How painting helps curb my ADHD compulsiveness

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As an ADHDer, I tend to also be a bit OCD and compulsive. I overwork things, and have a tough time moving on to the next task. Am I finished? Is it good enough? Should I work on it some more? Maybe I should go back and fuss over it. At times I have worked on a project until it’s way past the point of being good or good enough or even excellent, and totally messed it up. It’s then that I realized I should have stopped a long time ago.

Is overworking things a challenge for you, too?

This can be a real problem in my work, as I need to be productive and make the best use of my time. Of course, being a coach for business owners with ADHD, I have strategies that I can use to work around this challenge. And, I also I think my new passion for painting is helping me with this compulsive tendency.

This is where painting comes in

I just took a class last weekend where we had to keep painting fast — we completed four paintings in three hours. Of course this drove me absolutely crazy as my brain kept telling me, wait! I’m not finished! I need to fuss over this! But that didn’t help, because the instructor was barking at us to get up and change our seats and our viewpoints as her assistant was removing my unfinished painting from my hands to pin on the wall. And everyone else was cheerfully moving around and beginning again.

Moving quickly (and stopping) short-circuited my brain

By the end of the second painting, I was beginning to relax a bit. I got up and walked around. I watched the other students. I checked out the paintings on the wall. And I was amazed with what I found out about my painting . . . and how it relates to the rest of my life:

1. I didn’t have time to be compulsive about my work. I didn’t have time to overwork my painting. That fact alone felt very liberating!

2. Some of my quick decisions were actually pretty good. Not all of them, but most of them, when I looked closely. And by not overworking, I could easily see what needed to be left alone as well as what, perhaps, could be done better. But it was the “what needed to be left alone” that surprised me. How many of those opportunities had I smothered in the past by compulsively railroading through them?

3. Other people don’t feel the need to overpower things like I do. Since I work alone, I don’t often get the opportunity to observe how other people work. And even when I owned my design firm, I had my own office, so I didn’t hang over people and watch whether they agonized over their work like I do. But my sense is that most people don’t, and certainly the artists in this painting class didn’t. They painted with joy and abandon. If they made a mistake, they moved on. They painted and were happy or not, but didn’t obsess or wrestle their paintings to the ground. Is it possible, perhaps, that I could work this way too? Could I approach my painting with joy and abandon?

Being compulsive is a part of having ADHD

Not always and not for everyone, but for many of us business owners with ADHD, compulsiveness is how we work. We sometimes have urges that we just can’t control, even though we know we should. We talk too much in meetings or we interrupt or we spend way too much time on our projects. Most of us know these things about ourselves. But what if we could short-circuit our brains, cutting off our compulsion before it goes too far?

Painting is a way for me to see how to stop before I get too compulsive

Because I’m a visual person, being able to physically see the damage I do to a painting by overworking it is a wonderful, jolting reminder. I can’t often see the damage I do to an article by overworking the writing until it’s too late, but I can relate to the visualness of the painting example. And that helps me to stop, back up, and ask myself if anything needs to be left alone before I steamroll through and ruin it.

Stop. Back up. Ask, “is there anything that needs to be left alone?”

By taking the time to stand back and ask myself if I should leave well enough alone in my painting, my work, and my life, I can often keep a lid on my compulsiveness. I’m not saying it’s easy, but my paintings give me visual cues that help.

The above is one of my recent paintings, but it isn’t one of the four paintings I did in three hours in my recent class!

Comments 2

  1. Great article Marcia….love the analogy between painting and life….I need to apply this to my life and my painting as well. Love the painting…you are so good. The painting is fresh and alive …it is the editing process that takes over in my mind that causes too much “thinking time”. Thanks for sharing this article…love it!

    1. Post

      Oh, thank you Gwen! I know that YOU have advised me to move fast and trust myself more as well, and I think it may be finally getting through :) Thanks for the comment!

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