February 22, 2021

How Perfectionism Gets In Your Way with Dr. Camila Williams


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Perfectionism is self-sabotage! But what is the difference between a high achiever and a perfectionist, and how is it all related to procrastination? 

I am talking to Dr. Camila Williams, she is a psychologist who has specialized in perfectionism, anxiety, and stress management.

I've talked about this before, how mental clutter in form of limiting beliefs, and perfectionism result in procrastination and get in the way of decluttering and you becoming more organizing but also how it gets in the way of a lot of other stuff in your life.

Camila calls herself a perfectionist in recovery and she also explains that we often are a perfectionist only in one area of our life but not so much in other areas.

  • we also talk about how you can spot if you are a perfectionist or not
  • the difference between a high achiever and a perfectionist,
  • the push and pull
  • how perfectionism is self-sabotage
  • how procrastination is related to perfectionism and how we stress ourselves out with procrastination
  • we talk about the price you pay in your life for being a perfectionist
  • the two pathways on how we become perfectionists trying to protect ourselves
  • and so much more

Here a snippet from our conversation, where I ask Dr. Camila why she decided to specialize in perfectionsim: 

"It takes one to know one! I call myself a perfectionist in revocery, I had to learn to catch myself, manage my own brain to overcome my own perfectionist tendencies. 

I was really drawn into psychology because I was trying to understand the stories of the people around me. I was really drawn by people's stories, and that's what I think psychologists really got to do, we get to be a part of people's stories. 

You have to stop waiting ~Dr. Camila Williams

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Dr. Camila Williams

is a mindset expert, board certified psychologist, and cognitive behavioral specialist who has specialized in the field of perfectionism, anxiety, and stress management for over 10 years.

As a “Perfectionist in Recovery,” and mother-of-three she understands only too well the delicate balance between the strive for excellence and crippling self-doubt.

Working with her, high achievers learn how to break the shackles of self-doubt, limiting beliefs, and procrastination to truly live into their gifts and drive without always second guessing themselves. 

Join her private Facebook Group: The Freedom Shift Where Perfectionists Find Joy Peace & Success

Website * FacebookInstagram  *  Youtube  * 


Reading instead of Listening (Transcript) 

FYI: this text is not polished, I try to keep it as close as possible to how the guest expressed herself/himself . 

Conny Graf
Welcome Camila to the podcast. I'm so excited to have you on the show and thank you for taking the time. How are you today?

Dr. Camila Williams
I'm good, thank you. It's my pleasure I really appreciate the time to talk about this because I love talking about anything to do with perfectionism and organizing that's my jam.

Conny Graf
Yeah, mine too as you could imagine. So tell us a little bit first about you. Why did you become obsessed with perfectionism and is that the reason why you're a psychologist.

Dr. Camila Williams
Just to know right, they say it takes one to know one. I call myself a perfectionist in recovery. And so I've had to learn to catch myself and manage my own brain and kind of overcome my own perfectionist tendencies. But I was really just drawn into psychology because I was trying to understand a lot of the stories of the people around me, and I was really drawn by people's stories and I think that's what psychologists really get to do is we get to be a part of people's stories and be a part of that journey and I just love that kind of work.

I kind of settled in on perfectionism in part because I'm very familiar with it having gone through it myself, but I also kept seeing it as a very common theme across all different kinds of clients, and I really kind of started picking up on it as, as a growing problem I think in today's culture.

Conny Graf
Yeah. Yeah, so I'm definitely also a perfectionist I don't even know whether I'm in the recovery and for sure not sure having overcome it. But so what would you say how do we know if we're a perfectionist.

Dr. Camila Williams
So there there are quite a few things that will help you know if you're perfectionists because one of the things I hear is that people say like, Well, my life's not perfect and things are a mess and you know everything feels overwhelming and I'm definitely not a perfectionist but when I start asking them about the specific things they're doing, then we really start to pick up on but you're still wanting to be perfectionist, even though you don't feel like things are perfect.

