a self administered treatment for perfectionism. There are a lot of personal examples in this one from both of us, which we’ve decided only makes us more authentic and relatable, even though that’s a tough lesson to believe when you’re a perfectionist. So take good notes, but not too many notes. Like they don’t have to be double-spaced or laminated. Okay, let’s start the conversation.

MU: 02:49
So Dr. Vickie Bhatia, welcome to do the thing. I am so excited to talk to you about this topic today. Something that is near and dear to my heart. (VB) Thank you so much for having me, Melissa. I’m really excited. (MU) Okay, so before we dive in, first question I ask all my guests is, what’s your thing? (VB) So my thing is helping people overcome fear, deal with their emotions and improve their relationships with themselves and other people. (MU) I love that. I love that. And I have been loving your Instagram content lately. In fact, that’s where the idea for this podcast came about. We’re here to talk about perfectionism and you and I have a few things in common. We both love the Whole30, we both coach people through the Whole30, and we are both self-described recovering perfectionist. Is that how you would put it? (VB) Absolutely. It is a daily struggle for sure.

MU: 03:36
I’ve always used perfectionism at least before I became aware of it as this sort of humblebrag like a job interview would say or someone would say like, well tell me about an area of opportunity for you or something you’re working on. And I would say, well, I’m a perfectionist. I insist that tasks are done to the best of my ability. And it’s like I’m kind of suggesting that it’s a, it’s a negative quality about me, but on the inside I’m thinking this is what is so good about me is that I am focused on being perfectionist. That’s not really what perfectionism is about though. Is it? There’s a dark side to perfectionism. (VB) Absolutely. Yeah, and I think, you know, one of the big differences are one of the distinctions is that perfectionism isn’t just about kind of striving for excellence. Perfectionism is really about this deep rooted kind of fear and, and these beliefs about sort of not being good enough and you know, not being worthy or being lovable, um, you know, or accepted for kind of who we are. (MU) Ooh, and that kinda hits a little bit close to home here.

MU: 04:38
Perfectionism isn’t really about achieving success. When I really look at the heart of my perfectionism and where that drive is coming from for me, it’s because I’m terrified to fail. (VB) Mhh-hmm. When I work with people on perfectionism, um, sometimes they’re really reluctant to, to really work on it because they think that it’s driving their success. Um, and in fact it often is getting in the way of them really being successful. Um, and I’ve seen that for myself. You know, I, I think that when I look back on times where perfectionistic tendencies have really gotten in my way, it really made me kind of feel kind of unable to actually make progress. And, um, I see that it was kind of like keeping me playing small. (MU) Yeah, I can relate to that because I’ve been telling myself my whole life that perfectionism is because I’m so dedicated to, to getting it right and that it’s a good quality about me because it means I’ll persist and I’ll, you know, make sure that, uh, my task is done correctly into the best of my ability.

MU: 05:38
But in reality, it’s kind of a diversion, isn’t it? You talk about perfectionism as an emotional coping strategy. Can you discuss that a little bit? (VB) Yeah, yeah, absolutely. So I think that oftentimes we think of perfectionism as a personality trait. And I don’t like to think about it as a personality trait because personality traits are sort of hardwired. They, um, are pretty hard to modify. You know, we might be able to make a little bit of change, um, but where we’re going to kind of stay pretty solid in terms of kind of what our core personality is. Um, I think of perfectionism as a behavior that is sort of used in response to those kind of really negative beliefs and dark beliefs. So it’s, it’s sort of a way of kind of coping and responding to those painful emotions and thoughts that come up.

