Ep #45: Perfectionism Holds You Back

By: Dr. Sherry Price

Drink Less Lifestyle with Dr. Sherry Price | Perfectionism Holds You Back

Do you think cutting back or drinking less should go a certain way?

Maybe you think you should gradually decrease.  Or just be able to stop cold turkey.

And that will magically change your desire for alcohol.

This may actually be a challenge for you.  And it can impede your process.  I coach many women about this in my programs, so I wanted to cover it with you this week.  It’s a common challenge for many women and this is – perfectionism.

As a recovering perfectionist, I know firsthand how this type of thinking can hold you back.  These idealistic tendencies can be pervasive and thwart forward progress.  Join me as I uncover the determinantal side effects of this type of thinking and how it plays out in our drinking patterns.

Are you ready to create an amazing life that you don’t even want to overdrink to escape from? If so, I invite you to join Drink Less Lifestyle by clicking here.

You can download my free guide How to Effectively Break the Overdrinking Habit.

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What You’ll Learn in this Episode:

  • What perfectionism looks like when it comes to changing your relationship with alcohol.
  • How perfectionism holds women back on the journey to change.
  • What you can do to dismantle your perfectionistic thinking so you can start moving forward.

Featured on the Show:

Full Episode Transcript:

You are listening to the Drink Less Lifestyle Podcast with Dr. Sherry Price, episode number 45.

Welcome to Drink Less Lifestyle, a podcast for successful women who want to change their relationship with alcohol. If you want to drink less, feel healthier and start loving life again you’re in the right place. Please remember that the information in this podcast does not constitute medical advice. Now, here’s your host, Dr. Sherry Price.

Well, hello my friends. Welcome back into the podcast. I’m so glad you’re joining me here this week. And I want to say that this topic that I’m going to discuss today is one near and dear to my heart because I have lived it for so many years. And I have been actively doing things to dismantle this for myself. So, if this resonates with you, oh my gosh, I think we’re besties because this is an area that I still struggle with and I still find myself having this type of thinking that I actively work on for myself so I can get the life that I want.

So, the reason I wanted to bring this up today is because I’ve been hearing from so many women lately. I’ve opened my calendar and a bunch of lovely women have been jumping on my calendar to talk with me because they’re feeling stuck and they want to change their drinking habit. And I get it. I remember feeling that way too. And this is one of the best things about my job, my career, whatever you want to call it. I really, really love diving into the lives of these women who call.

And so, while I was talking with a bunch of them this past week I wanted to say that I’m noticing something that is holding a lot of women back. And I’ll be talking about one of those areas on this week’s podcast and then diving into some of the other areas in upcoming episodes. So, one of the things that I’m noticing that holds women back. And I’m not saying it doesn’t hold men back either, I just see it so commonly in women it is this. We want things to look a certain way or be a certain way. And I call that perfectionism.

And whenever I see this perfectionism come out it is not meaning that they want to be better than or any of that. It’s that they want things to go a certain way. And when they don’t see that as an option it becomes an impediment to move forward. So, when we think about perfectionism we think about things being perfect, meaning free of flaws, no marks, perfect, not damaged, no flaws, just without defects. So, we want things to go a certain way. We want things to look a certain way. We want to feel a certain way. We want others maybe to feel a certain way or do a certain thing.

And notice when I’m saying this a certain way, I think that’s what we’re thinking about in terms of perfectionism. I want my life to look a certain way. I want my body to look a certain way. I want my kids to do a certain thing or not do a certain thing. And that is when I’m talking about of a life of perfectionism.

And I also like to call this idealism or idealistic thinking. So, when we have this idealistic thinking, my life should be this way, my kids should be this way, my career should look this way, things should go this way, I should lose weight this way. I should cut back on drinking this way. All of that is not to say not to go after it but we have this vision of how it should pan out. And it’s not to say we don’t go after things. And it’s just this idealistic thinking that holds people back from enjoying the life that they have.

So just think about it, you’re throwing a party and you think it has to go a certain way, everybody has to have a good time, everybody should be getting along, there should be plenty of food, there should be plenty of drinks. We’re trying to have the party be a certain way in our mind. So, we have this perfectionistic thinking of how it should go or this idealistic thinking of how it should go. And if it goes that way well, then my life I get to be happy with. But if it doesn’t go that way I use it as a reason to be unhappy.