So one of the most common things that a perfectionist will do is they're always comparing themselves to those around them. So every single thing you do you can't help but stop and look at the person next to you and see like am I doing it better Am I doing it worse. Are they further ahead are everywhere you do this at school you do this at home you do this at work. And the problem with that is that you always feel like what you're doing isn't good enough, there's always a sense of, well I could have done this, it could have been more I could have done differently because every time you look at someone else, you're gonna see that they're doing something a little differently than you are.

Conny Graf
Yeah. But so now I have of course two questions for that so one is. Aren't we a little bit raised to look what others are doing, I just remember from my childhood my mother often said well, your girlfriend was better in school or she had better grades or she behaves better so I was constantly kind of told to compare myself with my friends, especially when it was about them being nicer or better in school.

Yeah, so, and I don't say that my mother did this, out of, like, trying to make me a perfectionist, but I think this is a little bit. Human Nature maybe almost and then the second part to this is now with social media, now we don't need the mother to tell us to compare ourselves now we have social media so that's kind of like the next part.

Dr. Camila Williams
Yeah, I'll start with the second part social media is definitely increased kind of issues of perfectionism because you're always comparing yourself to what others are posting on social media, and it's creating a bit of a split where you are curating, and kind of censoring what you choose to put out there so people are only seeing certain sides of you and now all of you and that really creates a scenario for people to really second guess their sense of worth to have kind of doubts earning xiety about like well if people really knew, they really knew what I'm like, then maybe they wouldn't think that I was, you know, as great as I appear to be,

But we're definitely socialized into this growing up I kind of I love the, the gold star example in school like you know Well, she got a gold star Where's your gold star, and it creates that sense of comparison and competition. And so I like to distinguish and separate people who I call high achievers, and people who I call perfectionist. Right. The High Achiever can kind of use that as a bit of a motivation or competition to do better. The thing is for perfectionist. It feeds into this sense of, I'm not good enough or this sense of in order to be loved and accepted in order to be praised, I have to earn it, I have to prove it. And so, I call it this idea between a push and a pull right where a high achiever. They're pulled towards that gold star just because they want it like that would be fun to try and go get it and let's see if we can get it.

Whereas a perfectionist it's like they're being pushed like forced in that direction of I have to do this because if I don't do this. My mom's gonna be disappointed in me, my friends aren't gonna like me, my teachers gonna think I'm an idiot. No one's gonna want to hire me and you see how the brain immediately starts to spiral into that really negative place. Yeah.

Conny Graf
Yeah, so I identify definitely with the second, I can group of people on your website also saw that you're talking about different personality types, and that they need different ways to deal with it is that kind of what you're talking about the. So the people who feel pulled towards a gold star, let's say, they're probably less likely perfectionist, they might be not as hard on themselves if they don't get the gold star.

And I just cannot say for myself so I was probably more pushed or I, and now I'm my worst enemy I push myself, and then if I don't reach it. Then I'm hard on myself and it goes into self worth just like you said so are these the two different personality types so you have more personality types in there.

Dr. Camila Williams
So from from the website I was, I was just kind of trying to help people look at the different ways they experienced stress right because it can be very stressful to always have this pressure to perform well and to achieve and, but different people will resonate with different ways of managing the stress. I didn't get into like the intagram personality types or the different diagnoses, not that at all but perfectionist are usually under so much stress so much over on because their brains never turned off.

Even after you did something, you keep thinking about it and you keep thinking about how you could have done it differently and how you could have done it better. When you're supposed to be at home relaxing or on vacation you keep thinking about that to do list on the back of your head so there's never this sense of like genuine downtime where you can genuinely relax and that's why they tend to get stressed and burnout. And so certain personalities respond better to different stress management techniques.