MU: 06:28
So it sort of distracts from being able to kind of sit with those beliefs and thoughts because oftentimes those are so overwhelming. (MU) Where did those beliefs in thoughts come from? (VB) Um, I think that oftentimes the perfectionistic tendencies starting at a pretty young age, we see perfectionistic tendencies in kids as young, as three years old. Um, so it’s something that, um, starts really early, but you know, sometimes there can be kind of modeled behavior from parents or other caregivers. There can be, um, expectations either explicit or imagined from our caretakers. But also sometimes we as a kids, you know, we’re not fully developed and we can’t always make sense of the world around us. And so we create stories and sometimes those stories are those kinds of beliefs and thoughts. (MU) You know, I remember my first memory of like school and disappointment in school. I think I was in third grade and I came home with my report card and it was like a written card.

MU: 07:29
You know where your teacher, like marks your grades in pen. And I came home and I said to my mom, what is this dash next to the a in this class? And she was like, that’s an a minus. And I said, well, what does that mean? And she said, well, it’s like an a except just like one step lower. And I was devastated that I came home with an a minus. And I think my parents thought that was cute. Like wow, she’s so committed to getting her good grades. But that was a really defining moment in my childhood where that a minus was not okay. And I had never had anything less than an a. And I think that was the moment where I realized that like, I don’t like to fail. I don’t know what I would do if I fail. And from now on, the only acceptable grade was an a or an a plus if my teacher gave the hose.

VB: 08:16
Right. Right. Or an a plus plus. Right. So yeah, just give those, um, absolutely. I mean, I, my, my parents are immigrants. I’m a first generation American and in my family education was paramount and it was similar. It was like, you know, you come home and if you’d had missed one or two questions on the spelling test or the math exam, we weren’t focused on the 98% that you got cracked. It was what happened here. What was, what was the mistake, how do you improve for next time? Um, and I don’t think that it was, it was, you know, malicious or anything like that, but I certainly internalized that focus on mistakes and, and wanting to avoid that at costs. (MU) Yeah. My mom has shared with me some of like the memorabilia that she collected when I was really young. And in one of my evaluations a teacher wrote, Melissa doesn’t want to do tasks that she’s afraid she’s not going to be good at.

MU: 09:11
So she basically will like dismiss a task if she’s not certain that she’s going to excel. And she gives up pretty quickly if she starts a task and realizes that she’s not getting it right away and she’ll dismiss it by saying things like, this is dumb or I shouldn’t have to do this or I can work around the answer. And in reading that at whatever grade that was, you know, at age six or seven or eight, I was like, oh that applies to me just as much today. Absolutely. Can you talk about how perfectionism holds us back in life in so many areas? (VB) Yes, absolutely. So one of the most common things that I see is that perfectionism can really drive this procrastination, both of of things that maybe we want to do but don’t have to as well as things that we absolutely have to do.

VB: 10:02
And so oftentimes for tasks that we might really need to do, we get kind of stuck in this like excessive thinking and planning, um, kind of phase where we feel like we’re doing something cause we’re focused on the task. But it’s actually kind of a form of avoidance of actually getting started and doing things. Um, and it’s usually, it’s usually not until kind of that panic sets in of, of realizing that we may have absolutely nothing to show for it, that, um, that we kind of get kicked into gear. Um, but I also see it with, you know, with things that we don’t necessarily have to do, but we want to, um, we avoid that until it sort of becomes paralyzing and overwhelming. Um, I saw this, I posted about this, about my sort of journey to become a Whole30 certified coach. I, you know, I had met you, you know, six months before I had even actually gotten my application in and it was that, that fear and that, um, procrastination that kept me kind of in my own way, um, from being able to pursue what I, what I wanted to.

MU: 11:08
Yes. Oh my gosh. Yes. I remember that conversation you said to me, can I be a Whole30 certified coach if I’m still working on my own food freedom? And I was like, I’m sorry, what? Like you are, you’re a health care professional. We’re all still working on our food freedom. It only makes you more relatable and more authentic. Like of course you can. That’s the only way you could become a coach. If anyone ever came up to me and said, I’ve got food freedom completely on lock-down so I want to be a coach, I’d be like, cool, you need to go all the way back to the beginning because this is something we’re always working on. It really surprised me that you would have those doubts about yourself. (MU) I know. And it’s like, you know, saying it out loud, I can hear kind of the ridiculousness in it.

