In case you haven’t been there yet, check out the first post in this series on ADHD and Perfectionism. There I talk about some reasons that many people with ADHD might become perfectionists, and what that looks like.
But if you already know you’re a perfectionist and you want to work on it, you’ve come to the right place!
I understand perfectionism. I have experienced my share of it, and I used to think it was a really good thing that made me a high achiever and a successful person. In some cases, it is!
But the truth is that perfectionism can be taken too far and can become dangerous to your mental health. It can leave you feeling anxious or depressed, and it can lead to things like eating disorders or panic disorders.
If you’re ready to let go (maybe just a little bit!), I’ve outlined here a few real-world tips for tackling perfectionism.
First Root Out the Root Cause
I’m a big believer in understanding where everything comes from. I think once we understand why our emotions and reactions are happening, then we can work on managing them. Perfectionism is no exception.
Ask yourself this: Why are you a perfectionist? And when did it start to develop?
In my post on ADHD and perfectionism, I talk about how people with ADHD may become perfectionists after a lifetime of being told that what they produce or do isn’t good enough. That they don’t quite “get it” or they’re “almost there” or “not reaching their potential”. So they decide that if they can be perfect, they can finally get praised for something.
Others may become perfectionists in a bid to seek control over something. ADHD brains can be mired in chaos and confusion, and sometimes we look for control anywhere we can find it.
Many others are perfectionists because of external pressure. They have parents, teachers or coaches telling them they must be perfect in order to be good. Still others might be trying to live up to the example of a perceived-to-be more perfect sibling.
Whatever your reason is, do your best to understand your perfectionism from all angles. What causes it? How does it manifest? How does it hurt you?
Tips for Tackling Perfectionism
Changing your mindset from one of perfection isn’t easy. It means altering how you view yourself and how you view your worth. This post serves as a starting point but I encourage you to continue seeking new ideas through other articles and blogs, YouTube videos and Ted Talks!
Tackling perfectionism doesn’t have to mean overhauling your approach to everything in life.
Big changes everywhere are usually bound for quick failure because it’s too much to sustain and the stakes are too high.
Pick the area of your life where perfectionism hurts you the most because it may be the area where the change is really needed. Then, narrow it down to a couple of places within that realm where you can use the rest of the strategies on this list.
For example, maybe you struggle at work most with turning in things on time because you’re always revising until it’s perfect.
Don’t try to change all of your work at the same time. Pick one project in progress and make a goal to meet the deadline even if it’s not perfect. Set a limit on the number of times you’ll revise (and get help from someone to enforce it!). Get the project to good enough. Turn it in with a perceived mistake or two. Just start with one project, and then move on to the next one.
Learn to Define “Good Enough”
You may frequently spend your time getting to perfection. But what does perfect really mean? What does it look like to you? And can you take one step down toward good enough?
I encourage you to really reflect on what your standards are in different areas in your life before you try to change them.
I have perfectionist tendencies in organizing my home and workspace – I like everything to be neatly aligned and put in its spot in the “right” way. Towels have to be hung up straight, candles have to be placed just so and books are always adjusted evenly.
The way I get from perfect to good enough is to stop after one adjustment. I put the towel on the rack, adjust it once and then walk away. It’s good enough! I put a candle on the counter, turn the label out and walk away. It’s good enough! I put a book back where it belongs and line it up once with the books next to it. It’s good enough!
You can’t start going from perfection to good enough until you understand what both of those things mean to you.
Work on Your Self-Talk
I’ve written before about negative self-talk and ways you can make it more neutral or positive. The concept applies when you’re tackling perfectionism, especially if that’s what causes a good amount of negative self-talk.
When you find yourself saying or thinking things like “this sucks” or “I’m a failure”, that’s your perfectionism talking. This may be your most natural mode of thinking if you’ve struggled as a perfectionist for many years.
In moments that you notice you’re talking down to yourself, do what you can to neutralize it by making statements that are true. They don’t have to be totally infused with positivity!
Instead of “this sucks”, say to yourself “I’m not sure I like this because of these specific reasons”, and then try to follow up with at least a couple reasons why it might actually be good or okay.
Instead of “I’m a failure”, say to yourself “I’ve made some mistakes but I’ve had some successes too”, and list out some of your successes.
You might not be able to stop the negative self-talk if you’ve engaged in it for many years, so start by following it with neutral or positive statements. Allow yourself time to unlearn your negative habit.
Find a Cheerleader
You shouldn’t have to do difficult things in your life alone, and tackling perfectionism is no exception. This is a great time to find a trusted friend who will support you in your journey.
Give them a debrief on the changes you’re trying to make and how you’ll do it. Ask for their support in a specific way, whether it’s regular check-ins, behavior correction or just being there to listen when it feels impossible.
Seek Out a New Perspective
Perfectionism is often rooted in negativity. It’s all about what’s wrong with the things you’re doing or creating. Moving it away from it means seeking a new positive perspective on your work.
Because we can be our own harshest critics, it’s important to ask others what they think. Gathering honest external feedback may help you see that your work is already great and as perfect as it needs to be.
It is going to be uncomfortable. There’s no denying that it may give you anxiety to show off work that you don’t believe is perfect.
But try to open your mind to what others have to say because it might be a really positive interaction that helps you see that you’ve done a wonderful job.
Are you working on your perfectionism? Come talk to me about what you’re doing about it!