ADHD: Symptoms or Strengths?
“It’s like having a Ferrari brain with bicycle brakes.”
My all-time favorite metaphor describing the ADHD brain. If you have ADHD, nothing is more relatable than this statement.
Even without caffeine, your brain is going a mile a minute. You’re constantly thinking out of the box to solve problems. You’re a high energy individual with passion and drive. You’re an engaging conversationalist.
So why is ADHD considered a negative trait to carry with us?
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. The name alone sounds like a package deal of problems. Even when you Google the “symptoms” of ADHD, you’ll see lists of problematic characteristics that certainly don't sound like anything you want to be stuck with.
I specialize in working with adults with ADHD. One of my favorite aspects of my work is pointing out these “symptoms” of ADHD and illustrating how they can -- and should -- be considered strengths instead.
We tend to label these ADHD characteristics as symptoms rather than strengths. The moment you put the word symptoms next to ADHD, it sounds a whole lot more of a hindrance rather than something that sets you apart from the crowd in a good way.
The more I work with adults with ADHD, the more I appreciate their strengths and problem-solving abilities. But sometimes they see themselves as carrying weaknesses because of their “disorder” - rather than recognizing that they have innate strengths that can serve to make a difference in the world.
It’s really just a matter of perspective and seeing the way your brain is wired through a different lens.
So let’s take a brief dive into these basic “symptoms” of ADHD and see how we can change the rhetoric so they are seen as strengths that can be harnessed:
Hyperactivity // High Energy
Hyperactivity could be changed to high energy. If you have ADHD, you have a lot more energy than your peers, which directly contributes to your drive and passion. Energy is contagious. If you’re channeling your energy towards your goals and passion, it can actually serve as inspiration to those around you.
Quick tip to harness your high energy: Do you find it hard to sit still? If you know that you can’t sit still for more than an hour, set an alarm to walk around for 5 - 10 minutes. Taking frequent, short breaks can sometimes be some of the best “thinking” moments for you. Walking can help calm the mind, which can aid in the brainstorming process. Change up your fitness schedule to workout in the mornings. This can help relieve some of your energy before you head to work. The more familiar you are with how your brain functions, the better it will help you and those around you.
Impulsivity // Spontaneity
Impulsivity could be changed to spontaneity. If you have ADHD, you might tend to think on a whim more than your peers. Yes, you can be impulsive, which could have consequences. Yet there can be benefits to having a spontaneous mindset. You’re more willing to take risks, which has the potential to result in something wonderful. You’re more willing to “live in the moment” and take advantage of what is before you -- and perhaps take a chance and jump into the unknown.
Quick tip to harness your spontaneity: Do you struggle with being too spontaneous in the workplace? Perhaps you blurt out too many ideas in a meeting - something that could result in overpromising and under delivering. It’s definitely easier to be spontaneous in our personal lives rather than in the workplace. If you’re in work and are blessed with an abundance of new ideas from your Ferrari-like brain, write them down on a piece of paper before sharing them with anyone. This helps you to put a pause on it. Then, go through the steps it would take to bring each idea to fruition. This will help to narrow down the top ideas that are worth sharing with the group.
Inattention // Multifaceted Drive
Inattention could be changed to multifaceted drive. If you have ADHD, you might struggle with diverting all attention to just one thing. You probably have multiple projects going on at the same time or you tend to frequently switch from one activity to another. You have the ability to juggle multiple endeavors with your multifaceted drive. There are a lot of entrepreneurs and “hustlers” who don’t put all of their attention to just one job. Instead, they are juggling multiple companies and wearing many hats in their jobs.
Quick tip to harness your multifaceted drive: If you struggle with diverting all attention to one thing, be sure to pick up a hobby, sport, or recreational activity. Having a diverse collection of activities that you engage in will help your brain function better. Not everyone has the ability to focus on multiple activities, but you do. Take advantage of that.
Difficulty Starting Tasks // Hyperfocus
Difficulty starting tasks could be changed to ability to hyperfocus. If you have ADHD, it might be more difficult for you to start tasks. That’s probably because once you start something, you channel everything into it. You know that you’ll be completely engaged, so it’s more difficult to start. You can hyperfocus. You have the ability to channel all of your attention and energy into a task. If in the right mindset, you can focus on what you’re doing for hours on end.
Quick tips to harness your hyperfocus: If you struggle with starting tasks, write down your goal on a piece of paper. Break down the goals into simple, doable tasks. Put a timer on for 10 minutes and start the first task. Take a quick break and walk around (with a timer on to keep you in check) and then sit back down to complete the task. Even just mentally starting something for 10 minutes will get you prepared to line up the rest of the task.
Having ADHD isn’t something that should be a burden. Rather, it is something that makes you unique. And yes, there are plenty of challenges that come with having ADHD. Remember--if you have ADHD, you tend to be more resilient. With everything being so much more difficult in your everyday life, you learn to pick yourself up and try, try again.
The next time you compare yourself to your non-ADHD peers, remember this: your ADHD traits are strengths, not symptoms. It’s time to identify those strengths and use them to change the world.