Perfectionism and People Pleasing -- The reasons we procrastinate are often rooted in our strengths

One of my favorite parts of my job is helping my clients to improve their time management, so that they can carve out more time for pleasure and being truly present in their lives. To improve performance in any area, time management included, we need to acknowledge and understand the obstacles. Despite considering myself to be a relatively accomplished person, I have struggled as mightily with time management as I have with food. Time management is now an ongoing area of personal development work for me. I have studied it and have incorporated what I have learned into my own daily practice (and it is a practice, rather than a destination). All of this is to say that, thanks to my own shortcomings in this area, I have a pretty clear understanding of the obstacles involved.

In this case, the big three obstacles are:

1.  self-criticism,
2.  perfectionism,

3.  people-pleasing.

My life was forever altered when I learned that both high-achievers and dysregulated eaters tend toward perfectionism, people-pleasing and self-criticism.[1] To me, this explains why so many successful people struggle with eating and weight issues and tell me that food is “the only area of my life that I can’t seem to find a sustainable solution.” We tend to be hard on ourselves, demanding near-perfection, which makes us critical of our shortcomings and perceived failures. The problem is that when we judge and criticize ourselves for overeating or procrastinating (or for anything else), we miss the opportunity to learn. Criticism crowds out curiosity, which interferes with learning and self-improvement.

When we criticize ourselves, we just feel bad about ourselves. We don’t necessarily learn anything. However, when we suspend judgment and criticism and instead ask what is behind the procrastination, we can understand that our procrastination is often rooted in personality traits that are otherwise helpful for succeeding in life. Two of these traits are perfectionism and people pleasing.

We can see how the personality traits of perfectionism and people pleasing would be very useful for succeeding in running a business or household, taking care of children, aging parents, patients or clients (hello, health care professionals!), and volunteering in the community. Going the extra mile (by staying late, deferring other fun activities so that we can focus on a work project, ignoring our hunger and emotional signals in favor of serving others) earns accolades and appreciation. By pleasing others, we climb the ladder of success. We are given more responsibility because we can be counted upon to defer our own needs and delay our own gratification in the interest of the family, group, or organization. Hooray for the group!

Unfortunately, the consequence is often mindless eating and/or procrastinating on things that matter for ourselves (exercise, sleep, an organized office or home), and general overwhelm. Boo for us!

Thus, our otherwise laudable personality traits can become liabilities when it comes to taking care of ourselves and managing our time. Whoa!

I’ll say that again… our otherwise laudable personality traits can become liabilities when it comes to taking care of ourselves and managing our time.

The good news for all of us is that knowledge is power. Simply understanding and accepting our own perfectionistic and people-pleasing tendencies and having self-compassion (rather than self-criticism) for our shortcomings makes us more likely to succeed in tempering them. We can learn to add our own needs and desires to the equation when it comes to planning our days, weeks, months, and lives. This takes practice, planning and attention. But then, so does most everything worth doing.

Next week, I’ll send you a simple tool to help you get started managing your time in a way that works for you, as you learn to balance taking care of yourself with taking care of everything else you have going on in your life. The result (I hope) will be that you will use this tool to help you create the time for more pleasure and more connection to what really matters to you.

For more information on skills training for both health care professionals and laypeople on overcoming overeating, please click here. If you have friends, family or colleagues who might be interested in receiving this information or joining the conversation, please invite them to subscribe to this newsletter. They (and you) will receive 3 master recipes to help make healthy food simple and delicious.

For more information on skills training for both health care professionals and laypeople on overcoming overeating, please click here. If you have friends, family or colleagues who might be interested in receiving this information or joining the conversation, please invite them to subscribe to this newsletter. They (and you) will receive 3 master recipes to help make healthy food simple and delicious.

 

Until next week, my friends,

Here’s to your deliberate life!

Dr. Paige.

 

[1] My co-author, Karen R. Koenig, LCSW, M.Ed., has written extensively on personality traits of dysregulated eaters in her books, particularly Nice Girls Finish Fat (Simon & Schuster, 2009). We also discuss some of these traits in our book, Helping Patients Outsmart Overeating (Rowman & Littlefield, 2017.)