So for example, a lot of the perfectionist I work with. They say like oh everybody tells me to do deep breathing, like just take a deep breath and do your meditation and deep breathing and they hate it because their brain is always go go go. And now you're saying like well manage your stress by breathing and as soon as they sit still to breathe it's like their brain goes into overdrive like oh you finally set still. Thank you. Now let's make some more. And so I you know I'm like, right it's so like okay deep breathing isn't the right type of stress management for your perfectionist personality, you actually need something more active. 

So a lot of the people I work with, actually really enjoyed doing like puzzles, or coloring, or some type of craft, where it's very soothing because you kind of get into the flow and the emotion, but it's keeping the brain preoccupied on something. So it's not just spinning out of control and going nuts.

Conny Graf
Yeah, I can totally see that. So my brain goes nuts too sometimes. And I even would have to be careful with coloring and puzzles, because I can multitask pretty good so I could spin out on something and still concentrate. So what are what are some is like it. I find it so fascinating like most, most people maybe don't even realize that their perfection is so what what would be other things or other other indicators that somebody is a perfectionist like other than the mind spinning and other than over analyzing what we before we do it while we're doing it and, you know, yeah.

Dr. Camila Williams
So one thing that perfection. And again, I'm giving examples and it's not like every perfectionist doesn't just samples, but one of the things a lot of perfectionist left to do is to make lists and to stay organized. But here's kind of the the caveat is that a lot of times perfectionist are really organized, only in one area of their life usually the area where they're trying to be very nitpicky and detail oriented, and then all the other parts of their life are kind of super cluttered and overwhelming.

So I would do this at work so my desk at work was immaculate like all the papers were organized I had everything color coded. I didn't like piles of things on my desk and people are like you're a neat freak. But you opened up my inbox my email and I had over 200 messages. And every time I opened up that clutter and all the files on my computer like I could never find what I needed because it was so disorganized. And that's kind of what perfectionist will do like you might be so nitpicky and detail oriented at work, but because you use all your time and energy and keeping everything just perfect that work, everything at home is piling up.

This is where the mail piles up for weeks on the counter the laundry is just making a bigger and bigger mountain on the table. Nothing's getting put away and part of that is because perfectionists spend so much energy physical energy and mental energy into the areas that they're very particular about that they just don't have the energy to clean and organize all the other parts of their life. And so people will usually see the split I had a client who was very perfectionist about her work but her car looked like she was living in her car because things just kept piling up, but you wouldn't know it, unless you saw it, because on the outside, she you know was very meticulous.

So, making lists and organizing perfectionist love that but some perfectionist, kind of have that bit of a split. The other thing that perfectionist will do with lists, is they make lists that aren't helpful I call them stress diaries, you're just creating a diary of your stress because you keep making lists but you never check anything off of it and it's just making you more overwhelmed. So, that's another really common thing. The other two things that perfectionist will do and this is one of the reasons why I work with this so much because this is near and dear to my heart is they tend to give up easily or not try.

And I do feel like these are the two things that really hold perfectionists back to giving up easily it's. There's such a fear of not being good enough or of people seeing through the facade of all the things you've accomplished and like, realizing like, Oh, well maybe you really, you know, that's imposter syndrome, maybe you really don't belong here maybe you really don't know what you're doing. And so, if something feels too hard, a perfectionist will give up because if I keep doing it, and then I fail, then that's proof that I'm a failure and that I suck. So it's safer to just give up. And that really find out if I would have failed and fallen flat on my face because I get to protect my ego.

So way to protect my ego and still feel a little bit safer about myself and on a similar vein to the giving up to that just not trying. If there's a new project or a new task or something that seems interesting but part of your brain is like, Yeah, but can you really do it I don't think you can really do it. So it's kind of like this fear of taking a risk because what if I take a risk, and I fail and now I have proof and everyone else can see that I really do suck and I couldn't do it. That can bring up so much anxiety and stress that perfectionist tend to play really small. Sorry, I know that was long winded but I get on a soapbox about this.

