ADHD and perfectionism tend to go hand in hand. But why? Often the need to be perfect is driven by a deeper desire to avoid judgment and criticism. Additionally, many people with ADHD convince themselves that they must be in just the right mood to begin a task or that if it can’t be done perfectly, there’s no point in even trying.
Perfectionism as a (not so great) coping strategy
Many people with ADHD have a history of feeling judged and criticized, starting in their early school years. They may have struggled academically and socially as children and continued to struggle into adulthood, possibly losing jobs and relationships along the way. In an attempt to cope with and avoid their fear of being judged or criticized, ADHDers may become driven by the need for perfection, believing that if they can just do something perfectly, they might avoid failure and make those around them proud.
The problem is that the need for perfection creates a tremendous amount of pressure which, much like boredom, is kryptonite for ADHD brains. You may find yourself feeling overwhelmed, anxious, unable to start, procrastinating, or getting bogged down in inconsequential details. Before you know it, you’re late getting in that assignment or important project at work or you’re scrambling to get something, ANYTHING, in before the deadline. Or you get so hung up on achieving a perfect result that you quit halfway through or don’t start at all.
See the problem here? In trying to be perfect, you may end up creating conditions that are more likely to bring about judgment, criticism, and feelings of failure- the very things you were trying to avoid in the first place.
Striving for perfection can also come at a high price. ADHDers often find themselves mentally and physically exhausted, overworked, and burned out trying to go above and beyond on every single project, assignment, and task.
Embrace the idea that DONE is better than PERFECT
First of all, let’s acknowledge that perfection is not only completely unattainable but also unnecessary. Does your boss want or expect you to give a perfect presentation? No. Does your garage or closet need to be perfectly organized? Doubtful. At the end of the day, it really just needs to get done.
If perfection isn’t the standard, then what is? We always hear people say, “Just do your best”, but what does that really mean? What does your best look like and how will you know when you’ve done it? Here you’ll need to define “good enough”.
If it’s a work-related task or project, see about looking at examples of what other people have done or checking in with a trusted co-worker or supervisor periodically to see if you’re on track.
If it’s a personal project, ask yourself what you’re trying to achieve. In essence, what’s your end game? Do you want your kitchen or that closet to be more functional? Less cluttered? Both? Is it necessary for the end result to be Pinterest-worthy in order to satisfy those criteria? Probably not.
Give yourself a set of parameters as to what is “good enough” to work within, including limiting how many times you’ll review something, make changes, etc. It might be tempting to scrutinize your work and make what are probably lots of unnecessary changes so give yourself some rules to follow to avoid driving yourself batty in the process.
Know that there is no perfect time either
For ADHDers, finding focus and motivation can feel a bit like trying to catch lightning in a bottle- you just never know when or where it’s going to strike. Consequently, many mistakenly believe that they must put off on starting a project or task until the perfect time when they feel motivated, focused, and ready.
The trouble is, you may be waiting forever. There will always be projects and tasks that you have absolutely no interest in or motivation to do but they still need to get done.
In cases like this, you’ll want to do what you can to create the right conditions for igniting your motivation and focus. Make the task or project more fun; get your blood flowing with some exercise; have a snack; get out for a change of scenery; break the task or project down into smaller parts and start with the easiest bit.
The important thing to remember is that there’s no need to wait for the perfect time or until you feel like doing something, you can take steps to set yourself up for success.
Break free of the perfection-paralysis cycle
If you find yourself caught up in a cycle of perfection, overwhelm, and paralysis, here are some questions to consider…
What are you trying to accomplish (or avoid) by being perfect? Without trying to be perfect, how might you achieve the same result?
What is the need to be perfect costing you?
What is your “good enough”?
What is the expectation or standard that you need to meet?
What is the purpose or function behind what you’re trying to accomplish?
What would you feel good about producing?
What can you do to set yourself up for success when you can’t find the focus or motivation to begin?
The next time you find yourself aiming for perfection, ask yourself why. Does whatever you’re doing REALLY need to be perfect, or have you convinced yourself that perfection is the only path to success?