So, we do this with so many areas of our life, whether it’s our body, our house, how clean our house is, or the clothes that we wear, or the car, or the meals. And yes, I even see people do this with their drink plan. It all has to look and be a certain way. And it’s the way that I think it should go or the way I think it should be. And if it’s not perfect then guess what happens? And here’s what I see what women do is that they give up. They stop trying.

And here’s the problem I have with this perfectionistic thinking is that it’s just not real life. It is not possible to obtain. It is fantasy land. It is this idealistic thinking that is unachievable because here’s the truth. Nobody on this planet is perfect, no one. Now, when I say that, what comes into your mind? Does a person actually pop into your mind that you’re like but this person is pretty perfect? But I assure you that that person isn’t perfect.

It’s probably just something that you like about this person and you want that one thing but you wouldn’t trade spaces with that person. So, I guarantee nobody is perfect, hands down.

And if you did have a person that came to your mind when I said there’s nobody that’s perfect and somebody pops into your head, would you be willing to swap your life with theirs? Would you be willing to take on their kids if they have kids? Would you be willing to take on their spouse if they are married? Would you be willing to inhabit their body, take on their job if they have one, take on their age, their car, their personality, their character traits, all of it, a complete swap?

And I’ll tell you, there is not one person that I’ve ever found that wants to completely swap their life for somebody else’s. But what our brain does is it hones in on just that one area that if we just had that, or if our life looked like that, or if we just had that in our life, then our life would be perfect. That’s what our brain tells us. But truly there is no such thing as a perfect life. So, let’s look at some examples of this.

So, you may not want to be actually Melinda Gates but sure it might be nice to have her bank account. Or you might be thinking, sure, it might be nice to have the body of Heidi Klum, or Jennifer Aniston, or whomever your girl crush is. You can tell what era I grew up in from those examples. So, we might want that part of their life but I bet you we would leave behind the parts where they have had failed relationships, failed marriages. We’d be like, “No, we will take just that part but not that part.”

So, I just want you to see that whoever we admire, or look up to, or idolize, or whatever the word you want to use for that, they don’t have it perfect either. They may just have one trait that we like, or one character, or something about them that we want, or like, or desire for ourselves. But they are not perfect. Because here is the fact, nobody is. But oftentimes our brains will want to argue with that fact. They’re like, yeah, I know perfection doesn’t exist but, yeah, but, it’s the brain going yeah, but this would be nice.

So why am I making a big deal of this? Why am I saying it’s not real, it’s fantasy, it’s not possible, it’s totally fiction? I’m doing this because when we think that perfectionism is something we can obtain, or a place we can get to it turns out to be a great source of pain and suffering for so many women and men too. When we think life is better over there when I get this, or have this, or acquire this, when we’re wanting things to be perfect, we’re missing out on the opportunity of the now and of the present and enjoying the life that we do have.

It’s like we’re delaying the appreciation for life that we could be having in the moment and hanging it on all these external factors that when we get there of course we will be happier, of course life will be better. And the funny thing is when we get there and if we do get all those things I will tell you that your life is not going to be magically happier. Yes, it may be for a day or two, but then guess what happens? You start desiring new things. You start wanting new things. All of a sudden you went from wanting 10 pounds weight loss to now I want 10 more.

And do you see what the brain does? It constantly pursues this chase. And in psychology they call it the hedonistic treadmill. We’re always on it looking for the next best thing, the next dopamine hit. And saying, “It’ll be perfect when my kids are out of the house, their college is paid for”, whatever it is that we are thinking will cause us to feel more complete, more whole, more happy, more joyous, whatever it is. But that is just a story in our mind.

So, this perfectionistic thinking I think can really hold us back because we think things have to line up a certain way in order for us to get the progress we want. Maybe we need approval from people outside of us. Maybe we’re thinking I’m going to do this diet plan only if I can get the results that I want. And it has to look a certain way along the path. So that means we’re not allowing for any setbacks. We’re not allowing for ups and downs of life. We’re not allowing for what happens in life which is a lot of times things are unpredictable and outside of our control.

Or we put off our gratification till some point in the future like I don’t want to put on that dress until I lose 10 pounds. That’s perfectionistic thinking, thinking that we don’t have the worthiness to be in that dress or we’re not going to look good in that dress until the weight comes off. And when the weight comes off I can wear that dress and I can wear all these other dresses and all these clothes that I really desire to wear that I’m not wearing now. So, I’m not giving myself the luxury of wearing that stuff now when I really want to be embodying that woman.

