Guest Expert

Success with ADD/ADHD: A Strength Based Approach

We live in a performance-oriented world.  It's a world where too much emphasis is placed on identifying a person's weaknesses and improving the performance of those weaknesses. Constant negative focus takes a toll on a person's innate strengths, which may be downplayed or overlooked in the quest for “improvement.”

This preposterous "weakness" philosophy dominates our world, and does not serve people with ADHD.

In fact, focusing attention on weak areas of performance exacerbates the challenges of ADHD/ADD (used interchangeably).  If we're constantly expected to focus on our limited ways of performing, we're setting ourselves up for frustration, anxiety, and even immobilization – all of which inevitably lead to poor self-esteem.

On the contrary, based on over fifteen years of coaching people with ADHD – families, professionals, executives, entrepreneurs, filmmakers, etc. – I have consistently observed:

People with ADHD improve their chances for success, as they define it, by focusing on their natural talents – the ones that consistently yield excellent performance.

Our brains work by means of electrical stimulation. The dominant thoughts we pay attention to, at any given moment, stimulate our brains. I don't know about you, but starting off my day with a project that relates to my areas of weakness will not generate enough interest for me to initiate or sustain my attention, let alone muster enough energy to complete it.

For example, when I was a child, teachers would wonder, “Why is it that David can do his math assignment so well and so enthusiastically, but when he has to do a simple English reading and writing assignment, he won't even take the first step toward completing it? He finds every reason for not doing it and the more we ask him, the more he resists. He's just being lazy and does not want to do it.”

Negative labeling, using words such as “lazy,” unwilling,” or “spoiled” regarding lack of performance, is a misperception. It demonstrates ignorance about how the ADHD brain works.

My own personal experience, and that of the hundred's of clients I've coached, has taught me how difficult it is for someone with ADHD to will themselves to focus on a boring task, subject or project, especially one that is associated with improving a weakness.

When I choose to start my day using my strengths to do an interesting task, it has historically resulted in a positive outcome. Strengths-based pursuits energize me and help me feel more fulfilled. They create a powerful feeling of accomplishment and raise my self-esteem. They also empower me to take on additional assignments, including ones that are less desirable but need to be completed.

On the other hand, well-intentioned efforts to improve areas of weakness often backfire for people with ADHD by creating negative patterns of thinking. When you repeatedly receive the message that your efforts are not “good enough” to meet the established standards of performance, those bad feelings tend to spill over. You begin to associate a negative perception of your performance in one area with other areas, as well.

A constant focus on areas of difficulty may actually block a person with ADHD from being able to take any action.

If you or your child have ADHD and you want to maximize energy and focus, then it's essential for you to:

  1. Identify strengths and areas of interest.
  2. Prioritize and integrate them into your (or your child's) life.
  3. Develop a plan to make those talents even stronger.

Identifying your areas of interest is the key to paying attention successfully, and ultimately to success. It applies to all areas of your life.

To determine your strengths and your interests (for yourself or your child):

  • Identify the tasks, goals, and/or activities that you consistently enjoy doing and are usually able to complete. (Remember, ADHD is a challenge of boredom and disinterest, so completion is a critical component to consider here).
  • Once you've identified the things you do well and enjoy doing, ask yourself:
    1. What is it about this topic, goal, or task that's interesting to me?
    2. When I'm focusing on this subject, what are the things I consistently do – the steps I always take – that enable me to complete this task or project?
  • After answering these questions, jot down a simple bulleted list of the steps.
  • Then, take your list and create a reminder – maybe make a colorful visual map or an audio recording listing the steps (a simple list might just be too boring!)

When you know what it is that enables you to succeed in one area, you can then follow those “steps to success” in areas of challenge as well. By identifying your strengths and your interests, you'll uncover the clues to a system for organizing your life. This system will facilitate both sustained focus and consistent action – the keys to success for people with ADHD.

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