The symptoms of ADHD can sound like a list of traits you’d rather avoid: Disorganization. Restlessness. Struggling to stay on topic and get tasks done.
But “any of these deficits can also been seen as strengths,” says Mayra Mendez, PhD, of Providence Saint John’s Child and Family Development Center.
It’s still important to get treatment for ADHD, of course. But instead of viewing your ADHD as a group of symptoms that make your life harder, “consider how each can be used to your advantage,” Mendez says.
Reframe Your Symptoms
When his young daughter was diagnosed with ADHD in 1995, Duane Gordon, a computer consultant, was surprised to learn that he had it, too. A mix of medicine, ADHD coaching, and therapy helped him manage his symptoms. Going to an Attention Deficit Disorder Association (ADDA) conference helped Gordon realize his condition even had some upsides.
“I always see the weirdness in the world, and I appreciate it,” he explains. “I can hyper-focus and be extremely productive when I’m passionate about something. I’m also extremely effective in emergency situations. When most people panic, I actually become calmer.”
Many ADHD traits can be reframed in a positive light, Mendez says. For instance, hyperactivity doesn’t have to only mean that it’s hard for you to settle down. As Gordon found, when something does hold your interest, you’ll be highly motivated to pursue it. “Trouble paying attention” can be thought of as “flexible thinking.”
There can also be a positive side to impulsive behavior, a common symptom of ADHD. “Quick reactions lead to action,” Mendez points out. “People who are impulsive don’t sit around and feel helpless.”
These upsides don’t mean that you shouldn’t get treatment -- medication, therapy, and coaching -- for ADHD. But when you’re aware of the positive aspects of your condition, you can nurture your talents and abilities. Once Gordon realized his creative strengths, he began using them more at work. As a result, “I’ve succeeded like never before,” he says.
Manage Your Mind
ADHD affects your brain’s “executive function.” “This is the management system that processes information and helps you organize, self-regulate, and manage all of your to-do lists. It also helps you make goals and keep on track with those goals,” explains Caroline Maguire, a personal ADHD coach in Concord, MA.
Medicine may help keep some of your ADHD symptoms in check, but it’s still up to you to find ways to manage your time and stay organized.
Some strategies that can help:
Set goals. Use a calendar, planner, or to-do list to keep track of what you need to do each day. Make clear what’s a high priority and what can wait.
Stick to a structure. Try to keep the same daily routine. This will help remind you where you need to be and what to expect next.
Build a support system. Many people don’t want to discuss their ADHD. The more you open up to loved ones, the better they’ll know what you’re going through. You may also want to join a support group. You can share stories and learn ways to live well from others who have ADHD.
Find a coach. Just as athletes rely on a coach to help them learn new skills, an ADHD coach can help you set goals and plan a way to reach them. She can also help you cope with problems you’re having at work or home.
Take “small bites.” When you’re faced with a big project at home or work, break it into smaller steps you can manage. Then, tackle them one by one.
Slow down. Learn to relax or meditate. Both can stop you from acting on an impulse without fully thinking things through.
Fill your toolbox. Will a timer help you stay on task? What about sticky notes or a voice memo to remind you what items you need from the store? Learn what tools can help you get through your day a little easier, then keep them handy.
Match your skills to your job. “If you can, choose a career that holds your interest,” Mendez says. The more engaged you are, the easier it will be to stay focused. People with ADHD often do well in jobs that involve a lot of movement instead of one that only takes place at a desk.
Find a hobby or interest you love. “Having passions and desires allows you to find the motivation to work on [other] things that are holding you back,” Maguire says. “Getting in touch with the strengths you have can be a way to start feeling better about your challenges.”