Conny Graf
Yeah no totally and and I come across that a lot when I try to help people or when I help people with decluttering because. So it starts early on already most things and I always talk about this over and over and over most think oh, first I need an empty weekend to do it I need the whole free weekend to even do anything. And I'm like, No, it's not gonna work that way because even if you have this free weekend which you probably don't, but if you even had it, you wouldn't start because it's just too too big so yeah and then they give up before they even start because they think, oh I don't have the time so I can't do it that's why my slow run is always a few minutes a day keeps the chaos away

You're like, do something little, and also something where you were, where you don't put too much pressure on yourself, but yeah it's it's sad when you think about how, and I mean I do we all sabotage ourselves in our own way so I definitely do it to not even starting or failing ahead of time basically no because you're you're kind of like, Oh, I'm not sure I can do it so let's just not even try and then you fail, ahead of time, you're so afraid of failing but you're failing. You're making yourself fail, which is kind of crazy what our brain does to us know

Dr. Camila Williams
exactly what happens it's like type is a self sabotage and I really like you You reminded me when you said like, Oh, I need a whole weekend and I need to get all these things and I need to buy this, you know, specific organizing system like that is perfectionism for which you're always planning and preparing and getting ready, but you're never actually doing so is the sense of like, you know, it's a bit of this all or nothing thinking, a perfectionist, their brain is just like if I'm going to do something I have to go all in, and that feels so overwhelming that they kind of get paralyzed, they get stuck in this place where they're never actually starting.

Conny Graf
Yeah. So now I just had a thought. So, perfectionism often, or most likely leads to procrastinating. So now, if you do have a deadline that you can't avoid or mess for something. I would assume that the perfectionist, kind of like plans and plans and plans and plans but then it comes into this time crunch where he actually has he or she has to do something. And do you see that a lot with from in your practice to that and then we're actually setting or the perfectionist actually sets him or herself or his himself up for failure because we don't give ourselves enough time to do the job at hand. Because we planned and we procrastinate and whatever.

Dr. Camila Williams
Yes, I mean you I mean you perfectly describe it. Procrastination is one of the biggest behaviors that I work on with people is how to stop procrastinating because procrastinating in itself is a stress relief it's stress management. So I have this big task and I'm telling myself I have to do it all and I have to do it perfectly and I have to get it all done this you know three day weekend, and that is stressing me out so the moment I told myself, Well, I'll, I'll do it later. I get that little bit of a relief, and that becomes a habit where every time I put something off, I get a little bit of a relief. But it's not genuine relaxation, because it's still thinking about it in the back of your head of what you, you have to do.

And then when you get into that time crunch. I say this is kind of shooting yourself in the foot, but perfectionism is always about protecting I always tell people don't feel bad about it like let's not beat yourself up even more. This is just how you've learned to protect your feelings to kind of protect your heart protect yourself. So if I'm afraid that I'm not good enough or that I really don't know what I'm doing. And I wait until the last minute to do something and it doesn't quite turn out as well as if I had started earlier. I have an excuse, or it's not that it didn't turn out well, because I suck, it's well it didn't turn out well because I didn't have enough time. Mm hmm. It's a little like it's a self sabotaging way to protect my ego, you know, well I could have gotten an A if I spent all two weeks doing this paper, but you know I did it overnight on an all nighter and I you know it was running on fumes and of course I got to be but I could have done better if I spent more time.

It's like you just shot yourself in the foot there but you get to protect your ego, because if I spend all two weeks on it and I give it my all and I still get a B then there's this part of like, Wait a second, I really did give it my all, and I'm not an A plus student. Am I really that stupid Am I really not good enough, do I really belong in this class right and you can translate that to work in a home and relationships.

Conny Graf
Yeah, yeah, you can definitely translate that into trying to get organized and all that and then, and how people will say beforehand already oh I don't have enough time and then I always say like if he would be more organized he would automatically have more time because he would less waste less time searching things or getting frustrated with things. And then, and then when when they actually do something finally then they say exactly that they say, yeah, if I wouldn't have had more time I could have been even better but I, of course I didn't yeah so it's so funny.

