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Is it ADHD Procrastination, or Paralysis by Perfectionism?

I often remind my clients that, to fix what’s not working, the solution MUST fit the actual problem! I know that sounds obvious, but hang in there with me as I explain…

The cycle of procrastination, overwhelm, shame and stress is an all-too-common part of life for many of us with ADHD. But, too often, when we put off, delay, or avoid doing something we need (or even want) to do, we automatically think the solution is to have more self-discipline or willpower, or we go in search of the perfect tricks and hacks.

But, here’s the real deal: If you’re not addressing the underlying problem(s) that led you to put off, delay, avoid or procrastinate on the thing to begin with, whatever you try is not likely to help you for the long haul. A temporary fix can be fine for an in-the-moment crisis, but it doesn’t help you make changes that really last. That’s why we keep struggling and living in the same cycles!

Almost always, the real problem is what’s going on between your ears. The real root of the struggle with the cycle of procrastination is always in your thinking: your thinking habits, how you tend to look at or think about the thing you need/want/intend to do, and how you tend to think about yourself. We have to change those thinking habits/patterns if we want to end the, for good.

And changing those thinking patterns starts with improving awareness.

If you’re ready to stop procrastinating, avoiding, delaying or putting off the things you want, need and intend to do, and you want to stop FOR GOOD…

Ask yourself: Am I actually procrastinating, or is it something else? 

According to Miriam Webster, the meaning of the word Procrastinate is…

to delay doing something until a later time because you do not want to do it, because you are lazy, etc.

The definition goes on to state, “It typically implies blameworthy delay especially through laziness or apathy.

But that “laziness” and “apathy” part isn’t really what it’s about for most of us. That doesn’t sound like my clients. Does it sound like you? My clients are very hard workers, in fact often working much harder and longer than others to accomplish what they do, and my clients definitely are not apathetic. If they didn’t care, they wouldn’t be seeking my help! (And you, my friend, would not be reading this if you were truly apathetic!)

So, if it’s not actually procrastination, what is it? Why do we delay, avoid and put off of the things we need, want and intend to do?

Well, it depends.

For many of my clients, the underlying problem behind the between-the-ears stuff that makes them put things off has more to do with Perfectionism than anything else.

And many clients are surprised or annoyed when I bring that to their attention in the beginning. Many of my clients don’t identify with their tendency toward perfection, at least initially.

Don’t think you’re a perfectionist?

If you sometimes do nothing because you don’t have the time/energy/resources/etc. to do it the “right way,” you may need to think again!

There was a day when I didn’t identify myself as being a perfectionist. I remember thinking …

“I can’t be a perfectionist! I’m a hot mess!” 

But the more I learned about myself and my ADHD brain, the more I realized much of the reason I was a “hot mess” back then was because of my perfectionism. Who knew?!

You see, I believed there was a “right way” to clean my floors, for example. Just one. And it involved a scrub brush, bucket, and lots of hands-and-knees, corner-to-corner scrubbing, which I rarely had the time, energy, or interest to do. (Until guests were coming or I just couldn’t take it anymore, and then I would clean until everything sparkled and shone like a new penny. For a few minutes, anyway!)

I also believed there was a “right way to exercise. Just one. And it involved working out for hours at a time, first thing in the morning (to boost my metabolism), with lots and lots of intensity to exhaustion, which I often didn’t have the time, energy, or interest to do. Until I was frustrated by the shape of my body or the fit of my jeans, and then I’d be gung-ho on the latest fitness program (or piece of exercise equipment) for a little while, anyway.

I also believed there was a “right way” to manage paper. Just one. And it involved an elaborate filing system and bins and letter trays and flow charts and… (okay. Maybe not flow charts, but you get the point!). And I rarely had the time, energy or interest to do it until tax time, or until I couldn’t find something I needed, or until guests were coming. (My husband actually used to suggest that we entertain on a regular basis so that the house would get cleaned up.) Yep. That was me.

And on and on and on. 

It’s a little different for each of us, but if this sounds familiar at all to you, I get it. It’s tough. Paralyzing, really. Our society encourages perfectionism. Parents tell their kids to “do their best” and “try their hardest”. I know I caught myself telling my kids this very principal and, while it sounds like a good value to teach our children, it comes at a cost!

The truth is that not everything is worth our “best effort”, and that focus toward perfection can keep us from using time efficiently and effectively. Perfectionism will come at the expense of our productivity and effectiveness, and at the expense of our ability to follow through on our intentions–not to mention our quality of life. It can keep us from getting started, and it can keep us from finishing. It truly can be paralyzing.

Perfectionism is one of the biggest challenges my clients face, and can impact every aspect of their lives! From working with thousands of other adults with ADHD / ADD over the last decade and a half, I’ve seen way too often that…

Perfectionism is the biggest contributor to Procrastination!

Today, I think of myself as sort of a “Recovering Perfectionist”. I know that my tendency to go “all in” can be a great quality when well-directed and managed, but I have to watch that tendency very carefully because it can very easily get out of hand and leave me paralyzed and stuck in inaction. Now, I know differently, and I do things much differently. I manage the things that use to vex me because of my perfectionist tendencies most (like cleaning, paper, and exercise), but reframing my “success’ in terms of what is most doable for me on an ongoing, “sufficient” basis.

I don’t need some perfect filing system that is logical to anyone but me, as long as I can find what I need consistently. And I don’t need to kill myself cleaning every nook and cranny of my house all at once. I can do a little every day to keep it where I want to be, for example . That younger me would be astounded! My house is clean (enough), my office is organized (in a functional way), and I’m taking care of myself. It’s definitely not perfect, but it’s really, really good. It’s doable, it’s sufficient, and it’s sustainable.

And most of all, I’m at peace. I’m more fulfilled.
I’m happier!

So, if you’re trying to improve your follow-through with productivity strategies or telling yourself to “buck up and try harder“, you’re never going to achieve what you want because you’re not addressing the real problem! It’s not laziness or lack of willpower. And if you focus on improving your organization or your productivity or your time management, you may see some small improvements, but nothing dramatic that will last. Because those things are not at the root of the struggle.

I tell clients all the time that if you don’t address what’s going on “between your ears”, no amount of systems, tools, tips, tricks, strategies or hacks are going to stick for the long haul!

You must address What’s Going on Between Your Ears if you want to make changes that last!

Some things to think about.

As always, thanks for reading!

Lynne Edris, ACG
Productivity & ADHD Coach

P.S. If you struggle with overwhelm, follow-through and procrastination, I hope you’ll check out the link below for my
Get it Done!TM Program. We’ll help you get to the bottom of what’s going on between your ears that might be getting in your way, and give you practical strategies to help you accomplish what you intend with ease, and make changes that last this time! All in a supportive community of people who get you, and want you to succeed! Visit: www.ProcrastinationProgram.com for more information

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