The Link Between ADHD and Perfectionism
At first blush, it doesn’t seem like Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and perfectionism belong in the same sentence. After all, ADHD traits (disorganization, messiness, poor impulse control, and trouble with executive function) don’t exactly lend themselves to the perfectionist mentality.
But there is a definite link between ADHD and perfectionism. In fact, studies have shown a significant, positive correlation between self-reported cognitive distortions including perfectionism and ADHD. The study published in Scienc Direct Volume 238, 30 April 2016, Pages 153-158 shows among adults with ADHD, perfectionism is the most commonly reported cognitive distortion.
So why would two such different conditions be linked so closely? One school of thought maintains that the quest for perfection comes from the inherent “shame” those with ADHD have faced throughout their lives. They’ve spent so long being stigmatized by their neurotypical peers for their shortcomings that they set unrealistic standards for themselves in an attempt to “get it right.”
Another reason those with ADHD may be more prone to perfectionism is their tendency to hyperfocus on a task. Hyperfocus is a heightened state of attention, to the detriment of external cues. You can become so involved in what you’re doing that it can make stopping impossible. To chase that perfectionistic cue, you may even refuse to stop until it’s deemed “perfect”, often at the expense of everything else in their lives. When they complete the task and come up for air, it’s only to realize that, while they were focusing on putting out one fire, ten more have cropped up.
The Problem with Perfect
A lot of people are proud to call themselves a perfectionist. Social media LOVES reels that make things look easy. We can’t help scrolling Instagram posts of pretty, organized spaces. And, there’s real envy when your friend seems to just have it all together. And in today’s digital-ready world, perfection has become synonymous with normal.
But there’s a darker side to perfectionism.
Perfectionism is a risk factor for anxiety and depression. Because it is virtually impossible to make everything perfect every time, it leads to feelings of inadequacy.
It’s also very easy for those with ADHD to transfer their need for perfection to their family, friends, colleagues, and partners. The mindset shifts from “How can I be perfect?” to “Why can’t they be perfect?”, leading to conflict and unreasonable expectations.
Other perfectionism pitfalls include:
- An all-or-nothing mentality
- Control issues
- Fear of failure
- The inability to work closely with others and/or trust them to perform to the perfectionist’s standards
We all want to do our best every time. However, when you solely pay attention to your perfectionist tendencies, your best is just never good enough… and that’s where the trouble begins.
7 Tips to Tame ADHD Perfectionism in Adults
Perfectionism and ADHD may go hand in hand, but there are simple strategies and systems that can help tame your inner beast.
1. To overcome adult ADHD perfectionism, budget your time
You only have so many hours in the day, so you need to spend them wisely. Constraints will help you – just like deadlines do. Make a budget for your tasks. For instance, give yourself 30 minutes to clean the kitchen. Once those 30 minutes are up, stop. So, stopping is essential to helping you set limits. At 30 minutes, stop even if perfection hasn’t been reached. You can always wipe down the counters or rinse that stray glass later.
2. Make getting started easier, and don’t put things off
Because you have an inherent desire for everything to be perfect, you may procrastinate certain tasks because you just don’t have the energy to put your all into it right now. Stop putting things off. Challenge yourself to accept that the task may not be done perfectly but it will get done, which is less stress for you down the road.
3. Zoom out to focus on the Big Picture perspective
ADHD and perfectionism, combined with ADHD hyperfocus, means that you’re used to scrutinizing every little detail. How can you even begin to plant a garden if you’re stuck in the nursery researching potting soil on your smartphone? Let go of the little things and focus on the end goal. Real, specific outcomes with measurable milestones can really help you from going too far. Perspective is everything. And, it will help you balance if something matters as much as your brain has convinced you it does.
4. Define enough on your terms to combat perfectionistic tendencies
ADHD and perfectionism, combined with ADHD hyperfocus, drive you to scrutinize every little detail. Sometimes perfectionism can drive procrastination causing you to put off easy tasks until you have the perfect solution.
You may be familiar with the self-talk pattern only recognized by the perfectionism-procrastination paradox: “I can’t start because I’m not sure exactly how I want to do or say this...”
And sometimes, it can feel as though you spiral out of control. So, how can you even begin to plant a garden if you’re stuck researching potting soils on your smartphone? Let go of the little things and focus on the end goal. Not everything matters as much as your brain has convinced you it does.
5. To avoid perfectionism with ADHD compromise with yourself
Once you realize that chasing perfectionistic signals is not working, you need to decide which hills you’re willing to die on and what you’re willing to let slide. . Maybe you’ll never be able to handle leaving the office with work still unfinished, but you can set a goal not to start on a new project during the workday if there’s not enough time to finish it by quitting time.
6. Get curious about underlying contributing factors
The terms “perfectionism” and “OCD” are often thrown around lightly. However, ADHD perfectionism may indicate other underlying brain-based conditions. One of these could be Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder (OCD). Obsessive-compulsive disorder is characterized by an over-attention to detail, perfectionism can turn into obsessive attention and maladaptive responsiveness to one’s environment. This condition can be very disruptive to one’s life, causing delays and even a great deal of stress.
Those with obsessive-compulsive personality disorder can become excessively focused on work and productivity while neglecting their personal lives. Maladaptive perfectionism can consume free time, resulting in a lack of leisure or an out-of-whack approach to work-life balance. If your time spent with friends is mostly always a formal activity, and you have low attention to hobbies or personal tasks, with a high standard of perfection, you may wish to look deeper than ADHD for causation.
7. Begin by giving yourself grace
Sometimes, good really is good enough. The world is not going to implode if you mow the front yard but fail to weed it. Remember, the sun will still rise tomorrow even if the laundry sleeps in the dryer tonight. Make a concentrated attempt to give yourself some grace and realize that perfection is a mirage. Chasing perfection by setting an unachievable goal or standard is just another way to avoid starting. Your best is enough – and getting started may always feel hard until you actually start.
Although there is a strong, proven link between ADHD and perfectionism, there are also ways to mitigate and often break the hold it has on you. Working with an ADHD coach can help. Book a Discovery Call with me today!