VB: 11:51
Um, but it was, it’s just that fear. It’s, you know, sometimes even though it’s something that I’ve been working on for a long time, it sort of pops up and unexpected moments and ways, um, and, and sort of forces me to have to kind of take a step back and, and, and sit with that kind of discomfort. (MU) Yeah. The procrastination is so interesting because it seems so counter intuitive. Like if you’re a perfectionist, you would want to start early. You would want to give yourself plenty of time. You’d want to leave plenty of time to revise. And yet your explanation makes so much sense because it’s not about achieving excellence, it’s about avoiding failure. Like you’re just so nervous to jump in and get started. (VB) And you know, I did this. Um, I remember in college there were a couple of classes that I took that were really difficult for me and I just kind of knew that this was not really my wheelhouse and I would procrastinate on studying for tests and, you know, doing projects or papers until really that panic kind of set in.

MU: 12:53
And, and then when I didn’t do that well, I sort of had an external thing to focus on. It wasn’t that I wasn’t good at this, it was that I didn’t have enough time to prepare or, um, you know, I, I didn’t have, if I had studied more, I would have done much better. Um, it was sort of, kind of a, a way of deflecting from my own, you know, maybe areas that, that I’m not so great at. (MU) Yes, yes. And then you have to ask yourself, okay, so am I trying to be the victim here because that makes it easier because now I don’t have to shoulder responsibility or am I like my own punisher? Am I like going to be my taskmaster now? Always continually beating myself up to say, if you had only done this, if you had only done that, if you, you know, the Woulda, Coulda, shoulda.

MU: 13:39
Um, and it’s a little bit of both, isn’t it? (VB) Yeah. And I, you know, I think that one of the things that we see yeah, with perfectionist is that there tends to be kind of this like all or nothing kind of style of thinking. And so it’s like, we’re good or we’re bad or we’re successful or we’re a failure. And it’s really hard to kind of sit in the middle of that and in that gray zone. And so that comes up in, in all sorts of different ways. (MU) Yeah. I can also relate to that and everything from you know, school or my relationship with food or my relationship with exercise or even as a, you know, when I was a drug addict, like very black or white, very on or off. And I never really related that to my perfectionism tendencies. I will say that one of the reasons I call myself like a pretty successfully recovering perfectionist is that I no longer procrastinate on big tasks.

MU: 14:29
Like I’ve written eight Whole30 books right now and I don’t wait until the last minute on those. So I would think that’s a good sign. But there are other ways that procrastination shows up in my life. Like that harsh self-talk. What are some other signals that that perfectionism is popping up for us? (MU) Yeah, think a lot of it is about kind of that self talk, you know, both myself and when I work with individuals on perfectionism, the kind of intensity and cruelty of the self-talk can really be kind of breathtaking at times. It’s, we know that we would never speak to anybody else that way and yet we absolutely kind of direct that at ourselves. Um, so I think that self talk is definitely one thing. Um, we can see this with our relationships with other people as well. So sometimes when we have really high standards for ourselves, um, we impose those on other people as well, which can certainly impact our relationship with other people.

VB: 15:30
You know, I think that also if we’re finding it really difficult to kind of pursue our goals and live a life that, that we deem worth living, you know, it’s always a good idea to kind of look at what might be getting in some of those in our way. (MU) Yeah. I was gonna ask if the harsh self-talk will spill over into other people. Like do you find in your own perfectionist tendencies that you then applied that same harsh criteria to other people or are you always harder on yourself than you are on others? I think that for me personally, I think that I’ve always been sort of more harsh with myself, but I definitely do see that in how, how I have related to people in the past, specifically around kind of, I’m expecting them to have the same standards as me or kind of follow the same rules that I follow.

