Emotions & Shame

Unhappy People Are Rarely Productive People: ADHD Self-Esteem Strategies

It’s a chicken-and-egg question: Does happiness lead to productivity? Or vice versa? Regardless of the answer, we know that emotional health and personal productivity are inextricably linked. Here, an ADHD professional offers strategies for improving your self-esteem as an adult with ADHD, and explains how positivity begets success at work and at home.

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An ADDitude reader recently wrote: “I’m miserable. I was diagnosed with ADHD and anxiety several years ago. My life is still a mess, and my career is ruined. I was the Boy Genius when I was hired as a venture capitalist, then I got bogged down in the corporate details of the job. Now my colleagues are fed up when I drop the ball, and don’t stay on top of emails or meeting deadlines. I want to be happy, and I don’t see how that’s possible anymore. What are some strategies to bring more happiness and fulfillment into my life?”

Being happy contributes to a healthier lifestyle, which, in turn, leads to better health and productivity at the job and at home. Perhaps you overeat, sleep poorly, and avoid exercise. These habits contribute to irritation with others, which causes relationships to flounder. They rob you of physical and mental energy to be productive. They rob you of hope for the future.

Seeking happiness is important for everyone, and happiness is within the reach of those with attention deficit disorder (ADHD or ADD).

What Does It Take to Be Happy?

In general, you are positioned for greater happiness when you:

  •  Realize that happiness isn’t a fixed state; it’s a continuous process and no single achievement, like a test score or new job, guarantees happiness. And no single failure makes you a loser.
  •  Accept that some difficulties won’t ever go away, but that most can be better handled by systematic problem-solving, training, and support.
  •  Develop skills to cope with your emotional responses and facilitate balanced decision-making. Use strategies to avoid letting life’s pitfalls become a barrier to productivity. Happiness is found in the ongoing process of learning and coping with all that an ADHD life throws at you. It is a continuous cycle of reflection and action. If happiness sounds like work, it is — but being unhappy takes a lot out of you.

[Your Free Guide to All the Best Parts of ADHD]

You may be frustrated by forgetting meetings or rummaging through desks and closets to locate your glasses, keys, or important papers day after day. You feel you can’t make a decision or begin a task. You wonder how to start a boring task or how to stop going down a rabbit hole when you’re hyperfocused. You feel dumb when you know what to do, but work so slowly that you never finish. Any unexplained failure makes you feel less joy.

Happiness After an ADHD Diagnosis

A diagnosis of ADHD tells you about why you think, feel, and behave the way you do. However, awareness and insight don’t reduce fear and shame or lead to changes in routines or productivity. After a diagnosis you need skills and strategies to manage your time, tasks, and emotions.

1. Remember that you have a challenge, not a character disorder. Happiness eludes you when you feel that, no matter what you do, your character drives you to disappoint yourself or others. You can grow happiness when you learn self-management strategies. When you lean on your strengths and learn skills to circumvent ADHD vulnerabilities, you lower your stress and increase motivation.

2. Discuss your ADHD symptoms and your quest for greater happiness. Mull over your goals. Imagine being happier. What do you see? Are your expectations realistic? What lessons have you learned from past successes and disappointments? What steps will increase your sense of control over procrastination?

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3. Review your default reactions to challenge. Are you an all-or-nothing, now-or-never thinker? Do you say, “If I didn’t get the promotion, I’ll never get one, no matter what”? Does perfectionism or impulsivity create pitfalls to your progress? Bypass typical unproductive reactions and move to proactive prevention. If your finances are a mess, pay only with cash to avoid impulse buying and running up credit card debt.

4. Be your own best friend. Develop a plan to take care of your body and mind. Your sense of wellbeing hinges on adequate sleep, exercise, nutrition, and stress management. Find apps to monitor your sleep, weight, and exercise. When you feel fit and in control, it is easier to stay motivated and satisfied.

5. Practice mindfulness. Seek peacefulness during your day by making time to slow down. Try taking four deep breaths, being non-judgmental, and enjoying small pleasures. Doing so quiets your racing mind and increases your ability to prioritize. Also, take a few minutes to express gratitude and recognize your progress.

6. Prepare for ups and downs. ADHD brings inconsistencies in performance and mood. Make plans to counteract disappointments due to unchecked ADHD symptoms. Don’t dwell on it; chalk it up to ADHD at work and switch gears to focus on how to be more productive.

7. Expect the bar to rise to attain ongoing excellence. The standards for success rise as you move along life’s journey. Although you might have gamed the system — by relying on your brains and charm — good work habits are required at higher levels of competition. If you feel you have spent your life just getting by, it is difficult to feel self-satisfaction, regardless of the honors or accolades you have received. You need to expand your repertoire of self-management skills and good work habits. Honing key executive function skills will help you feel happier.

8. Develop a team. Many with ADHD are emotionally bruised by disappointments and frustration. When you feel like a failure, contact a trained professional to discuss counseling and cognitive behavioral strategies. A professional can provide insights and accountability.

9. Reach out. Both the digital culture and ADHD may drive you toward overuse or abuse of social media, gaming, shopping, or surfing. Unplug and take time for friends and family and, when you are together, put the phones away. Positive social interactions help you avoid isolation and drifting into despair. A five- to 10-minute conversation or a stint as a volunteer allows you to focus on others and feel satisfied.

10. Use proven strategies to relax or solve problems. Positive visualization involves using your mind’s eye to create positive images. Picturing a pleasant or safe place can make you more relaxed. If you have a problem, imagining several solutions helps you gain clarity. You can combine visualization with constructive self-talk. Stop the critical voice in your head that judges you throughout the day. If you are worried about a meeting, and plagued by negative thoughts, imagine a positive outcome. Think about the things that would make the meeting a success.

You can be happy with ADHD. Happiness grows when you do things you like and are good at. If you see yourself as an-out-of-the-box thinker, consider how you can boost your creativity and talent. You have the power to learn strategies and take action for happier living.

[Free Resource: 3 Defining Features of ADHD That Everyone Overlooks]

Geraldine Markel, Ph.D., is an educational psychologist who is a productivity coach for adults and adolescents with ADHD. Geri can be reached at managingyourmind.com.