Tips and musings on organizing your way from chaos to calm

Posts Tagged ‘Perfectionism’

ADHD and Avoidance

Friday, July 20th, 2012

You might have noticed that it’s July (late July in fact) and I haven’t blogged here since February.  I love writing and, as an ADHD person, never have a shortage of ideas. So what gives?

Perfectionism and anxiety, those same 2 nasty culprits that seem too often to rear their ugly heads.

I tell myself things like, “You need at least 2 hours to sit down and write this,” which isn’t particularly realistic when you’re the mom of a 3.5 year-old. Or I hem and haw over the “best” topic to write about and have difficulty navigating my way through all of the thoughts floating around in my brain.

In my mind, I’ve written 3 books on the topic of organization, including one specifically around ADHD. In practice, I have a head full of ideas, a relatively neglected organizing blog, and zero books. Even typing this makes me feel ashamed, I admit. I can’t believe how time has passed and how long I’ve been making excuses about something I truly love to do. The irony is incredibly funny and painful at the same time.

So much of the frustration of being ADHD is knowing you have the ability to do something (and the desire) while simultaneously struggling to follow through on that very goal.  Reminds me of the title of a great book on ADD, “You Mean I’m not Lazy, Stupid, or Crazy?”

It’s not that I’m not productive. In fact, I’m one of the busiest and most productive people I know.   There’s much more, though,that I would really like to be doing.  As my 40th birthday approaches (slowly, slowly), I’m beginning to panic ever so slightly about all that is yet to do – that I still want to do.  Deep down I believe I could excel in about 10 different careers, ranging from district attorney to stand-up comedian.  Currently, I’m balancing about 3 – professional organizer, gluten-free consultant, and mom.  Still, though,  I know I spend too much of my time on the unimportant, urgent stuff and not nearly enough time on my passions and activities that  give my life  meaning.

I suppose we all feel overwhelmed in many ways. It’s the nature of the beast.  Yet, ADHD compounds that feeling to the point where you are truly running in place. When you’re ADHD the reasons for poor follow-through are many: lack of mindfulness, perfectionism, anxiety, distractiblity, difficulty with impulse control, and a love of interest, variety, and complexity. I find at times that even washing a sink full of dishes is too boring so I need to stop half way through, do something else, and come back to it 20 minutes later.

The shame and anxiety also make it hard to be honest about my struggles. Here I am, a professional organizer with a doctoral degree, and yet I struggle with some of the very same challenges my clients do! My house isn’t cluttered, true enough. But my mind is, and the frustration I feel about my lack of progress on my professional and personal goals is palpable and depleting at times. I try to remind myself what I tell the people I help – that I’m a finite resource, I don’t need to please others, it’s okay to be imperfect, it’s not too late, my life is full of love and meaning even if I do nothing else, and I am more than my flaws and weaknesses.

I also tell my clients that the best antidote to anxiety is action.  The more I wait and worry and self-criticize about my lack of blog posts, the more I guarantee that I will feel more anxiety, worry, and even self-loathing.  You know, “What’s wrong with me?  Why can’t I just…?”  So, I’m doing it.  Blogging my way out of shame and into the satisfaction of knowing that if I give myself permission to be imperfectly me, I CAN get things done!  Now, how about you?


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Perfectionism (or how to get nothing done and drive yourself crazy at the same time)

Sunday, June 13th, 2010

I’m outing myself.  I’m a perfectionist.  It’s true.

As a professional organizer, I work with lots of perfectionistic clients who aren’t able to accomplish what they want to as a result of their perfectionism.  I help them work through this, reminding them that, “Good and done is better than best.” I point out the ways that their high standards prevent them from getting started.  They tell me,  “I can’t organize my papers because I don’t have the ‘right’ folders or system, because all my papers aren’t yet in one place, because I don’t know where things are.”  And I typically respond by giving them permission to get started anyway.  “Let’s just use these folders to start, let’s work through the papers on your desk, let’s organize what we can find.  It doesn’t have to perfect,” I say, “Perfectionism is the enemy of productivity.  It stops us in our tracks and undermines our ability to move forward.”

All true.  How do I know?  Because it takes one to know one.  Take a careful look at this blog.  I launched it in March 2009.  March 2009!  It has taken me over one year to begin posting to my own organizing blog (she says as she  hides tail between legs).  Why?  Because I delayed and delayed, making such a project of this blog in my mind that I began to tell myself I would need hours and hours of uninterrupted time to blog and that it had to be “perfect.”  I avoided my own blog like the plague – it became a pressure, an albatross around my neck, a burden, something to be dreaded – even feared.

Now, finally, in  June 2010, here I sit stealing a few minutes to blog while my 17-month old son is napping.  What changed?  I decided to get started and get real.  I decided that action is the best antidote to anxiety.  And for me, my perfectionism is wrapped up in anxiety (I’m my own harshest and most demanding critic).  So I gave myself a good talking to, reminded myself of why I started this blog in the first place, and kicked my you know what into gear. I let myself off the hook and decided to just be me.  And a blog post is emerging as we speak!

Perfect is an impossible standard to achieve and it depletes the spirit.  It sabotages, rather than helps. It breeds avoidance.  It is a negative, not a positive.   Because perfect is unattainable, seeking it automatically sets you up for failure and disappointment.   The more realistic I’m able to be about my available time, energy level,  interest, and skill-set, the more successful I am and the happier I feel.   But it’s an on-going battle, since I seem to be a hard-wired perfectionist (you know, the kid that stayed up until 2AM in 7th grade working on a school project so it was perfect, even if it meant utter exhaustion the next day.)  So I work on it and I manage it every day, imperfectly, bearing in mind the following principles:

  • My value is based on who I am, not what  I accomplish
  • I am a finite resource with limited time and energy
  • It’s not helpful to internalize external standards and expectations
  • Avoidance is a sign of fear, pain, or self-judgment
  • Perfect is the enemy of good
  • Just do it

So I challenge you to give yourself a break, stop being your own worst critic, and just get started on something you’ve been avoiding.    If you’re anything like me, you’ll feel lighter and brighter for doing so, and probably wonder what the big deal was in the first place.  Kind of like this blog post.  What the heck took me so long, huh?