MU: 16:21
Um, even though I may have, may not have actually communicated those and then when they don’t do that, you know, kind of having again that kind of all or nothing kind of thinking where I really come down hard. You know, I think that one of the things that I see with high achieving individuals who struggle with this is that sometimes it can be really hard to trust other people and to delegate tasks, especially if you’re in kind of a managerial or supervisory kind of role and the people who are working with you may pull away or fear feedback from you because of those, those kinds of standards that are being applied. (MU) I’m laughing because I’m going to take a gander that like group projects at work or at school are your worst nightmare. Yes, absolutely. Especially group projects where I’m not in control or the lead.

MU: 17:13
Yes. Yeah. Because why wouldn’t they put us in control? Nobody’s going to do it as well as we do and nobody’s going to hold up their end. We’re just going to have to do all the work ourselves so we might as well, and then not only reaffirms this perfectionist cycle. (VB) Absolutely. Yeah. So if we, if we do well on that, right? We pat ourselves on the back and we say that we were responsible for that success, but if we don’t do well then we have kind of these other people to point to and say, well, it wasn’t my fault. It was, you know, other people in the group didn’t pull their weight. Yeah, completely.

MU: 17:48
You said earlier about when we first met, that kind of gave me like a little light bulb moment. So when you showed up at the book signing and said, you know, can I still be a Whole30 Certified Coach if I’m still working on my food freedom? It almost sounds a little bit like in that moment you are experiencing imposter syndrome. Is there a relationship between perfectionism and imposter syndrome? (VB) Absolutely. Yeah. Um, I, I find that many perfectionist struggle with imposter syndrome. Um, it’s not necessarily kind of the same reverse. There are a lot of people who struggle with imposter syndrome who may not actually be experiencing perfectionistic tendencies, but yes, I think, um, myself as well as many other perfectionists also struggle with imposter syndrome. (MU) So we are afraid of failing and because that is our mindset all the time, we feel like the things that we have achieved in life don’t really belong to us.

VB: 18:40
Yeah. You know, I think of imposter syndrome and perfectionism as this catch 22 where we believe that our success is only deserved if we are flawless or our work is flawless. And because we know that that’s not the case, we have trouble accepting kind of praise or admiration from other people. Um, I call this the the yes, buts, right? So you get a compliment or a praise, you know, someone praises you and you say yes, but, and then sort of dismiss it or minimize it. (MU) Yeah. I just talked about this, um, discussion about compliments and why it’s so hard for us to just accept compliments. And I think you just put out another reason why it’s so difficult. (MU) Yeah. And it’s so, it’s so tricky because you know, the people who are experiencing kind of both of these like, you know, we, we want to be seen as worthy and deserving, but then when people do see us that way, we have difficulty kind of actually accepting that as valid feedback because we know that sort of the core of it is they don’t know that we’re actually not perfect.

MU: 19:49
Right. What you’re describing sounds so painful. Like I’m thinking about how I’ve always thought about perfectionism and now I’m hearing you describe it and it’s just painful to think about yourself and tell yourself these stories. (VB) Absolutely. Yeah. There’s a lot of painful kind of thoughts and emotions that can really be overwhelming and, um, it can feel hopeless at times. And, and I think this is why we see, um, perfectionism, you know, kind of contributing one of the factors that can contribute to, to depression and anxiety and eating disorders. Because it really kind of drives this, uh, extreme kind of behavior and it’s really isolating for me. (MU) It felt very isolating. Like I’m the only one who is held to this standard. I’m the only one who could expect to achieve this standard, except that I couldn’t even meet my own expectations. And I certainly couldn’t talk to anyone about the authentic parts my life, that, that maybe weren’t going well or areas where I had fears or insecurities because that doesn’t support this perfectionist persona that I was putting on.