And here’s something else that happens. When we are not at the place where we want to be because say we’re living in imperfection and we are just not happy with that, and we think we’re going to be happier over there when life is perfect. We are actually rejecting the life that we have now. And it feels terrible to reject the life that you have now. And what happens when we reject life, when life isn’t perfect and we’re kind of bummed about that, we’ll sulk. And oftentimes we will engage in self-sabotaging behaviors and not fully live out our current life.

So, we think it should be different and if it was different then we tell ourselves that then we get to be happy. And that’s when we’ll wear the dress, or that’s when we’ll cut back on drinking or not drink so much, or whatever it is that we’re putting off. And then think about how many months and years go by with that type of thinking.

Maybe you’ve wanted to control your drinking before COVID hit. And then COVID hit and guess what? Maybe your drinking has gotten worse like it has for so many people. But we justify that and say, “Wait, when things are perfect again or when the timing is right and then I’ll go and try to achieve the result I want.” We’re waiting for this perfectionism in the timing. We’re waiting for the perfectionism in outside circumstances but there is no perfectionism. And by waiting for perfectionism, you’re being robbed of your current life, the only life that you have and you’re living it.

So, since there is no perfectionism that’s a fallacy about life and that if we are psychologically embracing that it’s a truth then we’re not living the life we want to be living. We’re not even playing by the rules. So, if life is not about achieving perfection then what are you making your life to be about? Because if perfection isn’t a goal we can obtain, why are so many people on the path to chasing it? Now, I’m going to go off on a little tangent here and just bring in a spiritual component to this.

So, I’m not a spiritual or religious scholar. But word on the street in the circles I hang out in the Christian community is that Jesus lived a perfect life. Now, I look at Jesus’ life and I learn about his life through the Bible. And I see that he experiences a crap ton of trials, actually many of them. I see a life that wasn’t easy. I see a life where he had to toil a lot and teach people a lot. And I see times where he fasted for 40 days and 40 nights without eating or drinking.

And I see a life where he certainly wasn’t about people pleasing, actually he got in the Pharisees face and told them, “Hey, this is how you should be reading the letter of the law. You’re doing it wrong.” And I see a life where he was mocked, and celebrated, and at the end of it, crucified. Now, if that’s the idea of a perfect life, I think we’re all operating under a different definition.

Now, off of my tangent, I’m not asking you to be spiritual or religious if you’re not. But I’m asking you to consider what all this means because to me if I’m told this is a perfect life and I look at other lives before me, thousands, millions of lives who have come before mine, it’s filled with conflict. It’s filled with trials. It’s filled with disappointing people. It’s filled with times of feasts and times of famines.

And so, I think that is the definition of a perfect life which is so different than what I think most of us think a perfect life is. We think it’s about acquiring things, and buying things, and having enough money to do whatever we want, and a life of ease and a life of luxury. And I just don’t think that is the perfect life. That’s one definition of life, like my daughter, she thinks the definition of life is to be a famous YouTuber, that is success, that’s what life’s about. How many likes can you get on social media, Instagram, YouTube, wherever?

And if we just think back a couple of decades ago these platforms didn’t even exist. I often think about when I get to be 80 or 90 years of age and I look back on my life, how would I answer did you live life? Would I want my answer to be yeah, I lived it perfectly? That’s not even on my radar. I laugh because I think it sounds completely ridiculous to say I lived my life perfectly. I don’t think we would take seriously anybody that said that, I lived my life perfectly.

So, the thought of perfectionism is quite comical to me but yet it’s something that we all chase and we all desire. So how about for you when you’re thinking at your 80th or 90th birthday? What do you want to look back and say your life was about? What’s important to you?

I tried to answer this for me and of course on different days I might come up with different wording and wording that sounds more articulate or more beautiful. But today I’m just going with what came to my pen and paper and for me it’s about living a meaningful life. Embracing the joys and the challenges because I know they’ll come, to the best of my ability at the time. Of course, I’m going to be older and wiser as the years go on. But in my youth I did the best that I could with the knowledge that I had.

And I also want to know that I loved fully, again, to the best of my ability. I’m learning to embrace that more and more as I age and being more willing to be vulnerable about things than I used to be, and understanding what love is. It’s not just always this affectionate romantic love, but all the definitions of love. And I know for me I want to seek out experiences and relationships that grow me. And when they grow me I mean intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually. I want that food for my soul.

