Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, or ADHD, is a very real mental health disorder that can cause those working with it to struggle in a variety of areas including self-control, concentration, and remaining focused on future goals. Although we often hear about this issue in young children, ADHD is something many adults struggle with on a daily basis. It can be not only embarrassing for people but crippling to daily life and functioning. The good news is that ADHD is a highly researched and treatable disorder and those struggling with it do not have to do so alone.
Russel Barkley, Ph.D. is one of the leading researchers and treaters of ADHD. In his book, “Taking Charge of Adult ADHD”, Dr. Barkley lays out the eight ‘rules’ for overcoming ADHD and harnessing the potential so many ADHD sufferers have within themselves. I will go over the rules below and give a brief explanation for each. I also highly recommend purchasing and reading Dr. Barkley’s book if you or a loved one has been diagnosed with, or thinks they may have, ADHD.
Rule 1: Stop the Action!
Buy yourself some time before you respond. Often, those with ADHD will blurt out inappropriate comments or respond in appropriate ways because the part of their brain with reason and control has not had time to catch up with the rest of them. Slow down. If you feel like saying or doing something, don’t, and give yourself time to think it over.
Rule 2: See the Past… and Then the Future
Our actions are based on careful analysis of our past experiences as well as what we anticipate the consequences of that action to be…or at least they should be! Our ‘mind’s eye’ is a powerful tool which can help us visualize the future and remember the lessons of the past by calling up relevant memories to inform our decisions. This part of the brain (known as working memory) is weakened with those with ADHD. It is important to really focus and intentionally call up memories and to let your brain analyze them carefully before making a new decision. Having a saying or picture printed out in front of you to see or read can help facilitate your working memory, which is key to making the right decision.
Rule 3: Say the Past… and Then the Future
Just as our mind visualizes imagery for certain thoughts and ideas we also speak to ourselves in our ‘mind’s voice’. Those with ADHD struggle with calling up certain ideas in their mind’s voice as well as their mind’s eye. One effective way to deal with this is to actually say what you intend to do before you do it. For instance, if someone with ADHD knows that they need to go to the bank today to withdraw some money for rent, it may be helpful to say out loud what the exact plan is: “today at noon I will get in my car, drive to the bank, withdraw 1000 dollars, and pay my landlord.” In terms of learning from the past, saying out loud “when I did not pay my rent in the past, I almost was evicted,” can be very helpful in facilitating that process in the brain which comes more naturally to those without ADHD.
Rule 4: Externalize Key Information
Rely on something besides your memory! Write down a to-do list on your phone or a notepad and take it everywhere with you. This helps those with ADHD tremendously in remembering and prioritizing tasks. If something is important write it down and have it readily accessible!
Rule 5: Feel the Future
As we have discussed, ADHD makes it more difficult for working memory to bring up past events and visualize their significance. The same goes for trying to visualize a future goal. One helpful tool can be to have a physical picture or saying printed out on your wall or refrigerator of, let’s say, a picture of you when you were more in shape to motivate you to go to the gym. This gives your brain a little assistance in visualizing a goal as well as feeling a goal which is a key part to motivation. That picture may help you to remember what it felt like to be in that good of shape and why it is so important to get to the gym today.
Rule 6: Break it Down… and Make it Matter
It is easy to get overwhelmed by large tasks, especially to those with ADHD. One helpful trick is to break large tasks down into very small chunks and to give yourself a reward for completing those chunks. Let’s say you have to read 100 pages for a class. Split it up into ten-page chunks and give yourself a candy after each chunk. The work will be much easier and less overwhelming when done in this manner.
Rule 7: Make Problems External, Physical, and Manual
Similar to previous rules, rule 7 requires those with ADHD to externalize problems and make them tangible physically. Complex problems can be a nightmare to deal with all in your head if you suffer from ADHD. By externalizing the many parts of the problem by say, writing them down on note cards and laying them out on a table, you give yourself a better of chance of seeing the many parts and how they fit together at once rather than solely relying on your visualization skills within your brain.
Rule 8: Have a sense of Humor!
Probably the most important rule. Accept your imperfections and get on with your life! No one’s perfect and your ADHD does not define you. Use it to your advantage. Make fun of yourself. Love yourself and don’t take things too seriously!
Are you struggling with adult ADHD? Our compassionate team of experts is here to help. O’Connor Professional Group provides private mental health care coordination and support services for individuals and families, in-home and remotely, including executive functioning coaching. Contact us online or call 617.910.3940 for more information and to schedule a consultation with a member of our caring team.