In this blog we're exploring the 10 mental shifts that we need to make, like guidelines or “rules” for life, that help you to be successful with ADHD. Having a brain that works differently, you need to think a little differently. The way you think will lead to different actions, and these in turn will determine whether you succeed or not.
People with ADHD often dream too big and hence unrealistic, because they're chasing that dopamine rush – the brain chemical that gives us a sense of being alive and switched on. Many of us complain that life is boring, because we have something called RDS (Reward Deficiency Syndrome) which means our brain doesn't get enough dopamine to make us feel satiated.
The trick is balance: In the case of ADHD, we don't want to disable ourselves further by entirely giving up on our dreams, or we will fail to get enough dopamine flowing in our brains and not feel motivated. But neither should we be unrealistic or expect miracles to happen overnight!
If we fail to bear this in mind, we end up full of initial enthusiasm, then falling flat on our face and feeling like a “failure”, because it was more difficult than we had wished it to be.
For example, when I was young I dreamed of being a world class violinist. Maybe I could have been if I had worked hard enough and not messed up my training in the early days. (I broke a bow, and a violin, and used superglu to disguise what I'd done, and then claimed that I no longer was interested in learning due to fear of reprisal! Crazy, I know...) But hey, I'm 40 years old now. But should I completely give up on my original dream?
Yes and no! What I mean is: I'll probably never be that “world class violinist,” but hey, maybe that's not important anymore, and maybe it never really was.
Does that make me a failure? Of course not. Instead, I can redefine success in my own terms. I truly love the violin, so I'm happy to have a goal of playing regularly and learning just for the fun of it.
We all have opportunities in life, and we all miss some. Us ADHDer's often miss them more often than most, but that's no reason to give up on your dreams. Just dig deeper into the deeper reason (hint: focus on how the activity, goal or dream makes you feel) you had those dreams, and embrace them in a different form.
Might sound like a cop out. But trust me. Do this and you'll be happy. And that's priceless!
Related to strategy 1, is the strategy of minimalism. People with ADHD often not only dream big, but also try to do everything. When I was a young boy I realised something:
“You may be able to have anything you want, but you can't have everything all at once.”
The older I've become the more I've realised you've got to choose. And choose wisely.
Instead of having a massive To Do List that never gets completed, why not hone it down to less. Take those 12 things on your To Do List down to just 3 or 5.
I constantly find that my ADHD clients have massive To Do Lists and overestimate how much they can do in a day. They feel like they can, but rarely do.
Just commit to less and commit to those things you truly want to do and you'll end up getting more ticked off on your “list.” You feel better because of it, and will end up doing even more because you'll get a taste for progress.
The other aspect of this is to break everything down into smaller chunks and steps, and realise that success and progress in life is created out of a series of mini steps, elements, or habits, all progressively added together over time.
Success and progress is NOT about making giant leaps!
Focus on implementing one small step at a time, and turn it into a habit before progressing. For example, rather than “I will lose 6 pounds by may” change that to, “I will become healthier every day. I will start by cutting out sugar in my tea.”
The trick is to think small, but be consistent. Part of getting consistent is realising what you are able to stick to.
I used to have a quote I put on my wall:
“I take massive action to achieve my goals.”
It's now been replaced with:
“I take small consistent daily actions to move towards my goals.”
#3 To get Motivated With ADHD, Identify the Why of Your Goals
So when clients come to me for ADHD hypnotherapy, I coach them to set realistic goals, and guide them through the mental processes to master that.
ADHD hypnotherapy, apart from the fact that it trains ADHDer's in the art of mental organisation (otherwise known as Executive Functioning) by showing them how to set goals, prioritise, and think about the future, helps people with ADHD because they forget to ask the why question, which is the key to getting motivated.
Getting motivated is a big deal for people with ADHD, because brain imaging shows that when a person with ADHD is not motivated by something, their brain literally refuses to release dopamine, and yet when they are interested they can focus very well indeed. (Hyperfocus). Dr. Valkow's groundbreaking research on ADHD as a reward/motivation “deficit” (or difference) confirmed what many of us have been feeling and saying – when you have ADHD you have to be really interested to be able to focus! https://www.researchgate.net/publication/26796936_Evaluating_Dopamine_Reward_Pathway_in_ADHD_Clinical_Implications
But did you know that through shifts in mental thinking, by asking the right questions, it is possible to begin to switch that dopamine on in the brain again. Here's how....
