Think ADHD is just a personality trait? Here are some questions you can ask yourself if you have a nagging feeling that you just can’t seem to get motivated to take an active role treating your ADHD.

TL/DR: If you've got ADHD and you're not owning your treatment (coasting on meds and not doing anything else, for instance) here are a few simple steps you can take to get off the couch and get moving.

Who’s dealing with your symptoms?

If you have ADHD, you may be struggling with symptoms like emotional dysregulation, forgetfulness, inability to complete tasks, and time-blindness.

You may have stopped struggling, opting for something like Acceptance. Sounds good, right?

The problem is that Acceptance is no good for those who have to deal with your symptoms. They actually need you to, what, pick up the kids from school on time, or keep your projects on track, or pay your mortgage. If these people would only pray harder, maybe God would grant them some acceptance, and then they’d stop chewing your ass all the time.

Acceptance is awesome if you’re paralyzed by worrying about things you cannot change. But it’s horrible when there is a problem you CAN change, but you don’t know it. A huge part of learning to thrive with ADHD is learning that you actually can change a lot of the way your symptoms play out in your life, but that requires some work on your part, along with a willingness to take a fresh look at your self-assessment and admit you may be wrong. Maybe you are not able to keep track of your appointments in your head, but guess what? People who do this usually have worked hard to adopt systems and tools to help them. They don’t expect to be good at time-management by keeping it all in their head.

Who are these people?

Your spouse, your manager, your kids, your friends, your siblings, your parole officer, your clients, your customers, your neighbors. They are all being punished by your untreated ADHD symptoms.

If you are having trouble coming up with a list, here’s what you can do in 3 minutes:

Make a list of people who are telling you things over and over again, you know, the ones who are annoying the shit out of you. The ones you resent, ignore, block out, and try to tolerate. Some (not all) of these people are still in your life, despite your best efforts, and despite the often thankless experience of trying to help you deal with your symptoms.

Are they professional? No.

Are they perfect? No.

Are they always right? No.

But

If you’re a classic ADHDer, you’re probably tuning out a lot of what they’re saying because it simply feels shitty to hear about a problem you have given up trying to fix.

Instead of Trying to Shut These People Up, Why Not Take Over for them?

If you have ADHD, you need to get busy finding out what it means for you.

After all, it’s the only way to get these helpful people to stop being so goddamned helpful.

Here are a few simple steps you can take that will help you find the willingness to take this on:

Tip #1: Crank Up Your Own Motivation Machine with the Want/Have List

Open a notebook and draw two lines straight down the middle, making three columns. Label the left column Want. Middle: Have. Right: Reason.

Write down a list of all the things really want. Get a better job. Finish your degree. Lose weight. All that New Year’s Day stuff. Plus anything else: Great vacation. Buy a really nice musical instrument. Pay off your house. All that Tony Robbins stuff.

In the middle, a simple Yes or No. Do you have the degree, or the house, or the career, or the health that you want?

Right column: That’s the blame column. Why don’t you have it?

NOTE 1: Given the screwed up state of the world, you might be able to truthfully put a lot of things in this right column besides your own ADHD symptoms. But for the sake of this activity, we’re only trying to find which ADHD symptom is getting in the way of you having what you want.

Note 2: This can be a bit of a mind-teaser. Start with the obvious ones. If you make a list of like 15 things you want but don’t have, and you can find 3 or 5 things you can blame on your ADHD symptoms, that’s a pretty good start right there.

Using the Want/Have List

I have used this one as a daily warm-up, starting from scratch, then reviewing the lists over a view weeks to see which items I really want to work on, and to trigger some creativity of thought on what is blocking me and how to work around the blocks.

Tip #2: Make a List of What You Tried before

It’s likely you have tried a bunch of other stuff to fix various problems related to ADHD.

If you’re like me, you set about trying to treat individual symptoms first, not really considering whether they were related to one larger problem.

Some of my symptoms:

  • Lack of control of energy levels: Uncontrollably drowsy at inopportune times, such as while driving, at work, or during important conversations.
  • Completely time-blind: Unable to estimate how long any activity will take, filled with anxiety about missing deadlines, chronically late delivering important work.
  • Emotionally reactive: Easily carried away by emotions large and small.
  • Forgetful: Regularly forgetting important decisions made alone or in conversation with others.

Some of the things I tried:

  • Drinking
  • Smoking
  • Self-exhaustion
  • Accupuncture
  • Diets (intermittent fasting, blood type diet, vegetarianism, etc.)
  • Over-exercising (distance running, weightlifting without a coach, power yoga, Cross-fit, Tai-Chi)
  • 12-Step meetings
  • Meditation
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
  • Diagnosis for ADHD by professional
  • Recommended treatment
  • Multi-modal ADHD program

What Did Not Work

After I made a list, I realized that if I could stop making these three mistakes, I was going to make a lot more progress:

  • Hazy problem definition
  • Trying one fix at a time
  • Making all my decisions alone

Now I’m more than a year in doing it this way, and I have to say my results are waaaaay better. In fits and starts, all the problem areas of my life are now trending much better: Relationships, work, health, creativity, mood, memory, and self-concept.

So what did I do differently?

  • Generally speaking, I’ve been working hard to avoid the 3 big mistakes above.
  • Specifically, here is a list. I have added links where possible.

Tip #3: Compare Notes with Others Recovering from ADHD

Lots of us are sharing our strategies online. Here is a brief list-oriented view of mine:

What Eventually Worked for Me:

  • Finding a Shoe that Fits (see Why are you like this Pts 1, 2)
  • Working with the Right Professionals
  • Taking an Active Role
  • Meditation AND Medication
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
  • Multi-modal ADHD program
  • Taking my diagnosis seriously
  • Continued study of ADHD and related issues
  • Physical exercise (yoga, breathing exercises, cardio, lifting heavy weights, cross-country skiing)
  • Adequate rest
  • The Dawn Hour Cure (AKA The Three Tuitions)
  • Intentional Practice on Core Issues (Communication, Time Management, Prioritization, Emotional Dysregulation)

I’ll continue to post distillations of my progress here. Thanks for reading!

-Matt

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