Teens with ADHD

Shake Loose of Your Limiting Beliefs: A Guide for Teens with ADHD

Your biggest critic may live inside your own head. Your limiting beliefs about your character, capabilities, and potential may be holding you back from greatness — in high school and beyond. Try these three strategies to mute your inner critic, develop a growth mindset, and increase your confidence.

Shake loose of your limiting beliefs: A teenage girl wearing a yellow beanie jumping up high against a blue backdrop.

When you have ADHD, you tend to mistake yourself for a lackluster student.

You might focus too much on your struggles and resist giving yourself credit for your accomplishments. You might even hear an inner voice that undermines your confidence. “There’s no way you can finish this assignment in time. Don’t even bother starting.” Or, “Read the book by the end of the week? Who are you kidding? No way!” When you trust these limiting beliefs, it may undermine your self-confidence, making you doubt you can do anything right.

If you pause and think about it, though, your inner critic rarely tells the truth. Those limiting beliefs are only a habitual way of thinking. One key to succeeding in high school (and in life) is challenging the voice in your head that limits you and your future accomplishments. For example, you are not “bad” at math or English or whatever subjects feel hard for you. You’re a person who’s good at some things and who’s working to improve other skills.

Try to become aware of your mind’s self-limiting, self-protective patterns. Then you can then create a more effective system for working with what you actually are — a unique person who happens to have ADHD — in order to achieve what you know you can: success at school.

How to Overcome Limiting Beliefs

1. Question your stories.

Whenever a self-limiting belief comes up, dig inside yourself and ask: Is it really true? How do I know?

Suppose you didn’t get chosen for the debate team – something that was really important to you. You might tell yourself it’s because the teacher doesn’t like you. Ask yourself: Do I know this is true, without a doubt? Could there be some other explanation?

[Get This Free Download: Evaluate Your Teen’s Emotional Control]

In the moments your critic yells loudest, try to gently let it know it is not being helpful. You might even give it a name, if that helps. “Thanks for your input, Snickerdoodle, but I’m doing everything I can right now.” Eventually, you learn to observe that voice of self-criticism without believing it so much.

2. Develop a growth mindset.

Having a growth mindset means believing that your intelligence and learning develop through your own effort. On the other hand, a fixed mindset boxes you in with self-limiting stories: I’m not smart enough. Only As are good enough. I’ll never make the team, so why bother trying?

Of course, it’s great to have a realistic view of our abilities. But when we decide our success relies on something out of our control, we’ll quit more quickly when the going gets tough. When we give up and believe these stories, that fixed mindset gets in the way of our success.

With a growth mindset, you’ll be more inclined to try different learning strategies and asking for help when you need it. Research has shown that if you have a growth mindset, you’re more likely to do better in school.

[Read: “Why Does Fear of Failure Cripple My Teen with ADHD?”]

3. Ask for help.

There’s no point in struggling alone. Asking for help is a skill of its own. Confident adults ask for help on the job, seeking out someone more experienced for assistance on a project, for example. Without asking questions, they might mess up. At home, adults lean on friends for advice and emotional support, and arrange help with childcare or even household chores when they can afford it. And the sooner you find help with a challenging topic, the sooner you move past it.

Being kind to yourself means reaching out to others — perhaps a parent, a counselor, or even a specialist in ADHD. Truth be told, working with a specialist is one of the most proven ways to harness your ADHD. Think about it this way: You want to be independent of adults, and to be successful. Connecting with an ADHD expert who can show you the way may get you to that goal fastest.

Bonus Activity: Turn Your Inner Critic into a Compassionate Friend

The next time your inner critic is talking up a storm, try this soothing activity to turn that voice into one of a compassionate, loving friend.

Either seated or lying down, close your eyes and take a few deep breaths. Allow yourself to relax. With each breath, see if you can let go and relax a little more.

Now, imagine a place you feel safe, comfortable, and relaxed. It can be a real place or an imagined place — like a beach, a place in the woods, a corner of your bedroom, or a good friend’s house. Or maybe floating on a cloud. As long as it’s somewhere that allows you to breathe comfortably and let go of worry.

Imagine this place in as much detail as you can. Enjoy the sounds, smells, physical sensations, and, most of all, what you feel like in this place.

Soon you’ll receive a visitor, a warm, kind friend. Someone who loves you completely and accepts you exactly for who you are. Maybe this visitor is a real person, like a friend, a grandparent, or a favorite teacher. Or even a pet, or someone from a book, like a superhero. Or you can create someone in your mind. Imagine this in detail, especially how it feels to be with them.

Soon you will greet your friend. You have a choice — you can either go out from your safe place to meet them, or invite them into your space. Either is fine; do whichever feels most comfortable and safe.

Take a moment to enjoy how you feel. This being is with you and understands exactly what it’s like to be you, exactly where you are in your life right now, and your struggles.

They know you better than anyone else. They love you unconditionally and accept you completely for who you are. Even when you fail — especially when you fail.

This friend has something important to say to you, something that’s exactly what you need to hear right now. Listen closely for the words they share, words that are reassuring, supportive, and kind. Maybe something like, “Don’t be so hard on yourself. You want to be accepted and loved. That is human. We all want that.”

If no words come, that’s OK too. Just enjoy being with your friend.

Now, maybe you have something you’d like to say to your friend. They are a very good listener, and completely understand you. Anything you’d like to say?

Enjoy your friend’s good company for a few last moments, and wave good-bye, knowing you can invite them back whenever you need to.

You are now alone in your safe place again. Spend a few moments reflecting on what happened, and maybe on the words you heard.

Before this practice ends, remember that this compassionate friend is a part of you. The loving presence you felt and the words you heard are a deep part of yourself. The comfort and safety that you may have felt is always there within you. Know you can return to this safe place and compassionate friend whenever you need to.

Now bring your attention back to your breath. When you feel ready, you can gently open your eyes.

You may have been surprised that you have this lifeline within you. We all have this voice, our compassionate friend, inside us. It may be hidden or quiet, but it is there, a voice that is kind, loving, and supportive whenever we need it.

From Mindfulness and Self-Compassion for Teen ADHD, New Harbinger Publications, Inc. Copyright 2021 Mark Bertin and Karen Bluth.

Limiting Beliefs in Teens with ADHD: Next Steps

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