Some of my favorite friends have ADD or ADHD.
There’s something wonderful about not having to explain the massive topic shifts and attention spatter—because they are doing the same thing and can keep up with your crazy. They understand the frustrations and challenges of being a web-style thinker in a linear world, but they also know that it isn’t a really disorder; it’s part of what makes us awesome.
Jennifer and I wanted to share some of what’s helped both of us—not to eliminate or change the way our attention works, but to use it to its best advantage and thrive in a world that wishes we were wired differently.
I wasn’t diagnosed with ADD until I hit college.
I learned to read early and was always bright, so the fact that I couldn’t pay attention in class eluded most of my teachers. I wouldn’t wish it away; it’s a big part of my personality and my creative process. It’s why my brother nicknamed me Tink; it’s resulted in many burned meals when I got immersed in something else and many scenic drives because I was thinking about something else or singing and missed a turn.
Many times in my life I have found this web-like attention spatter frustrating, but more and more as I connect with amazingly creative people who are in the same boat, I’ve learned to regard it less as a disorder, and more as gift.
Many people refer to themselves as having ADD when they are distracted by social media, etc. but for those of us who are wired this way, it’s a little different. I have one friend who refers to it as “YayDHD,” which I think is pretty accurate. This rapid fire way of enthusiastically interfacing with life can be difficult, but if channeled properly and with the right tools—it can be our superpower. With great power comes great responsibility, so with that in mind, here are a few things I find necessary for making this “disorder” work for me instead of constantly fighting it.
Six tools and strategies I use to harness the ADD and point it in the right direction:
1. Go with the hyper-focus when it hits.
If this is you, you know exactly what I’m talking about. Sometimes our focus is all or nothing. When it’s all, go with it. Get it all done. This may require work and life habits (and relationships) that allow for some flexibility, but if you can make it work for you instead of trying to conjure it when it isn’t happening, it’s a huge help.
Hyper-focus is why there are times you get the same task done in 15 minutes that takes all day on a low focus day. If you are curious, and have the discipline to do so, try tracking your hyper-focus times to see if you can find any patterns and capitalize on them. For me, it’s more likely if I’ve had my optimal amount of caffeine (see #3).
2. Find an organization system that works.
For me, it’s a combination of Google Calendar and a Moleskine or journal to jot down miscellaneous ideas. I wanted to make the white board work. I’d love to be one of the people with those nifty planners that is so organized, but neither one of those work for me.
Instead of trying to force yourself into what works for someone else, experiment until you find your fit. I put nearly everything in Google Calendar, and it’s why my bills get paid on time, and I have only run out of coffee and toilet paper once this year. The hard part of ADD is that our brains don’t always prioritize ideas and events in a way that makes sense to the rest of the world. While this is a big piece of what makes us innovators, it’s problematic in terms of keeping the electricity on. With Google Calendar, the things I need to get done will pop up in multiple venues; it has been a huge help to managing daily life and work tasks.
3. Caffeine and Protein.
Your mileage may vary, but I find that getting my optimal amounts of both makes the difference between happy, productive Kate and scattered, drifty Kate. While I do take “time off” of coffee occasionally, I find that moderate amounts of daily caffeine give me enough focus without pushing me into manic pixie mode. In a similar way, getting enough protein helps keep me grounded—physically and mentally.
As a vegetarian, sometimes I wrestle with making sure I get adequate protein, and the times I don’t I’m definitely worse for wear. From an Ayurvedic perspective, think of the “vata” type person: windy, scattered and easily distracted. While physically grounding practices are helpful, being attentive to grounding foods can be an important step.
4. Grounding Essential Oils.
I’ve met few people with ADD and ADHD who were not also sensitive to sensory stimuli. We feel it all, and our attention can shift at a million miles per hour while trying to decide how to respond to it all—and how to order this information in a way that is most useful.
One thing I have found incredibly helpful is the use of essential oils.
Neroli is both calming and centering for me, while sandalwood is grounding, and vetiver helps with focus. Vetiver, in fact, has been shown to improve the performance of children and adults with ADD/ADHD by 100 percent! I also find them especially helpful if (by chance or by choice) I am having less caffeine or protein.
I wish all schools incorporated yoga to help kids with their focus.
After all, besides the fun stuff it does for our bodies, the big point of yoga is stilling the waves of the mind. While balancing postures are a struggle for me sometimes (I tend to look at every little thing and get pulled astray) inversions are a huge help when I’ve gone into overdrive and can’t seem to rein things in. The key to remember with inversions for this purpose is that a super fancy handstand or arm balance isn’t necessary to reap the benefits; half-handstand, a shoulder-stand or legs up the wall can help too.
Even halasana, or plow pose, can be a good disruptor to get the wavy mind on a course that’s easier to ride. When I get to the point in the work day that I just can’t focus, I turn things upside down for awhile.
