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Overcoming ADHD Perfectionism Paralysis Part II: Everything Else

Perfectionism Paralysis

Where else does perfectionism get in the way?

I like to do semi-regular one-question quizzes about common ADHD challenges. One quiz asked people how they conquer their perfectionism, or more specifically, the paralysis that overcomes them when their perfectionism stops them in their tracks. The results of the quiz were so interesting they led two a two-part article. Part I, Overcoming ADHD Perfectionism Paralysis Part I: Writing, explored the effects of perfectionism specifically on writing. This second part explores the effects of perfectionism in other vital areas of our lives.

Perfectionism in everyday life

Though it might not seem as evident, perfectionism paralysis can strike in a litany of areas in our lives outside of writing, such as:

  • Starting a business – having an idea in mind but never taking action to get the ball rolling.

  • Launching a website – having drafted it, but feeling like it is never good enough to launch. One of my clients has been designing his for 8 months.

  • Hiring help – having a list of tasks you’d like to delegate but feeling like you need to wait until the list is “perfect” to find someone.

  • Planning a vacation – not booking a trip because you can’t decide on the details (hotel, flight times, activities) and you don’t want to make a mistake.

  • Tackling a household project – finding that perfect paint color; not having the perfect closet system so the closet never gets cleaned out.

  • Calling a friend (not the perfect time) or a client (not exactly sure what you will say).

  • Launching a project at work – not drafting a proposal because every single detail isn’t perfect, not submitting work completed because it might not be perfect enough.

  • Planning and using a calendar for how you’ll use your time – avoiding trying it and thinking “it never works anyway” or “I’ll just get interrupted” or “I am not perfect at estimating how long things will take.”

  • Exercising – one of my clients noticed that he was waiting until the “perfect time” and “perfect routine,” but realized that there might not be a perfect time in his busy schedule. So, he determined to fit it in when he could.

Overcoming perfectionism paralysis

There is no special trick to overcoming perfectionism paralysis once and for all. It comes down to different tactics you can use to shift how you’re relating to the task at hand and, more importantly, to the outcome of that task.

Some of my favorite tips to work through perfectionism paralysis are:

  • Know your goal. Start with a clear idea of what your end goal is so that you don’t get stuck reaching too far.

  • Chunk your project into sections – for example, building a website one page at a time. Start with a home page and publish it. Then keep adding pages one by one.

  • Identify specific fears and develop a tactic for each – for example, a client wanted to expand her photography business to weddings but was afraid her main camera would not work and she’d lose her files. Once she developed a tactic for that fear with a back-up camera and extra storage, she was ready to move forward.

  • Identify what 75% perfect looks like and aim for that.

  • Give yourself a “clean slate.” Sometimes the shame of past “failures” keeps perfectionism raging. Try to allow yourself to start fresh.

  • Give yourself a task “on-ramp” and “off-ramp.” Where will you begin – what is the entry point for this project? How will you know when you are complete – how will you exit?

  • Enlist other people’s assessment of readiness. It might help to simply ask, “What does this need in order to be ready” rather than asking for evaluations (is it good or bad?).

And, of course the tactics from Part 1 of this article can be useful too!

It’s important to understand that perfectionism exists on a continuum, with paralysis being the “severe” end of the spectrum. We may never be able to fully rid ourselves of our perfectionistic tendencies, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t learn to overcome the paralysis we feel. Think of it as a work in progress. You are always learning new ways to push through the discomfort your perfectionism makes you feel. And the great news is that the more often we push through the discomfort, the more comfortable it feels!

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