ADHD and Perfectionism: How to Defeat the Constant Need to Succeed

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Sometimes, people struggle with both ADHD and perfectionism at the same time. Many people think the two might be polar opposites. After all, we tend to think of people with ADHD as disorganized and overwhelmed. Additionally, people with ADHD do tend to lose focus often. They typically struggle with following tasks and even conversations.

Though this link seems antithetical at first, many people with ADHD really do struggle with perfectionist tendencies. In this article, we look closer at the connection between ADHD and perfectionism. First, we consider what perfectionism is and what it looks like. Next, we look at common traits that connect both ADHD and perfectionism. Finally, we consider different strategies to help address perfectionism.

What is Perfectionism?

In understanding ADHD and perfectionism, we should start with looking closely at perfectionism by itself. Perfectionism can be defined as a personality trait whereby a person strives to be the best or perfect at everything they do.

In this type of thinking, a person puts a high expectation on everything they do or how they appear to others. They perceive failure as the worst thing possible. They also see mediocrity or simply achieving the minimum as falling short of their goal.

Due to some positive traits, some people view perfectionism as helpful. Others, on the other hand, see more negatives than positives. In general, though, perfectionism can best be identified by commons traits, both good and bad. Let’s now look closer at commonalities shared by perfectionists.

What are Common Traits of Perfectionism?

I think we all understand the idea of perfectionism. What might be more helpful, though, could be a discussion of some of the common traits of perfectionism. Interestingly enough, while perfectionism is usually considered a negative personality type, it actually has quite a few positive characteristics. Let’s look at some of the common traits uniting perfectionists.

Dependable and Reliable

First off, for those struggling with ADHD and perfectionism, a common trait oftentimes includes dependability. A perfectionist wants to succeed so much that they can’t bear to think they didn’t follow through on something. This means that if you need someone to count on, a perfectionist just might be that person.

If you give a perfectionist a task, more often than not they will outperform your expectations. When you need something done, this makes perfectionism a perfect trait to have. Generally, we want to surround ourselves with dependable and reliable people. In this regard, at the least, this gives perfectionists a helpful trait.

Driven and Hardworking

Another positive trait going along with ADHD and perfectionism is that many perfectionists are both driven and hardworking. Again, their desire to succeed pushes them to fight through set backs and barriers. They want to succeed above everything else so they devote all their energy towards finding success.

In general, perfectionists struggle with resting or taking time off. Similar to people with ADHD, their minds typically continue racing all the time. Whenever they try to rest, they instead think about projects they have worked on or need to work on. Instead of truly resting then, most perfectionists continue to work on something all the time.

They want to succeed. They have to succeed. As a result, they will do all they can to work towards that success. Ultimately, this is usually a positive trait especially if you need someone that you can trust to work hard and finish a job.

Overly Critical

Unfortunately, ADHD and perfectionism also has more than one negative traits. To start with, perfectionists tend to be overly critical. They apply their high standards most often to themselves, constantly critiquing their own appearance, performance, and abilities. Unfortunately, though, this criticism typically also extends to those around them as well.

The perfectionist possesses a constant drive to always perform better than what has been done before. This means that their concept of “success” oftentimes can elude them and others as performing better has no limits. In the end then, they can tend to view all work or performance as lacking in one area or another. No matter what they or others do to fulfill an objective, it often simply won’t be good enough.

This tendency to be overly critical can be exhausting and demoralizing. To themselves, they constantly see flaws. As a result, they feel they must work tirelessly to improve and fix all the issues they feel critical of. For others around them they expect and demand the same. For team structures especially, this can quickly demoralize and diminish the work of others on the team.

Unrealistic Expectations

In a similar vein, another negative trait of ADHD and perfectionism is that people in this category usually have unrealistic expectations. As we just discussed, perfectionists always look at things with a critical eye. They always find reasons that what they or others have done just isn’t good enough. They reach these conclusions because they measure success by unrealistic guidelines.

No matter what a general consensus of success might be, the perfectionist always feels the need to push further. They want to achieve more. As a result, rarely will a perfectionist look at attempting a goal with starting with the resources they have. They won’t think through what they possibly can attain with the inputs. Instead, they always look forward and see the objective. They then make themselves believe that they can still achieve that objective in spite of whether or not they have a lack of available resources.

This type of approach simply burns others out. Inevitably, the perfectionist then views others who burn out as “quitters” or people who can’t follow through. In reality, though, the goals they set simply demand too much. Ultimately, the perfectionist usually can’t recognize how unrealistic their demands truly are.

What Connects ADHD and Perfectionism?

To really understand ADHD and perfectionism well we need to understand what really connects the two. On the surface the two might appear very different. When we look closer, though, we actually find that they both share several commonalities. Let’s look now at some traits that connect both ADHD and perfectionism.


One common thread linking ADHD and perfectionism together includes anxiety. People with ADHD tend to struggle with anxiety on a regular basis. This can arise out of relationships or social issues or difficulty with managing multiple projects at work. Trying to decipher emotions can also cause anxiety as well as issues such as financials and diet.

Similarly, perfectionists usually deal with anxiety on a daily basis. They usually have a constant fear of failure. As a result, they tend to see themselves as “not good enough.” They then possess an anxiety that others will see them as failures and an anxiety that they might never truly succeed.