VB: 20:57
Yes. And at the core, you know, kind of going back to that fear, um, you know, at the core of it, it’s this desire to connect to other people and when we feel like we’re not good enough or not worthy for whatever reason, that, that we fear losing that connection. And this is why kind of external kind of reassurance from other people, um, doesn’t really work. So telling someone who’s a perfectionist that they’re great doesn’t actually eliminate that fear. I’m telling them that we see them as being good enough and lovable and worthy doesn’t sort of eliminate that deep seated kind of fear. You know, it may sooth that in the short term, but that doubt keeps popping up and coming up again. And you know that this is why it’s not something that someone other than that individual can really work on. It’s something that has to come from within.

MU: 21:50
Yes, I just talked about this in the last podcast actually, where, you know, the, the praise from others, like I was desperate for that to fill the hole I had inside me. But unfortunately, to accept other people’s praise as truth also means that you have to accept criticism as truth. And the criticism was always so much more crushing than the praise was lifting. (MU) Absolutely. And you know, this again, kind of goes back to that difference between just, you know, wanting to be excellent in something versus that perfectionism. So if we’re really focused externally, you know that that’s the perfectionism, right? So if we’re focused on how other people see us, whether that’s praise or criticism, um, that’s a very different kind of process than sort of being internally focused and thinking about, you know, how do I do better for myself next time? Or how do I, you know, keep learning or striving or moving forward on this journey.

MU: 22:46 (MU)
Yes. That makes so much sense. It does. And there’s so much of a theme around all of the things I talk about in this podcast with what you just said. I’m so in my own journey as a perfectionist, I thought it was doing I think really, really well in one area. You know, I’ve been writing books for many years and I don’t procrastinate when I write the books. Um, when I’m done writing the book, when I think it’s as good as I can make it from my own kind of set of expectations and in my own integrity, I send the book off to print and I don’t go back and I don’t pick it apart and I don’t beat myself up if it’s not perfect. I thought I was doing really well. And then I picked up this podcast project and let me tell you, every single perfectionist tendency I ever had has reared its ugly head with this podcast.

MU: 23:36
I am really struggling between wanting to make it good and excellent and serve my community and getting stuck in this like mindset of perfectionism. So you mentioned the difference between striving for excellence and being a perfectionist. Can you talk a little bit more about what that difference looks like? (MU) Yeah, I think the difference is again, kind of looking at where is our focus. Um, if our focus is internal and we’re thinking about, you know, how do I do this, um, better for, for myself. Um, you know, that’s, that’s very different than sort of getting focused on kind of what other people might think or say and how we compare ourselves to other people as well. Um, so it’s, I imagine it would be really easy to look at a lot of other podcasts and say, oh, they, you know, have x amount of followers or they’re doing this and getting really stuck in, in that sort of mentality.

MU: 24:32
I’ve noticed this for myself. You know, I think there are a lot of really excellent Instagram accounts that talk about kind of mental health and that sort of thing. And I’ve had to not follow some of them because I found myself getting stuck in that trap of comparing my, what I have to say to, to what they’re saying and looking at if it’s good enough. Right. Kind of going back to them. (MU) Yeah, super relatable, super relatable. And in fact, I think, I think the procrastinating came back into the podcast realm because I did spend a ton of time looking at other podcasts and I said, I was quote, researching, but what I was really doing was a procrastinating, getting my own off the ground and be comparing myself and always unfavorably to other people. I understand this idea of like, okay, is this as good as I can make it in my own standards?

MU: 25:23
And like I’m not thinking about what other people are going to say about it, but what if in my own head, I know it could always be just a little bit better. Like how do you get that voice to shut up? (MU) Yeah. So there’s, there’s this idea of kind of exposing ourselves to that feared outcome, right? So if we, um, are really concerned about what’s going to happen if something isn’t perfect or, um, if maybe, you know, even if we put something out there that’s not our best work, you know, sometimes the thing to do is to try that out and see what happens, um, to sort of expose ourselves to that scenario and then kinda sit with the thoughts and the emotions that might come up with that. You know? And so sometimes I find myself sometimes when I’m writing Instagram posts, getting really stuck on what I want to say and how I wanna say it.

