Beware the Trap of Perfectionism: An ADHD Lessonphoto credit: Cristian Carrara

Why do they call it Attention Deficit Disorder? Nobody can be a perfectionist unless they notice minute details that don’t meet with their expectations of perfection.

Last year, I had that kind of attention in spades. I nearly let the black hole of perfectionism suck the joy right out of owning my first home.

Towards the end of renovations (and the end of the year), I’d let myself fall so far into perfectionism, I exploded in a full-blown, adult-sized tantrum, complete with yelling, crying, whining, and arm-flailing, all unleashed on an innocent friend who’d unwittingly dropped by to visit. Not quite the greeting she’d expected.

A coal in my stocking

My meltdown cost me. Happening just before Christmas, clearly Santa switched me from his “good” to his “very, very naughty” list, as evidenced Christmas morn by the absence of a Lamborghini in my driveway and the presence of a coal in my stocking.

Vowing to make good this year, I decided to reflect on and try to learn from what had happened.

Perfectionism can be a sneaky beast

I realized that as the renos dragged on, I’d unknowingly slipped into an obsessive attention to detail while losing sight of the big picture (including that other perfectionist, Santa, with his own obsessive attention to his naughty and nice list).

Already one of the most stressful times of the year, I compounded the Christmas Crazies with my nitpicking.

In hindsight, I can see how my perfectionism served many purposes:

1. It let me avoid work that I found intimidating;

2. It distracted me from difficult daily tasks (like keeping track of my finances);

3. It falsely convinced me that if I could just make my home perfect, a lifetime of falling short of my ideals could be eradicated.

All-or-nothing thinking

Using all-or-nothing thinking (another common ADHD trait), my perfectionism also kept me from unpacking for three months. How could I unpack before the very last detail was completed and perfected? (My contractor told me to go ahead; I declined).

The longer I stalled setting up my office; the longer I lived in clutter and disarray; the longer I felt like I was in limbo, living in a house but not a home, the worse my mood got and the more my anxiety rose.

Was it worth it?

Of course not.

Dazed in a perfectionist trance, everything else – work, relationships, my health – suffered… all in the name of the perfectly smooth wall, the perfectly painted trim.

How I broke free

With deadlines and holidays looming, I was shaken free of perfectionism’s spell.

Fog lifted, I looked around and saw the truth: family, friends, and fun times together are infinitely more important than a perfect house.

As Dr. Ned Hallowell (co-author of Driven to Distraction) has often advised, good enough really is good enough. Besides, if my home is supposed to reflect me, why on earth would I strive for perfect?

Tuning up for 2013

In 2013, I’m going to try to remember that it’s what’s inside that makes us happy. For me, that includes my bass guitar (inside my house) and my heart (inside me). With both of these in tune, life may not be perfect – but it’ll feel like it.


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