So a client with ADHD comes in to see me and says:
“I want to improve my organisation.”
I enquire: “So you want to improve your organisation. And I'm wondering what you want to improve your organisation for?”
Up until now the client just knew they needed to be more organised, because they were hopeless at it, or they were fed up of being told off or scared they'd lose their job. So now they reply:
“I want to be more organised so I have a sense of order in my life” or maybe something more practical like: “I want to be more organised so that I can get that promotion at work, and that would improve my sense of self-confidence.”
Notice how the client now starts digging deeper into their underlying motivations, bringing them from the depths of the subconscious (out of consciousness) into “full view.” Now they are more aware of their why, or maybe they didn't even have a why up until now – because they have never considered why!
Helping a client find the why of their goals is one of the key roles of a good ADHD hypnotherapist or ADHD coach, because left to their own devices people with ADHD struggle to identify that due to a lack of self-awareness.
Notice also how the client is more likely to start talking about how an achievement will make them feel. In terms of ADHD hypnotherapy, because we work with the subconscious mind, the ability to identify emotions is considered essential to success, and is often the missing link in getting someone with ADHD finally motivated.
It is through emotions that we can communicate better with the subconscious mind. By getting clear on how achieving our goal will make us feel, gets our subconscious mind (which is 90-99% of our mind) on our side, rather than resisting us. That makes it easier to achieve our goals.
A personal example: I used to struggle with the organisational side of my business. But when I chose to specialise in ADHD hypnotherapy, I found my passion, and when it came to doing certain things that previously I “had” to do, and I considered “boring,” I now had a much more motivating reason to do them. I began to see the small steps as integral “cogs in the wheel” of my bigger goal, to help people with ADHD like yourself.
The trick with this mental shift is to think more deeply about why you have your goal. It's not enough to just have one. Ask why do you want it? How will achieving it make you feel? And how can you think differently about the “boring” and “trivial” sub-steps of the process, to finally make it motivating for you?
#4 Remember To Reward Yourself
People with ADHD, young and old, often fail to reward themselves. This is because our brains do not automatically do that, and we may also be in the habit of ignoring our achievements because we have heard endlessly from other people about our failings.
We generally beat ourselves up for the failures. What does this do? It means your dopamine (motivational boosting brain chemicals) drop even further. Now you might think that's normal or you can't do anything about it, but it's not healthy. Think of this way: You fail. You beat yourself. Brain chemicals go down. Your performance, in turns, gets worse!
Conversely, praising ourselves, will increase our positive brain chemicals, and then improve our performance. The challenge with ADHD, though, is that we don't do this naturally. So if you're an adult, remember to reward yourself (mentally and/or through a physical reward if you achieve something) and parents you can do the same by remembering to praise every single achievement of your child, however small it may appear to be.
This, in turn, will also improve self confidence.
#5 Focus on Your Strengths First
We hear so much about the failings of people with ADHD. It's even in the name – deficit. But focusing on our failings leads to even lower dopamine levels, poorer mood, motivation, and low self confidence. The trick is to focus, first and foremost, on our strengths. That will make you feel better. Whilst, of course, there is no denying we have plenty of improvements to make, and we don't want to promote denial, nonetheless, there is also research which shows that when you focus on a child's strengths, their weaker areas often improve even without intervention in the weak areas!
To explore what your strengths are and whether you're in alignment why not go here and do the VIA Character Strength's Survey. https://www.viacharacter.org/survey/account/register
#6 Ditch Denial
Like I said in the previous strategy, it's important to focus on one's strengths first. This can then have a positive knock on effect on to our weaknesses. Nonetheless, we do also need to be honest and aware about how our ADHD affects us or our child. Don't run away from it. Don't pretend your problems don't exist.
