3 Powerful Ways to Overcome Perfectionism with ADHD

“I just want to make sure it’s perfect.

This is such a sneaky thought, isn’t it?

On the surface, it sounds lovely.

But underneath, the desire for perfection often leaves us feeling anxious and insecure.

It leads us to second-guessing our ideas, tweaking minutia, and ultimately holding back from sharing our authentic selves with the world. 

And as ADHDers, high achievers, and goal-getters, perfectionism is something we navigate often.

I know I certainly do.

And this week on episode 100 of the I’m Busy Being Awesome podcast, we’re talking all about it.

While I don’t have all the answers on how to eliminate perfectionist thinking, this episode pulls back the curtain and shares the three areas I’m working on, and what I’ve learned along the way.

Listen now to learn strategies to release perfectionism, embrace B+ work, and accept yourself on both your good days and your bad days as 100% enough.

You can listen to the episode below, or stream it on your favorite podcasting app here: 

Prefer to read? No problem! Keep scrolling for the entire podcast transcript.

Listen To The Podcast Here!

In This Episode, You Will Discover… 

  • Strategies to release perfectionism
  • How to aim for B+ work
  • How to accept yourself as 100% enough on your good days and bad days

Links From The Podcast

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Episode #: (Transcript)

Hey friends! Welcome to episode 100 of the podcast. I’m not going to lie. I am pretty stoked that we have reached episode 100. And even more so, I am feeling incredibly grateful. I am so grateful to every single one of you listeners. Because you are the reason I do this!

Believe it or not, while sitting in an empty room talking to myself into a microphone is certainly an experience. It is hearing from you. And learning about how you are implementing these ideas into your life. And knowing that you are sharing the podcast with others who can also benefit from these tools. That is what means everything to me. So thank you. Thank you for showing up each week. Thank you for digging in. And thank you for doing the work and being a rockstar.

And if you haven’t already, and you are enjoying the podcast, would you hit pause and go leave me a review? I know it can seem super tedious and confusing. And I try not to ask this very often at all, but if you are enjoying the podcast, would you open whatever app you are listening to leave me a review? When you do, it helps me reach more people. Because when the podcast has more five-star reviews, the app suggests it to more people. And then we can include even more busy awesome humans in our community. So thank you again.

Listener Shout Out

And today I want to give a shout-out to an incredible listener with the username is Danibaby7925. They left a five-star review titled: This podcast will change your life!

She writes “To make it short & sweet THIS PODCAST CHANGED MY LIFE FOR THE BETTER. Seriously Paula comes to you every week with tools to help you be your most productive self. She’s like a sweet friend telling you to get your act together. I am a working mom of two who is also in business school & just decided to fulfill my dream of being a makeup artist! She has given me all the tools I need to reach every goal without feeling overwhelmed. If you have ADHD or are just feeling like you are all over the place without direction this podcast is for you! Her episodes aren’t dragged out, she gets right to the point & makes you feel like a rockstar who is capable of anything! What are you waiting for? Listen now!”

First of all, thank you so much. And also, because we have connected on Instagram, I want to give you a special shout-out Because I know that you put these tools to work and I’ve seen the incredible things you’re doing. You are truly busy being awesome. Way to make things happen.

Perfectionist Thinking

All right. So. We are at the 100th episode. And in my mind, this was a big deal. I’ve been thinking about it quite a bit. And like I said, I kept thinking to myself, “this is such a big deal. 100 episodes?! This is huge.” And while I am super proud of myself for staying consistent for a hundred episodes in a row – every single week for 100 weeks – the thought “this is a big deal” didn’t actually feel good in my body. Yes, on the surface, it might sound super positive. But I noticed that for me in this current situation, it was causing quite a bit of pressure.

And as a side note, this is why it’s always so important to really check in with what you’re thinking. Sometimes we might have I thought that sounds really positive, but if it doesn’t feel good in your body, it’s probably not going to help you take the actions you want to take. And for me, this was absolutely true.

