The Perfect blog post

Now that I’ve finally got my blog set up, I feel a lot of pressure to make my first post totally amazing since I procrastinated for so long.   It has to be a perfect vignette of me as a coach, everything I stand for, everything I believe.  All in 500 words or less.  Right?

Seems like a great time to write about perfectionism. After all, the thought of having to write an endless series of brilliant, well articulated posts is what kept me from starting this blog in the first place.  It’s kept me from getting a lot of things done, actually.

Like a lot of people with ADHD, I really struggle with writing.  It’s hard for me to organize my thoughts.  But I discovered recently that perfectionism is my biggest obstacle.   So I decided to do something about it.

I just finished reading a fabulous book called "Too Perfect:  When Being in Control Gets Out of Control", by Allan E. Mallinger, M.D. and Jeannette DeWyze.  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 (OCD).  Even if the symptoms aren't severe enough to warrant a clinical diagnosis, the tendencies can be there and should be dealt with.

Obsessive traits can also be a reaction to ADHD.  I'm certain that I was not obsessive as a child.  I was quite sloppy, actually.  My perfectionism was a learned response.  I suffered a lot of humiliation from my ADHD symptoms and resolved to overcome them.  I've had to work really hard at it, and I might have gone a little overboard with my desire to get things right, since I messed up so many things in the past.

In "Too Perfect", the authors' premise is that perfectionism results from a need for control.

“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 this might be related to ADHD?  How perfectionism can become a defense against the chaos of impulsivity and weak executive functioning (memory, organization, planning skills, etc.)? Here are some strategies that may help:

  • Become aware of the negative ways perfectionism affects you.  Many times it’s subconscious.  You might think you’re being effective, but the cost is probably higher than you realize.  A few of the problems the authors address in the “Too Perfect” book 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.”   You might 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 else around you.  Make it a point to notice more positive qualities than negative.  For everything you see that you don’t like, find something you appreciate.
  • Put things into perspective.  See the forest instead of the trees for a minute.  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 by a lack of attention to detail, or caused by the disorder itself, perfectionism is often part of having ADHD.  If you can relate, I highly recommend the book  "Too Perfect:  When Being in Control Gets Out of Control".