You know you want to. Stop fighting it. Maintaining a playful spirit into adulthood is a huge gift. There comes a point when fighting distraction is a useless, and spending time outside is the best way to go. I’m not saying we should ignore our responsibilities, but when this is how you are wired, it makes more sense to take a break to refuel instead of beating at the same task forever when your focus is gone.
If you can, allow enough time in your schedule for a little wiggle room—literally. Sometimes going for a walk does it for me; taking a break to dance helps too. I have learned the hard way that the amount of time I have on paper and the amount of time I actually need are two very different things. When it’s possible, work with your own rhythm instead of trying to force yourself into what works for someone else. It will be a much more satisfying and successful experience.
I was diagnosed with ADD fairly early on as a teenager, but the crucial flaw there for me was that I wasn’t correctly diagnosed as having ADHD until much later.
A large part of this was the time period—and that less was known about ADHD then—but, more, it was that a huge stigma existed with ADHD—it was thought of primarily as a hyperactive boy’s concern.
Because the “H” in my ADHD is much more in my mental state than in my physical body—it’s in the way my mind is running not only marathons, but mini races multiple times a day. And, yes, this can be as overwhelming as it sounds, yet I’m absolutely inclined to view it as the gorgeous gift that Kate has already expressed.
Too often we hear about the downsides to having ADHD or ADD and not enough about the perks. (Trust me, there are many perks.) However, there is a reality that living in this linear world, as Kate has so aptly terms it, we are forced to conform to a societal standard that simply does not fit the way that we work. With this in mind, I’d like to share a few things that have greatly helped me function as a healthy, productive, ADHD adult.
7. Get sleep.
This is a ginormous factor towards daily success.
I’m a parent of a child who does not like to sleep, nor does she need as much sleep as I do. Still, getting quality sleep of no less than six hours a night is a must.
I’m fortunate to have a spouse who knows this about me and who has always been willing to help out at night or early in the morning. Possibly for you this means adjusting your schedule, asking for help with small children or being firm about turning off technology past a specific time. Which brings me to…
8. Avoid technology overload.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with technology—it’s a part of how we live and, as a blogger, I completely get that it’s not something that can just be cut out. Regardless, an ADHD brain can be even more over-stimulated and overwhelmed by technology.
On days when you’re feeling like your spinning in a world perpetually standing still, consider eliminating or significantly cutting back on your usage of technology. And then…
9. Spend time outdoors.
An individual who’s blessed with ADD or ADHD is likely also gifted with feeling rejuvenated after spending time outside. Aim for at least an hour (but anything is better than nothing), and then observe how there’s a grounded stillness radiating from deep within you afterwards. To me, it’s almost like I’ve been plugged back into the constant, renewable energy source that is glorious nature.
10. Exercise (especially for ADHD) and move around in general when appropriate.
Personally, I’m of the mind (like Kate) that we shouldn’t try to fight our personality type.
For example, I studied geology in college and I thrived on the outdoor, hiking, and moving that comes with collecting data. And then I morphed into teaching yoga, where I truly flourished. Also blogging helps me, as Kate suggests, take advantage of my short, creative bursts.
On top of this, though, exercise. It doesn’t matter what you do, just move your body and, if you are stuck in an office, give yourself regular movement breaks too.
11. Give yourself more time than you need.
There’s another thing that adults with ADD or ADHD can find themselves battling: being notoriously late.
I was always late—significantly late. I once even got an in-school suspension for morning tardies (and I was an A student). Point: being late doesn’t make you a bad person, but it can, ultimately, make you seem like a selfish person and, worse, it can affect jobs and important life events, not to mention make this daily linear life seem impossibly difficult.
Here’s what I’ve learned, and I’ve been a punctual or early arriver for a long time now: give yourself more time than you think you need but not too much time either.
We’re like Goldilocks with time—too much time and we think we have all the time in the world…and we wind up late; too little time and we’re late. All. The. Time.
Play around with this and see what works for you. I’ve found that I, generally, give myself 20 minutes longer than I think I need.
12. Cut yourself some slack.
And then give yourself a break—because, unfortunately, much of the world won’t.
People with ADHD can be impulsive in both actions and speech and this can lead to saying and doing things that we wish we could take back. While we should obviously work on not getting ourselves into situations that require an “I’m sorry,” we also need to learn patience with ourselves and with what can sometimes be our flaws.
It’s the flip side of the coin—our nature makes us fun, lively, intellectual whip-like companions and, equally, we can become irritable and too quick to speak. I find that when I get in touch with my inner child—treating myself with this level of patience and forgiveness—that life is easier since I’m less defensive and reactive and more patient with others as well.
And there’s nothing wrong with being labeled ADD or ADHD. We don’t have to let these labels define who we are or present us with fictitious limitations. Instead, we can choose to let this self-awareness be a guide to a better life. From my gifted ADHD heart to yours, good luck on your journey and I hope these tips and reminders help along the way.
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Editor: Catherine Monkman
Photos: elephant journal archives