As a business coach specialising in ADHD, I’ve seen first-hand how perfectionism can both drive and hinder success. For those living with ADHD, this pursuit of perfection can often be intensified, creating a unique set of challenges and opportunities.
So, let’s get started with exploring the complicated relationship between ADHD and perfectionism, gaining the tools to transform it into a method of encouragement toward success.
The Intersection of ADHD and Perfectionism
ADHD and perfectionism can be just like a relationship. There’s amazing highs to it and devastating lows. While perfectionism can sometimes encourage us to constantly improve, it can also cripple us into believing that we’ll never be enough.
Perfectionism gives us the desire to work hard and work well. We want to put out the best work possible, and that’s not inherently a bad thing. But, oftentimes this can lead to a rabbit hole of hyperfocus that keeps us locked into every mistake without seeing the final product. Ultimately, the cycle of perfection forms, where our feelings of unworthiness from mistakes gives us so much anxiety that we can’t find the motivation to work towards a better outcome.
Perfectionism can also exacerbate symptoms of ADHD, particularly hyperfocus, as you’ve read, and impulsivity. The stress and anxiety we feel from perfectionism causes us to make impulsive purchases and decisions in an attempt to relieve that stress, but it doesn’t ease it in the long run.
Self-Reflection Question: “In what areas of your work or business do you notice perfectionistic tendencies?”
The Impact of Perfectionism in Business: When Perfectionism Hinders Instead of Helps
This unending staircase of the “perfect result” puts us under a huge amount of stress, leading to missed deadlines and the complete lack of motivation or focus. In our business lives, the ability to problem solve creatively becomes an impossibility, as we don’t trust ourselves to make the right decisions. We begin to believe that mistakes are only bad and have no value for us to learn from. Even though our perfectionism is born out of a desire to be the best, it keeps us from actually being that.
As an example, you might be an entrepreneur that spends a bunch of time creating your business plan. You want it to be of the upmost perfection, addressing any potential barriers as your business unfolds. While thinking ahead is important, this amount of infatuation with perfection might cause you to miss out on time-sensitive market opportunities.
Maybe you’re an entrepreneur who wants to avoid failure within your business at all costs. Again, this isn’t necessarily bad, but it can have negative consequences. Maybe you’re so preoccupied with making sure that your team members don’t fail, that they aren’t performing to the best of their creative ability. The intention is good, but the outcome can be negative.
Self-Reflection Question: “Can you identify a time when striving for perfection actually held you back in your business?”
Embracing Self-Compassion: Moving Beyond ‘Compare and Despair’
Your perfectionism comes from the thought that you have to reach a certain, unattainable standard in order to be successful, one that comes with a lack of understanding or learning from mistakes and failures.
This is often fueled by a habit called “Compare and Despair.” You’re so quick to compare yourself to the success of others, that it leads you to feel despair because there will always be some way where you don’t measure up. That is, in your own eyes. This is the biggest mistake you can make as a business owner. There will always be someone more successful, or “perfect” than you.
Self-compassion means that you treat yourself with the same kindness that you would anyone else. An easy exercise to see if you’re practising self-compassion is to have a friend say to you the same things that you say to yourself. What would you say to them in response? Likely not that they’re deserving of the despair they feel, or that they’re unworthy of success in their business.
On the flip side, you’d probably tell them that everyone has strengths and weaknesses, and perfection isn’t attainable by anyone; it’s okay not to be perfect. Embracing self-compassion is simply learning to say those same things to yourself instead of someone else, providing you with self-confidence and contentment about where you are.
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Self-Reflection Question: “Can you identify moments when you’ve fallen into the ‘Compare and Despair’ trap? How might self-compassion have changed your response in these situations?”
Strategies to Overcome Perfectionism
Overcoming perfectionism is a hard line to walk; you need to focus on lessening your expectations of yourself without throwing your motivation to do well out the window. You need to rethink the standards that you hold for yourself and develop the right strategies to chase after your goals for your business. Let’s get into what those strategies are:
1. Practise Mindfulness: If you don’t know already, mindfulness entails bringing your mind into the present, focusing on the here and now. This can help with perfectionism through encouraging your mind to focus on the accomplishments you’ve made now than the negatives of the future. Focusing on the present brings your mind away from emphasising the end results and the mistakes it may have, giving you the space to appreciate the steps along the way.