I could really feel the pressure building and I could feel myself teetering between anxiety and overwhelm. And from those emotions, I noticed myself starting to spin. I was questioning my ideas. I kept telling myself I don’t know what I should do for this episode topic. Every idea I thought of I decided wasn’t good enough. Nothing was innovative or original enough. I had so many episode ideas that I started and stopped because I kept telling myself it wasn’t right.

And then I finally caught when I was doing. I finally realized that I was letting perfectionism get in the way of doing my work. I was letting perfectionism get in the way of me sharing these tools with you, which is the reason I do this podcast in the first place. In other words, I was letting perfectionism prevent me from doing what I wanted to do.

Now here’s the deal. Many of my podcast episodes come from challenges or obstacles that I’ve had to work through on my own. And once I’ve figured out what works for me, I share it with you. Even when I get a request from a listener to cover a topic, if I haven’t done it myself, I’m not going to dish out random information or tips. I want to find a solution first because it’s important for me to share strategies with evidence of them being effective solutions. I’m not here to waste people’s time with untested ideas. No thank you.

With that being said. Today I’m sharing a different perspective. Today I am sharing a look behind the scenes at the work that I am currently doing with my own coach. And this is in regard to releasing perfectionism, getting comfortable with things being “good enough,” and stepping into acceptance in different areas of my life.

Embracing Imperfection

So while this is episode 100, and even though my brain is screaming that it should be an action-packed episode filled with tips and strategies on how to do XYZ, that’s not what’s going to happen this week. Instead, I’m sharing with you the lessons that I am currently learning. And while I don’t have all the answers. I don’t have a simple step-by-step solution. I do hope that this episode stands as a reminder that we are all in it. We are all working on or working through something. We are all humans with human brains who are looking to take things to the next level and what other area of our life is calling us to grow next.

And seeing as recording this podcast makes me want to throw up … I’m using that as a sign that I am moving in the right direction for me as I step into my next area of growth. So today I am sharing three lessons that I am working through and learning about releasing perfectionism, embracing B+ work, and accepting myself on both my good days and my bad days as 100% enough.

And in alignment with this idea, I am going to do my best to let this episode be perfectly imperfect as well. So when I stumble over my words, I’m going to let it happen. If a loud car drives by and it doesn’t completely block out the words I’m sharing, I’m going to leave it in. Let’s see how this goes.

Comparison

Now one of the overarching aha moments that I’ve had recently is about one of the positive thoughts that I really like to practice in my life. And I realized that this thought – although it serves me in some ways, was sneakily holding me back and some other places.

So let me explain what I mean here. I have a belief that I really love, which is that everyone is always doing their best. I really think that nobody starts their day thinking, “You know what? I’m excited to do a terrible job today. I’m going to show up and disappoint everyone for fun.” I really don’t think that anybody does that. I think that we are all showing up doing our best every day.

Now, is every day amazing? No. And my “best” on one day might not be my “best” on another day. But I genuinely believe that everybody is trying the best they can every day. So again, I love this thought. I think it’s a beautiful thought that creates genuine compassion and understanding for other people. And I’m going to keep it. I’m going to keep practicing it. But this is a really powerful example where the same thought can create very different feelings actions and results depending on the situation. 

This is why I often say on the podcast, play around with different versions of thoughts. And always run them through models to see the results they create for you. Because there are times when – even for the same person – the same thought can create a different result.

Now for those of you who are new to this podcast or my work, you might be thinking,”uhh, what are you talking about, Paula? What the heck is a model? What do you mean my thoughts create my feelings? Hold up. What is happening right now?” Don’t worry. You’re good.

So I use a coaching tool in my practice with my clients as well as when I coach myself call the model, which was created by an incredible coach named Brooke Castillo. And the general idea behind the Model is that the world is filled with neutral circumstances. Things happen in the world. And when these circumstances happen, we, as humans, have different thoughts about each one. And when we, as individuals, have a thought about that circumstance, it makes us feel something in our body. When we feel that feeling, the feeling drives our actions. It makes us do something. Or it stops us from doing something. Then all of those actions we take ultimately create our results. They create the situation that we have for ourselves in our lives.