Our brain it's so funny and I always say like, with pleasure too and it all starts in in the brain, it's all mental clutter it's all these limiting beliefs, this perfectionism and everything. Now just do turn this around and put a little twist on it. So are there any positive things about trying to be a perfectionist, or is it all, all doom and gloom and negative.

Dr. Camila Williams
You know, I like to talk about it in terms of, you know, high achiever and perfectionism I think it's definitely the positives of striving to achieve more. But really approaching it from, let's try this out. Let's enjoy the journey let's see if we can do it, rather than that perfectionist piece of, you know, I have to do this to prove to everyone to prove to myself that I really am good enough.

The positive thing I would say, and I'm really hesitant to say this because we you know we twist it so much like I had a client. And she was like, I love my perfectionism. Like, this is why I've gotten to where I am and she was a physician, this is how I have achieved and I graduated top of my class, and I'm one of the top performing physicians like my perfectionism has gotten me like where I am, I love it. I'm like, so why are you here. Why are you talking to Yeah, because like, Well, you know, I realized that I'm being really irritable and critical of my children. And so her, her high standards, she was placing her high standards and she had that moment of like, I know you're just three years old but why can't you do it this way.

And this is like, Oh no, I recognize that that's like that perfectionism criticism. And so she realized that that there was that that negative and so I do get a lot of people will say yeah there's positives where I get to achieve so much in one area of my life but you usually pay a price for it in another area, which is why you kind of have to learn to kind of step back away from that perfectionism. I also like to remind people that perfectionism usually comes out as a way of protecting myself. So growing up. The two most common pathways that I see among people and I, of course there's always an exception to the rule, but the two most common pathways is protect perfectionism as a way to protect from a very harsh or critical environment.

So maybe your parents had very high standards were very exacting on you. Or maybe your parents were had bipolar or alcoholic and there was a sense of chaos at home and you never knew what to expect. And so you learned that if you did things perfectly, you didn't get hurt you didn't get hit. You didn't get yelled at. And so that perfectionism kind of comes away of staying safe and not getting hurt. The other pathway our kids to kind of grow up feeling a bit left out. That's socially awkward maybe they were bullied, or it's just they just kind of happened to learn that hey, when I get that gold star I get praise and attention.

How do I get attention. I got to do well I have to achieve I got to overdo it because that way, then that will pay attention to me then the other kids will be like, Oh wow that's so cool look at that trophy you have. And so they learn to use that again as a way of getting love and acceptance. So, that I would say is the original positive is, these are behaviors that you learn to protect yourself from getting hurt. And to help yourself get love and accepted and we all want that. It's just that when we overuse it and when we grow up the same behaviors no longer service and they usually come at a high price, and that price is our mental energy, our time, and especially if it's holding you back and you keep playing small because you're afraid of failing so you're afraid of trying.

Conny Graf
Yeah. Oh man, like, yeah it's it's a hard one. It's a hard one. So do you have like one or two tips? I myself because I'm definitely in the perfectionist. I'm trying to be in recovery doesn't always work for me and for my listeners who are often also perfectionist especially around their home or being organized they don't like to invite people because their home is a mess or whatever. Any tips how we could overcome this a little bit when we struggle of perfectionism.

Dr. Camila Williams
I think the interesting thing is that a lot of the tips I use are the same tips you use to help people kind of declutter Little by little, which is how do I step away from this all or nothing is you got to learn to take small steps. Yeah. And so, I always like to ask people, you know, this idea of you have to stop waiting right that when going right back to that procrastination. You have to stop waiting because a perfectionist.