To quote clinical psychologist Dr. Jordan Peterson, “A known unknown is better than a unknown unknown.” If you can identify a problem, you've turned the unknown into a known, and that's better than not knowing or denying.
It's much healthier to face it. Create an action plan. Decide what the first step is. And guess what happens? Your anxiety lowers because now you've taken control and are moving in the right direction. It will still be challenging, but it's far better than trying to forget. When you try and forget, it hides in the back of your mind, burning up mental energy, and will drag you down. Be brave. Ask for support if need be.
#7 Find a Buddy
Sometimes you just need a little support, and that applies to people with ADHD more than most. If you're struggling to get into exercise (which we know is so good for ADHD!) why not start small at home, with a few pressups or by going for a short walk every day. If you're still struggling to get motivated, remember that a buddy can help. Did you know that when people have a gym buddy they can improve performance an average of 15%? And they are also more likely to stick to their routine and not give up.
I've also found buddying really helps for study and work, if you can find someone suitable to study with. Some of my best work recently has been achieved when working with a student friend. I find the atmosphere of two people highly focused gives me a boost of focus than working on my own.
Finally, if you're struggling with getting your life in order and need help with your goals, then why not speak to your health professional, or consult with an ADHD hypnotherapist or ADHD coach.
# 8 Mix It Up But Be Consistent About It
Many people with ADHD, and many experts advising them, may believe that when you have ADHD you need to “spice things up” a lot to get and stay motivated.
There's some truth to this idea, as variety can and does stimulate the ADHD brain.
However, like most beliefs, it's only partially true. Let me give a couple of examples of what I mean.
Some people say, when you have ADHD, you should do the fun things first. Yet in practise many people with ADHD do exactly that, but then find they have no time left for the things they needed to do.
So they get their brain switched on and feel satiated, only to feel guilty at the end of the day realising their “to do list” just got longer! It's like getting high by indulging yourself, and then feeling bloated afterwards and guilty because you put on a few pounds!
Whilst I agree people with ADHD need to do things differently, and can indeed break the rules if that works for them, nonetheless there are other approaches.
For example, why not have one block of time in the morning (say for a bit of exercise, a walk, or doing something you enjoy) then stop and do something you ought to do, followed by “must do”, then follow that up with an activity of choice again. This is what I call the “stick and carrot” approach, and when stuck to works well for those with ADHD. In other words:
Want (for initial stimulation)
Must do (e.g. have breakfast)
Should do (e.g. do some study)
Want (your reward).
Rinse and Repeat!
# 9 When the Going Gets Tough, ADHDer's Get Tougher!
Honestly, us ADHDer's must be a tough old bunch. It may not feel like that on your worst days, but in all honesty, we are still standing. And if there's anything I've noticed about people with ADHD, before and after diagnosis, is that no matter how much more challenging their ADHD makes life for them, they have a fiery spirit which says “I'm going to keep on going.” One of the biggest lessons for me to learn is how to tap into that strength to persist even – in fact, especially – when the going gets tough.
#10 Find Your ADHD Dynamite!
Apart from medication, exercise, and a few tricks of the mind to get your dopamine levels up, I can honestly think of no better way to get your ADHD brain all lit up – like dynamite – than getting super clear on your Why. Having goals, a purpose, meaning, and mission in life, and giving back to your community, is what really switches the ADHD brain on. That's why some people with ADHD have struggled to barely function when in one particular environment, relationship, or career path, and yet in another can completely turn it all around and become a superstar!
The trick is to find out what really switches you on in all areas of life, and make adjustments accordingly. Some people get their ADHD brain lit up like dynamite, by having multiple jobs, or changing direction to do something that fits their personality more.
When you have ADHD you cannot afford to settle. Neither can you follow a path dictated by your parents or anyone else. You have to be a little more selfish, because otherwise you might fail to switch your dynamite on!
For me, it was following my dream of becoming the ADHD hypnotherapist. In fact, if it wasn't for following that dream, I don't think I would have had my ADHD tranceformation back in 2011.
So now it's time for yours. I honestly believe that when you find your ADHD dynamite, there's little that can stop you!
“Don't ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive. Because what the world needs is more people who have come alive.” ~Howard Thurman
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