Are you a perfectionist? If you are, are you aware of the impact it is having on your life?
Stumped by either of these questions? Before reading on check out Part 1 about the cost of perfectionism to find out what it means to be a perfectionist and how it may affect you.
Then, if you decide you have perfectionist tendencies and it concerns you, you can decide whether you are ready to do anything about it.
Will you be ready to make changes?
Maybe. Maybe not.
Weighing the Costs and Benefits1
Initially, you may think, “Who would want the burden and pressure of being a perfectionist?! Obviously, anyone would want to change that kind of behavior…”
But, as you jump in with both feet determined to make changes, you notice you are just not doing what you said you wanted to do.
And you’re perplexed.
Meet your friend, resistance.
You may be resistant to giving up perfectionism because, whether you are aware of this or not, on some level you may think there are benefits of this way of thinking and behaving. And you are just not ready to give up these perceived benefits.
If you want to break down this resistance, one way to start is to get really clear about what you perceive to be the cost and benefits of perfectionism.
Filling out the chart below will help you get this clarity.
|Negative consequences of perfectionism (eg. can’t relax, give up easily…)||Positive consequences of perfectionism (eg. motivates you to work harder…)
|Benefits you expect if you loosen your standards. (eg. more balance in your life, more time with family and friends…)
|Costs you might incur if you loosen your standards (eg. you won’t achieve your goals…)|
Now, as you look at this chart, what do you think? On a scale of 1-10 how would you rate your readiness to change?
You may be contemplating the impact of your perfectionism and the possibility of doing something about it. Thinking about changing is part of the process.
But whether you are ready to take action can be a whole other story. If you are not ready, that is ok, really. You are where you are. Come back when you are ready.
If you are ready now, read on…
What Does Good Enough Look Like?
Did you look at the above question and think, “So, now you’re asking me to set the bar really low?” Don’t worry. I’m not asking you to give up your standards.
I’m just challenging you to temper your tendency to set unrealistically high standards because this behavior is one of the roadblocks that is preventing you from reaching your goals. It is getting in your way, right?
Below is an example of how Bob adjusted his standards at work.
1. Choose an Area.
Bob wants to be less of a perfectionist at work.
2. Adjust the Standard.
Bob’s current standard: All his communication, whether written or verbal, has to be polished and demonstrate he is an expert in his field.
A more reasonable standard: Bob decided he will be clear in his communication and share only what is needed and will add value.
3. Current Perfectionist Behavior
Bob is spending 20-30 minutes crafting several emails each day. He tends to agonize over his word choice. He also includes answers to questions and concerns he thinks people might have, even if they did not ask them, yet. Really, he includes anything that comes to mind!
4. Goal to Reduce this Behavior:
Bob decided to set a timer and spend no more than 10 minutes on each email. He would check it over to make sure it was clear and he answered all the questions asked. Then he would send it.
If they needed more information from him, he would schedule a phone conversation, rather than emailing again.
5. Time Frame:
He decided a month was a good amount of time to try this new process.
Are you game to try to adjust your standards?
Getting Rid of Your Worst Critic
Don’t be surprised, though, when you hear your critics shouting from the highest peak, “This is not good enough!!”
You need to send these pesky critics on a nice long trip, if you are going to have any chance of tempering your perfectionism. And you might as well start by giving the boot to your worst critic, right?
But, if you are thinking about who this might be, you can stop. All you need is a mirror. While you may have people in your life who are critical of you, and you will want to learn how to deal with them, your worst critic is probably you.
Yes, you. Surprised?
Here are some of the messages Bob was sending himself:
- Only lazy people don’t spend time composing their emails.
- Short answers would show I don’t care.
- If I don’t add a lot of detail, they’re going to think I don’t know what I’m talking about.
- I can’t take a break until I get all these emails done.
Messages like these contributed to keeping Bob’s perfectionism going.
You may need the help of a therapist to understand how you came to internalize your critical messages before you can start shedding them.
But, whether you do it on your own or with help, key to tackling your perfectionism is changing your internal dialogue from the negative loop currently playing in your head to positive self-talk.
Bob practiced replacing his old messages with the ones below:
- A short email response is better than no response at all.
- They just want an answer, and don’t want to wade through a tome to get to the point.
- If I don’t include something and they have questions, they’ll ask.
- If I spend less time on emails, I’ll have more time to work on my important projects and can get home sooner.
Make no mistake, changing your internal dialogue is not just a nice to have skill, it is critical if you want to minimize your perfectionism.
Choose One Context and Experiment
Ok, if you’ve gotten this far in the article, you might be raring to go. And that’s great. But be careful. Like many adults with ADHD you might want to do it all at once!
But trying to make too many changes at once is a setup, and may lead to failure. So, choose one area where you would like to work on your perfectionism. Is it work, a sport, school or something else?
Oh, and a heads-up. As an adult with ADHD, persisting without giving up too soon and being patient with what might seem too slow a process can be a challenge.
Right. You knew that. Acknowledging and reminding yourself of this along the way, as well as employing strategies to counter these tendencies, will help you to persevere in changing your perfectionist habits.
It will also help to think of the process as an experiment. Like most experiments, you will likely have to return to the lab again and again before you are satisfied with the results.
If your perfectionism is too entrenched to try to make changes on your own, it may also help to have a lab partner, such as therapist or coach.
Procrastination is Not Your Problem
Yep, that’s right. And all along you thought you had to conquer procrastination.
Procrastination is just the symptom. And one of the causes is perfectionism.
So, if you can learn how to address your perfectionism, you will be one step closer to managing procrastination in your life.
Two for one. Nice, right?
ADDed Perspectives Bottom Line
Once you can set appropriate goals and standards for yourself, you’ll have an easier time achieving your goals.
And I bet you will experience more of a sense of fulfillment, rather than feeling frustrated and blaming yourself for not doing things perfectly.