And I want to learn how to set rules and boundaries for my life and meaning that I don’t necessarily follow the rules of society. Now, things of society may benefit me, so yes, I will follow certain rules like don’t kill people because I really don’t want a life in jail. But there are other rules and I’ll be like, “I see that society embraces this but how does this fit and feel for my life?” The life I came here to live, not to avoid, not to numb, and not to tell myself things just because other people are doing it and it’s the brainwashed group think kind of way like it is with alcohol.

And I want to live a life I want to live, not the one society wants me to live. So, as I share that with you and as I reflect on it now as I’m saying it out loud, notice it’s not about perfection, not at all, it’s actually embracing the ups and downs, the rollercoasters. There is going to be times where I’m going to lose family members. And I want that to devastate me because I cared and I loved so deeply for those members. I want that to rock my world, that makes me human. I don’t want to escape that, that makes me unhuman.

I want to feel my emotions, they make me human, they make me compassionate, they make me relatable, they make me understanding in a way that knowledge can never touch me. Actually, I used to be a person who was very prideful about my knowledge. I wanted degrees, I wanted to collect more knowledge, knowledge. Knowledge is power. But sometimes knowledge disconnects you from emotions because you’re always thinking and you’re not in your body.

You’re not connecting with your soul. You’re not connecting with your spirit and there’s knowledge there, different knowledge, but knowledge, nonetheless. So, I talk about perfection in a way that I hope doesn’t discourage you. I hope it empowers you. I hope you think about this mold that we are living and seeing if this mold feels like you’re being trapped and you’re being asked to be somebody you’re not, rather than breaking free and being the human, you’re meant to be.

And so, I want to just say to the women and actually a gentleman I spoke to on the phone this week that you can let go of perfectionism because it’s holding you back. So, to the woman I spoke to about wanting to go to book club and not drink but yet she felt pressured to drink because all the other ladies were there. I want you to know that book club does not have to look a certain way, not the way that you’ve defined in your mind. You are free to be who you want to be and that may mean going to book club and not drinking.

And to the doctor I spoke to this week and your heart for helping people and helping patients despite the drawbacks, and the flaws in the system, and the lawsuits that may or may not come. It’s not about doing it perfectly, it’s about doing it because you’re meant to do it. And there’s only so much of the outcome that you can control.

And to the person who I talked to about your marriage, and you’re worried that it’s crumbling because of fear, and these thoughts that you’re having that aren’t actually verifiably true, we can let go of that and just pour into your marriage and don’t hold back because it doesn’t have to be perfect. And it doesn’t have to look a certain way. And we don’t even know if those fears are truthful yet.

And to the person who’s throwing this awesome backyard party at your house, and loving on all your friends, and having copious amounts of food and drink, don’t feel that you have to join in. It doesn’t have to look a certain way. You get to make the rules of how that party looks like for you and what you consume and what you intake into your mouth. If it means one glass of wine, great. If it means none, great. You get to make those rules. It doesn’t have to match other people’s rules.

And to the woman who wants to lose this weight before she can put on that beautiful dress. You can wear that dress. You can love yourself now and love yourself on the way to your weight loss goal. And just know that that dress is going to look perfect on you now. And for so many other women out there, it’s also not about having the perfect set of emotions. Yes, certain emotions feel better in the body than others. But wanting to have the same emotions all the time again makes us not human.

We have to embrace and feel all the emotions even when they’re scary. Even when some of those emotions have come up in the past and you’ve wanted to escape from them with a drink, be willing to be human. Be willing to feel them and not have it be some sense of perfection in your mind with your emotions. You see, even in our minds we can create I need to feel a certain way all the time. And we may not call that perfection, but that essentially is what we’re doing. We’re saying we’re unacceptable to tolerate certain things if it doesn’t look like this, if it doesn’t look a certain way.

Our minds will tell us we need life to look flawless but that is so far from the truth. Look at anybody’s life, it’s never flawless, it is life perfectly perfect which means imperfections, which means conflict, which means struggles, trials, times of fasting, times of feasting. It means all of the goodness that life brings and all of the other stuff with it because if we didn’t experience a famine we would never fully enjoy the feast so much.

And while I was talking with a person this week I want to say that one person truly blessed me with a magical piece of wisdom and I want to share that wisdom with you here. Why I call it magical is because it touched me inside. It spoke to my soul because it was truth. And the comment that was made was, “Once a psychological barrier is broken progress can be rapid.” That was profound. Let me say that one more time. “Once a psychological barrier is broken progress can be rapid.” I loved this phrase so much because it spoke so much truth.