Now, I will link to some other episodes in the show notes where I talk about the model much more in-depth. So if you are new to this idea, definitely check them out. But that should give you the gist for what you need today with this example. 

Because when I use the thought “everyone is doing the best they can” in situations where I might otherwise feel annoyed or frustrated, the thought is really useful. Let’s say that someone takes the parking spot that I was going to take. I had my signal on, I was about to park, and they take the spot instead. Has this ever happened to you? Not fun.

I could have a thought like, they are so rude. I can’t believe they did that. And I might feel really frustrated or annoyed because I’m thinking those thoughts. And so I might ruminate over the situation. Maybe I honk my horn. Maybe I think mean thoughts about them. Whatever. And with this model the result that I create for myself is that I’m being really rude right back. Right?

Check-In With Your Thoughts

But when I think to myself instead: “they’re doing the best they can right now. They’re probably having a bad day. Everyone is always doing the best they can.” I feel so much more compassion. And when I feel that compassion, I let it roll off my back. I go find a different parking spot. And it’s not a big deal. And then I’m showing up doing the best I can too. So in a situation like this, I like the thought. It serves me. However, I’ve noticed that it’s not helpful when it comes to me and perfectionism.

Because when I internalized this belief that everyone is always doing the best they can in terms of their work, I also think that I need to be giving my 100% as well. I made it mean that I need to be at my very best doing “perfect work” all of the time. Plus, when I wasn’t at my 100%, or when I wasn’t giving my A+ work in all areas of my life, I’d beat myself up. And since I am a human and not a robot, which was the groundbreaking revelation I share back in episode 52, being at 100% or A+ in all areas of my life at all times is not possible. Perfection does not exist.

Now, even though I knew that intellectually, I still kept telling myself, I need to be doing my best all of the time. And because I love my work so much. Because I love my clients and coaching so much, this resulted in me going 100%, A+, all-in for my job. I would work all of the time. And since I can’t show up as a robot with perfection in all areas of my life, I would show up with D or D+ work in other areas of my life.

So I’d go all-in A+ for work and let all of the other areas slide… I mean, they weren’t even passing grades. We’re talking D+ work. And again, this is perfection is thinking. Because nobody can give their 100% to everything 100% of the time.

And eventually, I had a shift in thinking. I mentioned Brooke Castillo earlier, and she is well known for her statement that B- work can change the world. And the idea behind this message is that B- work out the door is better than A+ work that never gets out there.

And as perfectionists, we tend to lean toward the latter. We hold back. We keep tweaking. And we keep perfecting all of the little details to make sure everything is “just right.” So B- work out the door can change lives while A+ work that we never share helps nobody.

Practicing B+ Work

Now, while I absolutely love this concept, B- work is a little hard for me to get on board with. BUT I can embrace B or B+ work. And the mindset shift I had about my usual thought of everyone is doing the best they can was this: what if everyone is doing their best B or B+ work in all areas of their life? What if we could drop the perfectionist expectations of A+ or nothing at all, and we allowed ourselves to show up in these different areas of our lives at a B or a B+. We get things done. We do good work. And we allow room for being a human. We allow room for error. And we allow space to be ourselves – which is imperfect.

And when we show up with B or B+ work, we can actually enjoy these different areas of our life. It’s not all or nothing. It’s both and.

Now again, I’m still working on this. I still work more hours than I’d like. I still spend more time than I’d like tweaking and editing and debating over Instagram graphics. But I’m working on it. 

And this leads me into the next lesson that I want to explore in terms of realizations about perfectionism and letting go of perfectionist thinking. So as I alluded to in point one, when we get stuck trying to perfect our work, we also get stuck in self-judgment.