MU: 26:12
And, you know, I set a timer for myself and I say, whatever you have done it, when the timer goes off, that’s what’s going up. And it’s never perfect, obviously, but kind of, you know, putting it out there and seeing kind of what the responses and seeing if the outcome that I’m creating in my head, um, is likely to happen, which it usually isn’t. (MU) Yeah. That gives me a little bit of anxiety. I’m not going to lie, this idea of like, cause I will write and rewrite my Instagram posts quite a bit too, in part because it’s fun because I love that of like finding the right word, tightening it up a little bit. Like there is an aspect of it that I enjoy, but also, you know, because I always want to go back and see if I could do it a little better at the timer idea is brilliant and also terrifying.

VB: 26:56
Yeah. And you know, I think that what works for me doesn’t necessarily have to work for somebody else. Um, you know, I think that you had posted about kind of not going back in correcting spelling mistakes, right. On Instagram stories and it’s kind of the same thing, uh, in a different way. Right? So it’s kind of putting something out there and then if there’s a mistake, just leaving it be and seeing what happens. (MU) Yes, I did put that post up that I’m no longer micro correcting that if I voice dictate a your versus a your’e and you know, it’s up there like I’m not gonna worry about it. It’s not, I don’t think it’s a statement about how intelligent I am or how conscientious I am. Like people make mistakes and let’s all be a little bit more forgiving. So I did put that out there, but now I’m holding myself to it and it’s sometimes easier said than done.

VB: 27:39
(=Absolutely. Yeah. And I think that that’s, you know, kind of the, the other part of this, you know, the follow through on that. Um, and then that like sitting with that discomfort, you know, I think that going back to kind of the fear being that that root cause of this sitting with those emotions, sitting with the sometimes potentially really painful kind of thoughts and emotions is, you know, kind of paramount to being able to kind of overcome those, those tendencies. (MU) That’s true. And sometimes I feel like I have to learn the lesson 72 times before it actually sticks. So, you know, every time I show up on social media in what I call it, like whole 30 Melissa like robot. Super Perfect. You know, I’ve, I’ve created this script and I’ve, you know, done my hair and makeup and I show up and, and get my messaging across that never lands as effectively as when I’m like just after the gym, haven’t taken a shower yet.

MU: 28:35
Doing it on the fly and it’s more realistic. And that’s happened again and again and again where people have said like, oh, you’re so much more relatable when you just show up casually as yourself. And yet I still have to take that to heart and other areas of my life. (VB) Absolutely. Yeah. And I think, you know, it’s, it’s at the core of all of this is relationships and we want to connect and feel a part of something and have a community and when we are sort of all authentically ourselves, that just makes that process that much more possible. (MU) Yeah, you’re absolutely right. You know, as for you as a psychologist, I want you to show up in perfectly, I don’t want you to be this paragon of perfection and having everything in your whole life perfectly figured out because that’s not realistic. You know, when I talked to my psychologist and you’re talking about some of your issues or even just you’re sharing about your own perfectionist tendencies, it makes you so much more relatable and so much more trustworthy. (VB) Which is so funny because I’m like, I know that on an intuitive level and sort of intellectual level and um, that doesn’t make it any easier.

MU: 29:42 (MU)
I know. Yes, I know, I know. But you know, maybe again, exposing yourself to it and then realizing that the worst case scenario that you imagine is going to happen is not going to happen. Right. People did not stop following me in droves when I put out a podcast that had some ums and likes and misspeaks in them. So, you know, maybe at some point that message will settle in. For people like us who are looking to break out of perfectionism, what are some warning signs or triggers we can look for in our actions or behaviors that can serve as a signal to say, Ooh, I’m heading down this path. Let’s like take a little, um, a little redo here. (VB) Yeah. I think that, you know, figuring out kind of what your individual kind of triggers might be. Um, and for some people, you know, we, we see that perfectionism may not kind of come out in every single domain of someone’s life.

