“And now that you don’t have to be perfect, you can be good.”
― John Steinbeck, East of Eden
When I first saw this quote from one of my favorite authors, it really hit me between the eyes. I’m sure there are many interpretations of it, but to me, it meant that now that so much energy and worry and thought didn’t have to go into perfection, one could actually just be good enough. And that’s okay.
Many ADHDers struggle with perfectionism-something that those who don’t have a personal knowledge of ADHD probably find counterintuitive. How could anyone who can’t/won’t/doesn’t pay attention/do things on time/stay organized actually care about being perfect??
But in reality, all of those years of mistakes, and late assignments, and impulsive actions can add up to a lot of fear and anxiety that is expressed as perfectionism.
This tendency can lead to procrastination, feelings of failure that then cycle into more perfectionism, and just a general lack of motivation and positivity. Because if your standard is that you must be perfect, who wouldn’t dread attempting a task??
In other words, perfectionism is bad for your health, mental and otherwise.
So, how to break that pattern? Here are some ideas:
1 – Develop Mantras – “Done is better than perfect” or “Good enough is good enough” are two ideas. Practice repeating these to yourself; also pop them on a Post-It on your laptop or desk, and other places you can see it.
2 – Use a timer – For tasks that should be simple to complete (writing an email, wrapping a gift) determine how much time it should take (perhaps time it once before using this strategy), and set a timer. When the timer goes off, it’s time to stop.
3 – Keep a “done” list – keeping a list of what you were able to accomplish makes you feel good. Bonus points for things that were complete, but they weren’t 100% perfect.
4 – Name your Perfectionism – find a shorthand way to name your perfectionism, so that you can easily become aware of being held hostage by it. Awareness is the first step to change! It’s also fun to say “Shut up, Penelope Perfect” when you’re hearing that voice in your brain.
5 – Practice doing things imperfectly – no, I’m not saying ruin all of your clothes by washing your wool sweaters in hot water. But little things-leaving autocorrected texts alone, sending an email without re-reading it more than once, quickly-and seeing that the world doesn’t end when you do that, can be a good way to get accustomed to imperfections.
It’s not easy to break the perfectionism habit. Your brain has been telling you that everything must be just so for a long time. It takes time and practice, so be gentle and patient with yourself. Getting to the point where you can giggle a little at your perfectionism seems to be a place to aim for.
Because, as Steinbeck said, now that you don’t have to be perfect, you can be good.