For me personally, when I think about sharing my work with you listeners or sending an email to my email list, or sharing a message on my Instagram feed or stories, I notice my self-judgment come in. I start thinking that I am too wordy in my writing. Or I’m terrible with design. Or I don’t know how to communicate my ideas clearly enough. 

So as I was working with my coach — and again this is a quick plug that I think all brains need coaching. Everybody needs a coach. Coaches need coaches. Every human brain needs a couch because we can’t see our own mind drama. We can’t see what’s happening in our own brains. Everything seems like a circumstance. Everything seems factual.

Self-Judgement and Perfectionism

Anyway. When I was working with my coach, I started digging into why my perfectionist thinking and self-judgment were so strong. Why was I worried about putting my work out there before it was “perfect?” What was it that bothered me so much?

Now, the easy answer is that I was worried about what other people thought. It would be easy for me to chalk it up to: people will judge me. They’ll think I’m stupid. Whatever. But that didn’t actually feel true to me. I’m usually not too worried about what other people think, because – frankly – I am my own worst critic. I assure you any negative feedback I get, I have heard it 10 times worse from my own brain.

So as I really dug in and explored this area. And I realized that I didn’t want to waste people’s time with something that wasn’t — in my standards — perfect. I know how valuable my time is, and so I do not want to waste other people’s time.

And again, this is where a thought that sounds great might not be serving us. My thought was, I don’t want to waste people’s time. On the surface, this is a BEAUTIFUL thought.

But this was thought with the assumption that my work was crappy and a waste of time. So if we put that in a model, let’s say the circumstance is that I’m editing a podcast. And my thought is, I don’t want to waste people’s time. So I feel a lot of pressure as I’m thinking I don’t want to waste people’s time. And that feeling of pressure causes me to slip into my perfectionist mode. I tweak, and I rerecord, and I work extra long hours trying to get the podcast as good as possible before I have to hit publish. Because I’m thinking that if there is any car noise outside, it will waste the listener’s time.

And the result that I create is that first of all, I waste my time. I’m taking ten times as long to edit, so I’m not having the time that I want to spend with my family or my friends or time with myself. Plus, I’m using that time to edit little tiny tweaks that literally nobody would notice, when I could be creating other content to share, which could help my clients even further. So because I get stuck in perfectionism, I not only waste my time, I potentially hold back from helping others in our busy awesome community move forward faster. And this was a huge wake-up call for me.

Getting To Acceptance

And this leads me into the third and final lesson that I want to share with you today, which is getting to a point of acceptance. I have been really exploring and thinking about the line that I want to draw between what I’m willing to let go and be B or B+ work, and where I want to spend the extra time. What can I accept as is? And where do I want to put in the extra?

And I’m telling you, acceptance is everything. It is the foundation from which everything else can grow and flourish. When we get to acceptance of where we are at, we stop arguing with reality. Rather than telling ourselves, “it shouldn’t be this way, I should be able to get this done faster. I shouldn’t show up this way. I should be better at this.” We stop that line of thinking. And instead, we accept where we are at. We start thinking and believing things like. “This is how long I take to complete this task. This is where I’m at. And this is my current level of skill” or whatever.

Let’s take this podcast, for example. I used to have a lot of shame and embarrassment around how long it took me to prepare and do these podcasts each week. I had a manual for myself that all podcasters should be able to speak eloquently without notes. They should be able to speak off the cuff. And they should have perfectly-formed ideas and concepts and be able to sit down and record a 20-minute podcast in 30 minutes – tops. End of story.

Now, this is NOT the way I do things. And since that’s not the way I do things, those beliefs about how I should be able to, because that’s what all good podcasters do, felt pretty terrible. Because I made it mean that I didn’t measure up.

Because the reality that I was fighting is that I need to write out the podcast. I need to think through my ideas and process the information in order to work with my ADHD brain. That is the scaffolding I need and want. 

