Perfectionism is a type of ADHD-inspired obsessive behavior that can cause procrastination, indecision, dissatisfaction, worry... But it doesn't have to.
Like a lot of people with ADHD, I struggled with writing. The thought of having to write an endless series of brilliant, well articulated posts kept me from starting a blog for a long time. Perfectionism was my biggest obstacle. So I decided to do something about it.
The book Too Perfect: When Being in Control Gets Out of Control helped me tremendously. From it, I learned that perfectionism is actually a form of obsession. That got me thinking about ADHD and co-existing conditions. Most people with ADHD also have something else, like depression or anxiety. Or obsessive compulsive disorder. Even if the symptoms aren’t severe enough to warrant a clinical diagnosis, the tendencies must be dealt with.
Obsessive traits can also be a reaction to ADHD. I’m certain that I was not obsessive as a child. I suffered a lot of humiliation from my ADHD symptoms and worked hard to overcome them. I might have gone a little overboard with my desire to get things right.
In “Too Perfect”, authors Jeannette Dewyze and Allan Mallinger assert that perfectionism results from a need for control. They write:
“A disproportionate need for control - and an overwhelming fear of the uncertainty that can exist in uncontrolled situations - can lead [one] to adopt paralyzingly rigid roles almost like armor against life’s uncertainties.”
Can you see how perfectionism can become a defense against the chaos of impulsivity and weak executive functioning (memory, organization, planning skills, etc.) inherent with ADHD?
Here are some strategies that may help:
Become aware of the negative ways perfectionism affects you. A few of the problems the authors address in “Too Perfect” are procrastination, missed deadlines, pickiness, difficulty making decisions, avoiding commitments, lost opportunities, general dissatisfaction with life, guardedness in relationships, and constant worry and ruminations.
Accept that life has time constraints, and that it’s reasonable to be “good enough” given the deadline and your other commitments (like family, and sleep).
Look for role models. Notice how people you admire get things done – and what they leave undone.
Recognize when you’re being nitpicky. And stop. Tell yourself, “I don’t want to be a perfectionist. I am choosing to let this one go.” Set up some practice situations for yourself. For example, resolve to write one email every day without revising it (this worked especially well for me). Notice how much more efficient you are.
See the positives. You’re probably an expert at seeing the flaws in your own work and everything around you. For everything you see that you don’t like, find something you appreciate.
Put things into perspective. Are those details really important? Is anyone even going to remember ten minutes later?
Regardless of whether it’s part of a coexisting condition, a reaction to being bitten too many times, or caused by the disorder itself, perfectionism is often part of having ADHD.
It’s been three months since I started blogging. I’m actually finding it enjoyable to write now. Thank you, “Too Perfect”!