Our minds have all these thoughts that either fuel us forward or keep us trapped. And the reason you haven’t been able to break an overdrinking habit has nothing to do with loving the taste of alcohol. It’s only because a psychological barrier has not yet been broken. I witness this all the time. And if I could just share with you an example of that.

I once was working with this woman who she had been told over, and over, and over through the years that she was powerless. She was told this at an early age when she had an eating disorder of bulimia. And she was told this again after her DY and enrolled in AA. She was told she was powerless. She thought there was nothing she can do to control these issues.

When I was practicing as a pharmacist and I would be treating patients with diabetes or elevated blood pressure, or high blood pressure. I would never tell somebody that they are powerless. I’d tell them how to help better control their diabetes. What food regiment would be beneficial, what movement regiment would be beneficial. The same thing with high blood pressure, there are things you can do to mitigate some of these effects. There are medicines that you can take. There are lifestyle modifications you can make.

I see no upside to telling somebody that they are powerless. So, when this woman and I worked together and we worked on one of the skills in the programs that I have is on becoming powerful. And I empowered her with the tools to be able to control the things she needed to control. She broke a psychological barrier holding her back. She no longer believed she was powerless. And guess what happened? She stopped binging. She stopped purging and she stopped overdrinking. She learned how to have complete control.

Now, the road there wasn’t perfect. It didn’t mean she progressively kept getting better, and better, and better, and better. Yes, big picture but it was full of couple of steps forward, step back, couple of steps forward, a slip back. We had to learn exactly what psychological barriers were keeping her slipping back. She had to learn the skill of what to do on the slip backs so she didn’t stay there. It’s all of life’s learnings and we forget this as adults. It’s the process of learning that keeps propelling you forward.

It’s not to say there aren’t going to be slip-ups here and there, that’s just ridiculous thinking. That’s perfectionistic thinking. That’s idealistic thinking, ladies, and it doesn’t work. It keeps you falling back. And then when you fall back you stay trapped and you feel like you’re not making progress which is not true. Think about a toddler who’s learning to walk, they fall down, they’re clumsy, they wobble, they fall over, they fall sideways, they fall backwards. But the toddler eventually learns to walk.

Think about the teenager learning to be an adult, they forget things. They don’t come home on time. Where is their homework? What’s the room clean? Do they know how to do laundry? They don’t know the skills to be an adult. But then they get taught the skills to be an adult and they learn to be an adult. The thing is, we don’t give up on the toddler. And the toddler doesn’t give up on himself or herself. And the teenager is going to learn to make it in the world otherwise it’s a harder world to live in. And we don’t give up on the teenager.

And in both of these instances there are movements forward and movements backward. The toddler eventually walks. The teenager eventually adults. The skills are learned but they weren’t learned perfectly and linearly like we expect them for our lives. Why is that? Because we’re in this idealistic thinking. We’re in this perfectionistic thinking and it harms us. It makes us get to our goal much slower and for some people it holds them back.

So, what do all these examples show you that I’m talking about? It’s that life is not about perfection, let it go. It doesn’t serve us ever. It robs you of moving forward today. It robs you of the joy you can experience today. And it causes us to feel not good today for the promise of tomorrow which may never come because perfectionist doesn’t exist. I have a client right now that I’m working with who thinks her relationship with a certain person needs to look a certain way and when it does then she can feel better. But that’s not how it works.

We can choose to feel better now even if the relationship isn’t perfect. And I’ll tell you, learning that skill is way more impactful than waiting for all the factors to be perfect because they never will align that way. Or if they do align that way, it’ll be short lived. Instead, embrace the truth of life, that maybe our definition of perfect is wrong. And if we keep to that definition that it should be flawless and have no defects then I argue that doesn’t exist.

So how is perfection holding you back? Are you waiting for the perfect moment to do something? I think a better approach is you get to live the life you have fully, unapologetically, and go after the goals you want. But going after them doesn’t mean you’re going to do them perfectly, which means you can drop it needing to look and be a certain way.

And you can explore what works, what feels good and what gets you the best results, even if it’s different than what you had imagined. Even if it’s different than what you had it planned to look like. Because when you do it that way you break the psychological barrier. And when you break the psychological barrier you get rapid progress. And that is transformation, that’s how we get it done.

Alright my friends, it was so wonderful to hang out with you this week and I will talk to you next week.

Thanks for listening to Drink Less Lifestyle. If you’re ready to change your relationship with drinking now check out the free guide, How to Effectively Break the Overdrinking Habit at sherryprice.com/startnow. See you next week.

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