A lot of times there's a sense of when I clean my whole house and everything is spotless then I can sit down and relax. When I lose weight, then I will feel confident and, you know, be able to buy nice clothes. When I get that promotion at work, then I can finally start you know setting better boundaries at work and not bringing work at home. So there's always this sense of in the future when I do this, then I will finally be able to feel better and the truth is, is that it never works out that way whatever you're feeling now you're gonna feel that in the future.

It's this idea of you have to stop waiting and you have to really think about, I call it focusing on the journey, you keep waiting for that end goal that outcome like when this is finally clean, then it's like no you got to figure out, how can you start to relax and enjoy the journey now, and not wait until the future and so you mentioned kind of breaking things down into small steps, and it by minute. So that's what I'll have people do is kind of calendar, you know schedule it into your calendar, like, okay, you need to relax, that's the you want to clean house so that you can sit down and relax, well until you get that clean house, how can you make sure you're taking five to 10 minutes a day to sit down and relax.

To get creative here because it's going to be different for everyone. Yeah, so I know this is easier said than done, and this is why it's so helpful to have a friend or someone who can call you out on it. Yeah, you can see like, oh you're doing that again. Yeah, um, the other thing is just a simple mantra simple phrase that I love to use with people and to just keep remembering is the difference between, I have to.

So I as a mom I use this example a lot it's like, oh, I have to cook dinner again. Got to feed the kids. It's like no you don't say, of course I do like why I have to have to cook and feed the kids like what kind of mother would it be if I didn't do it I'm like, Oh, you don't have to do anything. It's like no I have to because if I don't, then I'm neglecting the kids and child protective services are going to get called away and they're going to take my kids away. I have to like Okay, that sounds a little different. You're choosing to because you don't want to neglect your kids you're choosing to because you don't want to get CPS involved. It feels different. I have to make dinner versus, no I'm choosing to make dinner because this is the kind of mom I want to be.

That simple language shift puts you in a place of more control and more power. And so, especially if you're trying to do that with decluttering like oh I have to because people are coming over this weekend, it's like, no, the more you can step into now I'm choosing to because I want this this and this. Every once in a while you might find out that you really don't have to. You don't have a good reason for choosing to you have that moment like, oh, maybe I don't have to and you get to take something off your plate which we all need to do.

Conny Graf
Yeah, awareness that's often the thing too is like Do I really have to or is it just because my like I'm so in the, in the role and in the habit of doing it. Yeah, totally, totally. So I could talk with you for hours about perfectionism but I think we should be mindful of your time and my time and the listeners time so where can people find you if they're now intrigued want to learn more about you?

Dr. Camila Williams
The can find me on Instagram, and Facebook so whichever platform so on Instagram, it's just at Dr Camilla Williams and safety on Facebook at Dr Camilla Williams, I try to do a lot of tip videos and if people have questions maybe about anything I said today that's like wait What do you mean by that or you want to know more, by all means reach out to me, send me a message. I'd love to talk more about it.

Conny Graf
Yeah. Oh that's very generous Thank you. You want to end with any words of wisdom or is everything said?

Dr. Camila Williams
Oh, I know, I'll end with this, right. Um, so many of us I feel like in our culture of self improvement and self development there's so much pressure of, I need to do more, I need to be more. Even with just like cleaning and organizing the house like it needs to be more and different and I always just like to remind this people to come from this place of enoughness, of how you are right now is good enough.

You don't need anything more to be any more worthy to those around you and I, that really like. I'm just like if you ever have a furbaby I'm sorry I'm going a little bit on a tangent if you have a furbaby a pet. You never come home to your pet and be like, so did you vacuum the floors and do the dishes and take out the trash. We don't do that to our pets. Don't expect them to earn their place in our home in our hearts we just love them just for existing. And that's the kind of love that we need to learn to have first so it's just, I am worthy just because I exist.

Conny Graf
Thank you. That's very very beautiful. I agree and somehow hard to do. We can do it with different baby so much easier than with ourselves no but, yeah, thank you very much for your time for your wisdom, this was really awesome thank you very much.

Dr. Camila Williams
You're welcome

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