MU: 30:35
It might be only um, you know, one or two or it may be kind of more global. And so kind of having that awareness of where it is most likely to show up for you is really important. And then looking at kind of what some of those individual kind of red flags might be, um, whether that is certain responses like procrastination, uh, whether that’s um, certain emotions. So sometimes when I am really feeling kind of some of these really painful and difficult emotions, I find myself kind of masking it with anger and irritability. So when I find myself sort of snapping at other people or being less patient, that’s often accused myself to kind of take a step back and look at what’s going on. For me. (MU) That’s a really good one. I find that I do kind of the same thing. I’m like deflecting on other people.

MU: 31:23
Another trigger for me is the self talk. It’s really harsh and it’s, I don’t, I don’t negative self talk anywhere near as much anymore. So when it comes up, it’s very alerting to me. It’s like, Ooh, this doesn’t feel good anymore and this doesn’t feel normal. So this is a signal that there’s something going on here. (VB) Absolutely. Or you know, potentially kind of redoing something over and over and over. And that can be another kind of behavior that people get caught in. (MU) Oh, this podcast, Vickie, you know, I had this conversation with Brandon, I’ve had it with a couple of other friends where I’m like, I get a Dear Melissa episode of the podcast done and it’s good. And then I go back to listen to it one more time and I’m like, Ooh, I could have done that better. So I rerecord and Ooh, I could have done that better.

MU: 32:03
So I’m editing it and like I am spending, this is almost embarrassing, but like there have been times where I’ve spent like eight hours on a 30 minute podcast. (MU) Yeah. And driving yourself kind of, you know, up the wall in the meantime. Right. (MU) And I don’t even know if I’m making it better. That’s the thing, right? Like maybe the first episode where I just like riffed on it and um, shared my thoughts was way better than the absolutely perfected scripted. So the last few episodes I’ve recorded, I’ve been doing it very differently where I haven’t been editing as much, I haven’t been going back as much. But one of the strategies that someone suggested to me was pretend like you’re doing an Instagram live where you don’t get retakes and you don’t get redos and just record it like that and decide you’re going to let it go.

MU: 32:46 
That’s like a really all or nothing though. (VB) Yeah. And I, you know, I think that it’s sort of figuring out kind of what works. Right. And so, you know, maybe that’s somebody else kind of, if you’re not sure about something, maybe having someone else kind of check it out and say, yeah, actually that was confusing what you said or I’m not sure that this is really, you know, kind of working over here. You know, kind of having some of that external feedback sometimes can be really helpful in guiding us because otherwise it can be really easy to get caught up in really small details that may not actually matter. Right? (MU) Yes, completely. And I think about, you know, there have been some areas of my life like the podcast where like a one and done and just put it out there and see what happens.

MU: 33:26
And like, yeah, I could totally handle that. When it comes to perfectionism in how I showed up in the world in terms of my makeup and hair and grooming. Like I never could have done a, okay, I’m just going to like show up and not do my hair and not do any makeup at all. One day I had to do it in baby steps where it was like I didn’t do my hair and then I showed up and no makeup and then I, and now it’s like I’m totally comfortable showing up however I look. But I think there can be multiple approaches to it. (MU) Absolutely. And it’s kind of, I mean, going back to that exposure approach, you know, very kind of basic example, if you were afraid of dogs, um, we wouldn’t put you in a room with 10 giant dogs from the get go, right?

