The 5 Rules ADDers Should Live By

Adult ADHD expert Russell A. Barkley, Ph.D., shares five secrets for doing well at home, on the job, and in life when living with attention deficit disorder.


Filed Under: Organization Tips for ADD Adults, ADHD Time Management, ADHD Social Skills
adhd adults as happy friends

Do you feel like you're on a treadmill?

Managing the daily details of life with adult ADHD is hard. Deadlines at work come and go, unmet. Impulsive comments alienate friends and possibly cost you your job. You’re exhausted at the end of the day, and yet you feel that all your effort gets you nowhere.

ADHD medication can level the playing field, but you can do more. Just as diet and exercise help insulin do a better job for diabetics, these five rules will work with ADHD meds for better symptom control.

RULE 1: STOP THE ACTION!

It's hard to resist impulses.

Your boss proposes doubling your sales goals for next year, and before you can bite your tongue, you laugh and say, "Are you crazy?"

Your neighbor buys a new lawn ornament and asks you if you like it. You tell him it makes his house look like a cheap motel. Now he’s not speaking to you — again.

You see a gorgeous pair of designer shoes in a store window and rush in to buy them, even though every penny of your paycheck is already spoken for.

You don't give yourself time to think and measure your words and actions. Thinking means using hindsight and foresight to assess a situation and determine what you should say or do.

STRATEGY: Make a list of the situations in which you are most likely to behave impulsively. There are times and places where it's OK to be spontaneous and talkative, and other times when acting this way will cost you dearly.

When you are about to enter one of the situations you’ve identified, buy yourself a few thoughtful seconds by performing any of the following actions:

> Before you answer someone, inhale slowly, exhale slowly, put on a thoughtful expression, and say to yourself, "Well, let me think about that."

> Put a finger over your mouth for a few seconds, as if you’re considering what you’re going to say.

> Paraphrase what your boss or family member said to you: "Oh, so you want to know about…" or "You're asking me to…."

> Imagine locking your mouth with a key to prevent yourself from speaking.

Another strategy: Choose a slow-talking model and play that role when you converse. Quit being Robin Williams and start being Ben Stein. Slow it down. Practice speaking slowly in front of a mirror. This will give your frontal lobes a chance to get some traction, to get engaged, instead of being swept along on the tide of your impulses.

RULE 2: SEE THE PAST…AND THEN MOVE FORWARD

When a problem arises, are you confused about what's likely to happen or what to do? Do you beat yourself up for making the same mistakes again and again?

Adults with ADHD have weak nonverbal working memory, which means they don't draw on hindsight to guide their actions. They're not good at recognizing the subtle aspects of problems, and the various tools that might solve them. Many ADDers hit every problem with a hammer, because, to them, all problems look like nails.

ADDers may find it hard to defer gratification — which you must do to save money or stick to a diet, because they can’t call up the mental image of the prize that lies ahead. You need a tool to make sure that what you learned from the past is accessible when you need it in the future.

STRATEGY: Stopping the action — as described in Rule 1 — gives you the time to turn on the mind's eye. Once you've done that, picture a visual device — a flat-screen TV, a computer monitor, or a minicam — and visualize, on that imaginary screen, what happened the last time you were in a situation like this. Let the past unfold in colorful detail, as if you're filming it or replaying it.

The more often you do this, the more automatic it will become. What's more, you'll find that more "videos" will pop into your brain from your memory bank. You might think, "Wow, the last time I interrupted a meeting with a joke, everyone laughed at me, not at the punch line." Or "I felt guilty when I bought those expensive shoes several months ago, only to discover that my son needed books for school. I couldn’t afford them."

Having trouble staying focused? Download your free digital download of 6 Ways to Stay Focused with Adult ADHD, and get expert strategies to help you pay attention, even during the dullest of activities. Plus, receive more e-mail tips for ADHD adults.

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