And it took me a long time to get to that point of acceptance. It took a long time for me to drop this perfectionist standard that I should be able to sit down and record my podcast off-the-cuff in 20 or 30 minutes. It took a long time to finally accept that this is how I choose to do things, and I like it that way. And it doesn’t mean anything about me or my worth or my contribution.

And believe it or not, one of the powerful experiences that helped me get to this acceptance was a negative podcast review that I got on iTunes. It sent me spiraling for a little bit, because they called me out on this area where I felt the most self-judgment. I was already critical of myself for it. And when someone else agrees, brings up all the mind drama.

So this listener left a two-star review, and they wrote — “I wanted to and tried to like this podcast but find it irritating and dull when a podcaster just reads from a script. What’s the point? It’s like listening to a lecture in college.”

Now again, this sent me in a spiral. I felt tons of shame. I felt totally called out because I was already telling myself it was a problem that I couldn’t just speak off the cuff with clear, fully formed ideas.

But, when I took some space to process my emotions and coach myself and get coached, things shifted. Because now I am so thankful for this podcast review. It showed me where I really needed to do some self-examination.

Because this person poked at the area that I thought I needed to hide. But once I looked at what they had to say, and I really owned it, everything shifted. Now, what do I mean by the statement that I owned it? Well, the truth is, they’re totally right. It is 100% true I am reading from a script. I took several hours to think through ideas and write them out and then I sat down and recorded it. Also, I’m a professor. So of course it sounds like you’re listening to a lecture in college, that’s my M.O.

And once I owned that, and I could accept that this podcast format is simply not that listener’s cup of tea, I could release the judgment and shame. In fact, as I mentioned, it helped me realize that I actually like my approach. I like this format for preparing my podcasts.

Because I know that as someone with ADHD, writing things out first helps me process my ideas so that I can actually explain them with clarity to you. And that’s really important to me. I want to make sure that I am explaining these tools and concepts so that you have strategies to apply and use at the end of the episode. 

So again, when I got to the place where I could own that part of me that I had wanted to keep hidden, all of a sudden things felt so much lighter. I felt so much more accepting of myself and where I’m at. And while I could absolutely do with dropping some of my perfectionism about stumbling over my words, or wanting to edit out every loud car noises or weird background noise, which I am working on, I can also accept the other parts that I’ve grown to appreciate.

But seriously — my editing crazy is a little bit out of control. Bruno often likes to sit in the office with me when I record, and he will be laying there and let out a big dog sigh in the background while I’m recording – if you have dogs you know what I’m talking about. Or he’ll start dreaming and he’ll like let out little noises when he’s dreaming. And when that happens, I wake him up, and then I have to re-record and edit out all of the things. It’s a little silly.

You all know I have a dog – I talk about him all the time. And it turns out he breathes. So maybe that’s an area that I can work on letting go. Maybe I can let those sounds be okay. And on the other side of the coin, I am also okay with letting the process of forming my ideas and thinking through the information for these episodes take the time that it takes. That’s okay too.

And again, this is an area that I’m still working on. This is my area of growth right now. But I’m telling you, getting to this point of acceptance is one of the most freeing things I’ve done. And I’d argue it’s one of the most freeing things that we can possibly do. Full stop. Because when we are working from the point of acceptance with thoughts like, “this is where I’m at.” And when we start finding solutions or strategies from a point of calm clarity rather than desperation because we’re thinking different versions of, “I need to fix me. There’s something wrong with me. I shouldn’t be this way. I need to fix it.” it’s SO MUCH BETTER.

Because you, my friend, do not need fixing. There’s nothing wrong with you. Again, going back to episode 78 – we aren’t robots or computers who need a new operating system. We are exactly right as is. We can love where we are at. And from that place of acceptance, we can start looking for solutions that support our strengths and help us thrive. We can love ourselves now and we can find ways to support ourselves in our growth. And when we use these tools from a place of love and compassion rather than judgment and shame, that’s when the magic happens. That’s when the transformations occur.

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