Obsessive and Hyperfocused Tendencies

Another commonality connecting ADHD and perfectionism involves a tendency towards obsessive attention. Many people with ADHD struggle with distractions on a regular basis. Interestingly enough, though, they also can have times of hyperfocus where they zero in on one task with extra intensity. These tendencies of hyperfocus can allow someone with ADHD to stay on the same task for hours or days without losing interest.

This type of intensity on one subject mirrors the obsessive behavior of many perfectionists. In a similar way, people with perfectionist tendencies will focus in on one project until they feel they have it absolutely perfect before moving on. They can focus in on a task with extra intensity to make sure they can excel at it. Ultimately, both people with ADHD and perfectionist can zero in on one subject to the detriment of other things in their lives.

Lack of Empathy for Others

Finally, with both ADHD and perfectionism, a person tends to struggle with empathizing with others. A perfectionist usually only sees the world through their own understanding of the objective or task to be completed. They put much more emphasis on seeking success than they do on how other’s feel or who might be hurt by their actions.

Similarly, people with ADHD tend to struggle to identify and connect with other’s emotions as well. People with ADHD can appear self-centered and dismissive of how others feel. They struggle with interpersonal communication, eye-contact, and staying focused on listening to others. All of this makes it appear that the person with ADHD doesn’t care about others.

Both people with ADHD and perfectionists can appear to others as self-involved. When someone talks to someone with ADHD or perfectionism they might feel as though they aren’t be listened to or heard at all. This lack of empathy can make personal relationships difficult for both people with ADHD and perfectionists.

How to Address ADHD and Perfectionism

Now that we understand some of what connects ADHD and perfectionism, we should talk through some approaches for addressing perfectionism. As we have mentioned, perfectionism can create stress and anxiety and causes issues in interpersonal relationships. These results make it difficult many times for a perfectionist to find satisfaction in work or interactions with others. If you find yourself dealing with perfectionism, you should try to take steps to limit its impact on your life. Let’s discuss some approaches to take.

Put Things into Perspective

To help limit the effects of ADHD and perfectionism, you need to work to put things in perspective. Perfectionist tendencies thrive when a person loses track of true perspective. A perfectionist sees tasks and goals as huge things to master instead of seeing goals through the appropriate lens. To fix this broken view, you need to change your perspective.

If you struggle with perfectionism, you need to get someone to speak into how you view tasks or objectives. After you have resolved upon a goal and how to achieve it, have someone you trust provide feedback on your approach. Ask them specifically if they think your objectives are realistic. Ask them how they might approach the same or a similar situation. Talk through the pros and cons of your approach and possibly other approaches.

Having someone else speak into your ideas provides a shifting of perspective. It gets you out of your own mind which always pushes you to do more or think bigger. Getting feedback from someone else might help allow you to let go of some of your unrealistic expectations and keep things in proper perspective.

Write Down Reminders

Secondly, another way to fight back against the tendencies of ADHD and perfectionism is to write down simple reminders. These can include things like “failure is just in the mind.” Another reminder might be “no one is perfect.” Write down several short sayings refuting the idea that you have to succeed at all costs. Change the narrative in your mind with written refutations of that constant drive to succeed.

Once you have notes written down, put them in visible places that you can see them regularly. You can put them on your desk at work, or make them the screensaver on your phone. You can even put some notes in your car to see as you drive.

In addition to reminders, you can write down quotes that inspire you to value hard work and not just some imagined level of success. These reminders might sound and feel simple, but they can have a powerful influence on how you think about yourself. If you don’t set up reminders, you set yourself up to slip back into a constantly defeating perfectionist mindset.

Mess Up on Purpose

Lastly, you can help overcome some perfectionist tendencies by making some small mistakes on purpose. You can also get your family or friends to help hold you accountable to making small missteps. These errors can include such simple things as wearing mismatched socks or purposely coloring outside of the lines or writing outside of the box. Doing something small that betrays the notion of always behaving perfect helps lift the burden of always needing to be your best off your shoulders.

Small mistakes won’t impact anything significant in your life except how you think through how you understand success. In effect, they help you learn to embrace mistakes. As a result, you can then begin to learn from mistakes and learn to not put so much pressure on yourself.

Try out something small today and each day after that try something else out. Take the longer less efficient way to work. Stay up late watching movies and eating junk food one night. Sleep in on a Saturday. Whatever you do, do something small to challenge your mind to accept little deviations of your understanding of perfection.

 Managing ADHD and Perfectionism Well

In the end, you might never eliminate all the negative attributes of ADHD and perfectionism from your life. What you can do, though, is learn to put in place structures and routines to learn how to manage both better. When looking at ADHD in particular, you need to look at management strategies as an ongoing process. You might never get to the point where you don’t have issues, but you can always improve on keeping symptoms in check.

Hopefully, you can use some of the tips here to start learning to manage ADHD and perfectionism better. Ask your friends and family to help you with checking in on how you’re doing with your perfectionism. Ask them to help you see some points at which you fail and encourage you in your small successes. Over time, with consistent practice and the help of others, you can really learn to manage ADHD and perfectionism effectively.