2. Cultivate Self-Compassion: You probably saw this coming, but self-compassion reminds you that your strengths and weaknesses are normal and celebrated, and that achieving perfection is unrealistic.
3. Set Realistic Goals: Setting realistic goals should be done with the focus on progress instead of a perfect end product. Your goals should include the celebration of small victories along the way, paying attention to the improvements you’ve made since the day began.
Self-Reflection Question: “How can you implement these strategies in your daily work routine?”
Embracing Imperfection in Business: The Power of ‘Good Enough’
You might have read these strategies and understand, but think to yourself: “how the heck do I do these?”
Even though it may not sound like it to you in this moment, as you travel your journey of embracing imperfection, the words “good enough” will turn into your best friend. Good enough provides you with realistic standards while still demanding quality. This will help encourage your creativity to try new things and change it later if it doesn’t work out. Working by this phrase will also give your team members a more positive work environment, knowing that they have the freedom to be innovative and make mistakes.
For example, if you’re developing and launching a new product, chances are it’s not going to be perfect on the first go. But, you can’t know how to improve it if you don’t have feedback. Embracing imperfection will encourage you to release that product once it’s “good enough,” and welcome customer reviews. This ends up being more valuable than if you spent agonising hours making sure it was “perfect” in your own eyes.
Self-Reflection Question: “Can you think of a task where ‘good enough’ would have been a more productive standard?”
My Journey With Perfectionism As An ADHD Business Owner
As an entrepreneur, I’ve journeyed through the creation of multiple businesses. In each endeavour, I’ve found myself aiming for the stars, setting lofty goals that, in retrospect, may have been too high.
This isn’t always a negative trait, though. On the contrary, it often results in a more refined, more effective product than what’s offered by my competitors. I usually win due to this.
However, the shadow side of perfectionism often rears its head in the infancy of a business.
In the eagerness to provide top-quality products or services from the get-go, it’s easy to invest months of effort only to realise that the business idea doesn’t quite hit the mark.
Over time, I’ve grown and learnt from these experiences. Now, I embrace the concept of a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) in the early stages of a business. This approach allows me to test the waters without overcommitting, and adjust the direction as necessary based on real-world feedback.
The question then begs, why do I lean towards perfectionism? And how has ADHD played a part in this?
For me, one of the most significant challenges has been the way ADHD has led to a series of “failures” over the years. This has led to feelings of being an imposter, which in turn, has fuelled my drive for perfection as a way to reduce the associated shame and embarrassment. This was a major aspect of myself that I needed to work at overcoming. I had to embrace a sort of “messy perfectionism,” that allowed me to strive for success while still welcoming flaws.
Conclusion: Embrace Imperfection As Your Superpower
Now, is your perfectionism going to be magically fixed after reading this article? No. Perfectionism, especially combined with ADHD, has probably been a long-standing obstacle for your business ventures if you’re reading this, and it won’t be transformed overnight.
The goal of this article is for you to understand the root and impact that your perfectionism likely has on your business, and provide you with the tools you need to make a start at overcoming it.
Remember, the journey to embrace imperfection is a marathon, not a sprint. Take every day as an opportunity to be patient with yourself and celebrate your success.
As someone with ADHD, you may want to try all of these techniques at once. But this is a journey that takes time and practice. Think of a way that you can start to use “good enough” in your day-to-day practices.
Your perfectionism has served a purpose, but now you are ready to decrease its intensity and replace it with mindful, encouraging self-talk. It’s tough to reduce this habit—so expect some challenges along the way.
Remember, you are not alone in this journey. Reach out for support when needed, and most importantly, remember to be kind to yourself. Embrace your unique ADHD traits, and see them not as weaknesses, but as the unique strengths they truly are.
Remember, progress, not perfection, is the goal!