You might have heard it from the time you were young: You could be better if you would just try harder. It’s insulting, infuriating and sometimes makes you want to stop trying altogether. You know how hard you are trying. You know that you work insanely hard just to keep up with other people and yet you always seem to fall short. If “trying hard” worked, well, you’d probably be an immense success, in every area of your life, by now.
The myth that “if you just tried harder” you could remember better, be more organized andfocus better is one of the more damaging myths surrounding ADHD. It makes you feel like a failure. It makes you feel like you are lazy. It makes you feel like it is all your fault.
What the science says
Science is on your side. Research has shown that brain structure in those with ADHD is different than in those without ADHD. One study showed that the brains of those with ADHD actually work harder to control impulses than those without ADHD. Another studyshowed that children with ADHD had difficulty “switching off” parts of the brain involved in mind-wandering, causing problems when trying to focus. These, and other studies, continue to show that there are basic differences in brain functioning in individuals with ADHD. It isn’t lack of motivation, laziness or not caring that causes you to forget important details, lose track of conversations or be easily distracted - it is your brain chemistry.
Strategies that help
All of this doesn’t mean that you simply accept that you can’t focus, pay attention or control impulses. You do need to try, not necessarily harder, but differently. ADHD is a medical condition. Just as people with poor eyesight need to rely on glasses and people with diabetes should take steps to make diet and lifestyle choices, those with ADHD can incorporate strategies to help combat symptoms of ADHD.
ADHD shows up differently in each person. Add to that personality traits and you get a unique set of problems that require a unique way of compensating. Because of this, some of the strategies listed below might work for you, some might not. Try out different ways of coping with symptoms to find out what works best for you.
Show yourself compassion. Rather than immediately jumping to the conclusion that you are an idiot, stupid, lazy or inconsiderate, show yourself compassion as you would show to others. You might think that being hard on yourself is motivation, but the opposite is actually true. If you have children, you understand that encouragement and support are better motivators. Use this strategy for yourself, even when you don’t do well, be supportive and accepting of yourself.
Focus on your strengths. Too often, we focus on trying to fix what we aren’t good at rather than using the skills we are good at. We also tend to beat ourselves up based on what we can’t do rather than remembering what we can do. Focus your time and energy on what you are good at, what you are passionate about.
Be creative in problem solving. Many people with ADHD find that their creativity is one of their strengths. Use this to find solutions to problems in your life. While there are always boring tasks that need to be done, think about ways that work for you. Can you hire a neighborhood teen to cut your grass? Can you trade chores with a friend with different strengths (for example, have a friend organize your closets in exchange for you redecorating their living room). Don’t get bogged down with the idea that you are a failure if you don’t personally take care of every detail of your life.
Use your internal clock to your benefit. We all have certain times of the day that we are more focused and more productive. Keep track of your day, hour by hour, to find out when you are at your best. If you can focus better in the morning, before your mind get cluttered, try to get tasks that require focused attention done then. If you find that you are better in the afternoon, after you have had time to get your body and mind moving, schedule those tasks for then. This includes important discussions. If you need to have a discussion with your boss, significant other or children, schedule it at a time when you will be able to focus.
Find support. It’s easy to feel like a failure when you feel all alone in your struggles. Reach out to others for support and encouragement. Look for people in your life that understand and accept you as you are. If you are surrounded by people who are always encouraging you to “try harder” reach out to those who understand ADHD and are willing to offer constructive support. If you can’t find anyone in your circles, look for an in-person or online support group for adult ADHD.
For more information on myths surrounding ADHD:
Eileen Bailey is a freelance health writer. She is the author of What Went Right: Reframe Your Thinking for a Happier Now, Idiot’s Guide to Adult ADHD, Idiot’s Guide to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Essential Guide to Overcoming Obsessive Love, and Essential Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome. She can be found on Twitter @eileenmbailey and on Facebook at eileenmbailey.