VB: 34:07
You’re going to start off smaller. You might walk by the dog park but not go in. Um, then you might, you know, kind of be in the same room but not actually touching the dog. Right? Like there’s going to be kind of steps to that. And I think that that’s the case for pretty much everything. (MU) Yeah. And I like that that comes with small wins where I show up one day or I let, uh, in my last podcast there was a moment where like, I went to say something and I choked on my own spit and I kind of laughed about it. I left that in and that’s like a small win where it was like, oh, I’m just not going to edit that out. And that gives me the confidence to continue doing that going forward. (VB) Absolutely. And I think, you know, that actually like we were talking about, it makes you more relatable.

MU: 34:45
Right. And so people then feel like they’re, they’re having a conversation with you or there, I’m kind of just hearing your, you know, your thoughts and not sort of this like stilted, robotic kind of response. (VB) Um, which is something that I have, you know, kinda struggled with in public speaking. Right? Like kind of writing everything out and rehearsing over and over and over and then things not landing the way that I necessarily wanted them to because of my delivery. (MU) Yeah, I know, I know sometimes you have to learn the hard way, like again, this idea of doing it over and over and making it quote perfect, but is that actually better? (VB) You know, I doubt it, but yeah. But my perfectionistic brain says sometimes. Right. (MU) You know, I know. I feel like I want to be your, I think we could be like our perfectionist, like support system where I might just start sending you stuff and being like, all right, I just put this out, tell me, it’s like good as it is. I love it.

MU: 35:47
Alright, so at the end of every episode I ask, what is one thing you can recommend for someone who’s ready to do the thing and look at their own perfectionism tendencies? (VB) So I think the way to start is to start to develop awareness and to be able to kind of sit with that discomfort and be more aware of those difficult emotions or thoughts that are coming up and putting a little bit of space between kind of the urge to react and the actual reaction. Um, and this is really hard. Um, and it doesn’t happen overnight. And I think that if people are really, really struggling with this, then working with a licensed mental health provider, uh, makes a lot of sense. But I think that even just starting with kind of sitting with emotions for, for two or three minutes, you know, setting your phone timer and then just sort of actually like sitting there and experiencing the emotion, um, kind of noticing where you feel it in your body, what thoughts are coming up and um, you know, not distracting yourself, not pushing that away, not telling yourself that you, you know, shouldn’t feel a certain way, not problem solving kind of the emotion.

VB: 36:56
Um, you know, I think that’s how you start to change the, the perfectionistic behaviors because you’re addressing kind of what’s going on underneath. (MU) That makes me feel better already. I like, as you are talking, I sat up straighter, I took a deep breath. I think that’s wonderful advice. So Vickie, tell us and our listeners where people can find you and then also what’s coming up for you next. Cause you have something super cool coming up for September. (VB) Yeah. So, um, the best place to find me online is on Instagram. My handle is @DrVickieBhatia. Um, my website is drVickiebhatia.com. Um, and so I’m as one of kind of the newest Whole30 Certified Coaches. Um, I’m going to be running my first online coaching group for September and the focus of the group is going to be on emotional eating and I’m looking at how to handle negative emotions in a more effective way.

MU: 37:51
So if that is something that people are struggling with, check out my website or you know, message me on Instagram for more information. And then following that September Whole30 group I’m going to hopefully run a food freedom kind of shorter group to help transition into that food freedom rather than sort of getting stuck in this process of using Whole30 as a diet. (MU) I love that so much. I’m going to make sure to include the direct link to that group in the show notes. I think you are going to have a very full community for that one. Dr Vickie Bhatia thank you so much for coming onto the thing and talking about your own experience with perfectionism and helping those of us who want to recover or in recovery do a better job with it. (VB) Thanks so much. Thank you for having me.


Thanks for listening!

Continue the conversation with me @melissa_hartwig on Instagram. If you have a question for Dear Melissa or a topic idea for the show, leave me a voicemail at (321) 209-1480.

Do the Thing is part of ‘The Onward Project,’ a family of podcasts brought together by Gretchen Rubin—all about how to make your life better. Check out the other Onward Project podcasts, Happier with Gretchen Rubin, Side Hustle School, and Happier in Hollywood.

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