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Overcoming Common Paralyzing Thoughts for Adults with ADHD

medication-adhd-treatmentMany people with ADHD have limiting beliefs that prevent them from achieving their goals, whether it’s going to graduate school or going for a promotion.

For instance, adults might think: “I could never do that, the boring parts would be too hard” or “I’m too lazy and not that smart,” according to Roberto Olivardia, Ph.D, a clinical psychologist and clinical instructor in the department of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.

Overconfidence is another problem, he said. People with ADHD might think: “I could wait until the last minute and pull it off.” Sometimes, this is true. But procrastination comes at a steep price: little sleep, missing other priorities and diminished quality, he said.

To overcome your limiting beliefs, Olivardia suggested exploring and challenging these beliefs. “I tell my clients to never say ‘never.’”

For instance, if the thought that you can’t do something ever arises, make a list of the specific reasons the task feels impossible. Then ask yourself, “If someone offered me a million dollars to do this task, how would I be able to do this?”

This helps you shift from a negative and narrow perspective to an open mind that can explore ways to seek support and implement strategies that specifically work for you.

For instance, Olivardia’s client once said to him that he wished he could get a Ph.D — but there was no way he could write a dissertation. However, he applied to graduate school anyway and got accepted.

He and Olivardia brainstormed different ways to approach the dissertation. Together they came up with a plan: breaking down the dissertation into small parts — establishing accountability by emailing Olivardia before and after working on the dissertation for a block of time and attending a support group for students writing a dissertation.

His client would also write immediately after working out. This way “he could benefit from the energy and endorphins he got from exercise,” Olivardia said. Plus, he and a fellow grad student would read each other’s drafts and motivate each other.

This worked for Olivardia’s client. He completed his dissertation, and today is a successful psychologist.

When it comes to overconfidence — and procrastination — ADDitude magazine includes a great tip from Mary Solanto, Ph.D, associate professor of psychiatry at the Mt. Sinai School of Medicine, in this piece:

“Keep reducing the piece of the task until you can say, ‘I can do this easily.’ Once you get started, you may be buoyed by the results and continue spontaneously.”

Remember that ADHD isn’t an issue with intelligence or laziness or any other negative labels you might have internalized throughout the years, Olivardia said.

It’s a real neurobiological disorder. It is “as real as high blood pressure or diabetes and that with proper treatment, ADHD symptoms can be tamed,” psychotherapist and ADHD coach Terry Matlen said in this piece.

What helps in achieving your goals is to find ADHD-friendly strategies that support you. “Don’t be afraid to think outside the box,” Olivardia said. (For instance, you’ll find ideas on getting motivated in this piece.)

“It pains me when people with ADHD feel like they do not have access or deserve access to success,” Olivardia said. You do.

He suggested learning more about entrepreneurs, inventors, artists and others who have ADHD. For example, some individuals include Sir Richard Branson, Kinkos founder Paul Orfalea, JetBlue Airways founder David Neeleman, Pulitzer Prize-winning former foreign correspondent Katherine Ellison and prolific inventor Dean Kamens.

“If their limiting thoughts won over, we would never have benefited from their gifts,” Olivardia said.

Overcoming Common Paralyzing Thoughts for Adults with ADHD

Margarita Tartakovsky, M.S.

Margarita Tartakovsky, M.S. is an Associate Editor and regular contributor at Psych Central. Her Master's degree is in clinical psychology from Texas A&M University. In addition to writing about mental disorders, she blogs regularly about body and self-image issues on her Psych Central blog, Weightless.

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APA Reference
Tartakovsky, M. (2018). Overcoming Common Paralyzing Thoughts for Adults with ADHD. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 28, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 26 Jun 2014)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
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