Quit “Shoulding” On Yourself!

How often do you think that you should be able to accomplish a particular task? Or that you should do….insert activity that might be good for you but that you don’t currently do?

Here are some examples:

I should be able to figure out my monthly expenses, what is wrong with me?

I should go to the gym more, what is wrong with me?

Everyone else remembered to call Sue on her birthday, I should be able to remember something that simple, what is wrong with me?

My mentor coach would call this “shoulding on yourself.” 

The word should, per the Oxford English Dictionary, is “used to indicate obligation, duty, or correctness, typically when criticizing someone’s actions.” In other words, should is a judgment word. To “indicate…correctness” implies that if you don’t do what you should, you are incorrect. In the wrong. Even the definition tells us it’s used typically to criticize.

And for ADHDers, there can be lots of shoulds. And lots of self criticism.

But wait a minute, you say. Aren’t there things we really should do?

Of course there are. We should drive sober. We should pay our taxes. We should call our mothers on Mother’s Day, and dads on Father’s Day.

So when SHOULD we use should? And when is should akin to a four letter word?

The way I look at it is this: I feel that should can be reserved for absolutes. For rules, laws, socially acceptable customs – in other words, situations where there is no judgment involved, because it’s pretty black and white.

But when it’s not a rule, using should kind of makes it a rule. And then if we don’t do something, we’ve broken that rule-and we go down the rabbit hole of shame.

How about, when it’s not a rule, we use “want?” Let’s try it.

I want to be able to figure out my monthly expenses, but I’m not sure how. Maybe I’ll ask someone for help.

I want to go to the gym more, what can I do to get there consistently?

Everyone else remembered to call Sue on her birthday, I want to be able to remember something that simple. What can I do to make this happen?

“Should” makes it a rule, and invites embarrassment and shame. “Want” makes it a desire, and invites action.

So here’s a little assignment: try to notice when you say you should do something. And if you do catch yourself, replace should with “want to,” and see how different that vibe is.

It will probably make you want to stop shoulding all over yourself!

The Holiday Gift of Letting Yourself Off the Hook

We are in the midst of the holiday season-which, by the way, seems to have started in September, but I digress-and with every gift we purchase, every party we attend, many of us can’t help just raining down criticism. On ourselves.

“They’re going to know I didn’t spend a lot. Why didn’t I save more for gifts? Why can’t I control my finances? What is wrong with me??

“If I could only get organized, I wouldn’t be shopping at the last minute. I’m just a mess!

“I can see that they hate my gift. If I could only pay attention better, I would’ve had a clearer idea of what to get them. They must think I just don’t care!

And on. And on. And on.

It’s not just ADHDers who have this anti-self patter reverberating in our brains-neurotypicals are prone to it as well, especially during high pressure moments. But for ADHDers, the negativity is often a way of life, with negative messages shooting like arrows at them since their youth.

How about giving yourself a little gift this holiday season? How about letting yourself off the hook?

When you start to think, “wow, I just suck,” how about a little self compassion? 

So you didn’t save more for gifts. Okay, maybe that’s something to work on. But the fact is-you’re giving gifts. Which is a really nice thing to do.

You’re shopping last minute. But hey-you’re getting some great markdowns!

They might not like your gift. But you did give something-again, very nice. Next time, maybe a gift card?

You get the idea.

And while you’re at it-maybe let your spouse, children, or parents off the hook, just for a bit.

It might be the best gift you ever give to them, or to yourself.

Merry Christmas, Happy Kwanzaa, and Happy 2024!!

Perfectly Imperfect

“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.