According to all the experts, there are certain differences in the ADHD brain that make us crave stimulation much more acutely than normal folks. This can limit our ability to choose what we’re going to focus on. Without even being conscious of it, ADHDers find themselves trying and abandoning a bewildering number of tactics to force our brain to stand at attention.
When I was diagnosed for the second time a while ago, I sat down and made a list of all the things I had tried to use to stimulate my brain. It was a long list. I have made many lists, many inventories over the years, but the one I made at my friend Jim’s cafe (https://www.hostelcafepdx.com/) might be the most useful one I’ve ever made.
Because using the lens of attention and self-stimulation, I spent 15 minutes jotting down a list of life choices and I suddenly had a new understanding.
This list included habits, compulsions, trips geographic and spiritual, physical exercise routines, belief systems I had auditioned, diets, sleep strategies, mal-adaptive behaviors like starting fights and chasing women, acupuncture, isolation tanks, starvation, intentional sleep deprivation, along with a few practices that have worked, such as therapy, the 12 steps, yoga, journaling, and meditation.
Completing this list, three things became really clear to me.
- Hazy Problem Definition: Back when I was first diagnosed with ADHD, I did not take the time to explore my problem, look into it, consider what it was costing me. I had a notion that I was having trouble getting someone to hire me after having worked nights for a couple years as I completed my undergraduate degree. But I spent no time at all looking at a complete picture of how ADHD was affecting my life.
- Trying One Fix at a Time: With only a dim notion of the problem I was trying to solve, I proceeded to grab one solution after another, trying to get each one to solve all my ill-defined problems. Each time a problem came up short, or produced other problems, I dropped it and went to the next one, without even considering whether weight-lifting, for instance, was really the most direct route to improving my organizational skills. (It was not.)
- Making All Decisions Alone: I made most of these decisions with no input or advice from anyone else. Sure, there were exceptions, like I had an AA sponsor, and sometimes I took the advice of a yoga teacher. But mostly, I allowed my habitual mistrust of others to prevent me from seriously entertaining input or advice from anyone else. Ever.
After these three things became clear, I somehow knew that if I could just stop making these three mistakes, I had a much better chance to actually work on some of the problems caused by untreated ADHD symptoms.
Try this: Grab a notepad and a pen, and go somewhere quiet. Make a list of all the things you’ve tried out in order to be more decisive, more organized, healthier, fitter, happier, more productive.
When you’ve finished, step back and consider whether many of the things on your list were attempts to stimulate your brain through tasks you found boring, or to try and regulate your mood, or to handle out of control emotions.
Having this list handy as you read about ADHD and its many associated problems can help you gain a new perspective. This is the lens of ADHD.
Problem | Solution
Stagefright, shy, nervous, bored | Drinking huge amounts of alcohol
Drunk, exhausted, broke, dropped out of undergrad | Giving up alcohol
Nervous, racing thoughts | Tai Chi
Hard time finishing school work | Drinking coffee
Nervous, racing thoughts |Giving up coffee
Dissatisfied with work relationships | self-help book
Emotionally overwhelmed by parent’s death | psilocybin phase
Dissatisfied with work performance | productivity book
No career direction | Weekend seminar
Overweight, drowsy after lunch | Crossfit
Nervous, racing thoughts | Yoga
Dissatisfied with work | GRAD SCHOOL
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