ADHD and Adults: Systems, Strategies and Shortcuts that Foster Success
For individuals with ADHD, the foundation for success is accepting your ADHD. This includes accepting that your brain is wired differently—not defectively, said Roberto Olivardia, Ph.D, a clinical instructor of psychology at Harvard Medical School and clinical psychologist who specializes in ADHD.
“The truth is, adults with ADHD are creative, driven, intuitive, resourceful and are capable of great success,” said Natalia van Rikxoort, MSW, a social worker, therapeutic arts facilitator and life coach who specializes in ADHD and helps her clients use their strengths to overcome challenges and discover true fulfillment in their lives.
The key is to incorporate systems, strategies and shortcuts into your life. Many of Olivardia’s patients worry that using a shortcut is akin to cheating or admitting that they’re not as smart or strong or motivated as people without ADHD. “I remind them that the term ‘shortcut’ in regards to ADHD means that you are merely diminishing the unnecessary executive fuel that is burned by virtue of having ADHD…Shortcuts are simply strategic ways of doing things in the most efficient way possible.”
He used the example of a cell phone and landline. Even though they’re both phones, we don’t assume that they work the same way. They also come with different manuals. “Different brains require different strategies for success.” As such, below you’ll find a list of 12 tools and techniques to help you thrive and cultivate success—whatever that means for you.
Know yourself. Olivardia, who also has ADHD, exercises after work, sometimes at 10 p.m. He changes into his workout clothes at his office before leaving for the gym. Because if he doesn’t change, even with good intentions, he drives right by the gym and goes home. Already wearing his exercise clothes is a concrete, external cue, a loud, clear-cut message to his brain that it’s time to work out. “Yes, most people leave work and change into their gym clothes in the gym locker room. I know myself too well and how my ADHD and motivation work.”
ADHD coach Aaron Smith regularly forgets to eat. Which is why he starts the day with a power smoothie. It’s filled with brain-boosting ingredients, such as bananas, berries, spinach, vegetable-based protein powder, almond butter and almond milk.
How does your motivation function? What system, strategy or shortcut might help you take action or incorporate an activity you enjoy?
Have a landing zone and launching pad. A landing zone includes important things, such as: a bowl for keys, your wallet and a phone; a basket for incoming mail; and a spot for your bag, said Debra Michaud, M.A., an organizer and ADHD coach who specializes in working with adults struggling with chronic disorganization. A launching pad includes anything that needs to leave the house, she said, such as: bills, birthday cards, donations and store returns.
Eat dessert first. You’ve probably heard the advice “eat your frog,” meaning do the worst task on your list first to get it out of the way. But this doesn’t work for people with ADHD. Instead of starting with a task you’re dreading, pick a task that’s enjoyable or fun, said van Rikxoort. “This will help jump-start your brain and boost your mood, which will set you up for success when you take on those not-so-preferred tasks.”