Impulsive? Instinctive? Intuitive? Or Inspired?
In my disorderly brain, it’s hard to tell which daydreams to follow, and which to calm down and ignore. But these four I-words can help.
Because of the way our brains are wired, people with ADHD have the potential to access creativity in more powerful ways than most people realize. Long before it was defined as a disorder, many great artists, thinkers, explorers, and leaders through the ages struggled with ADHD symptoms. Yet they were all driven by something inside that looked, on the outside, like madness.
What is that thing inside that drives us, the thing that on the good days doesn’t feel like madness? It is enormously important for all human beings to learn to tune into their intuition, to trust their gut feelings, but this can be a challenge when your mind has so, so, so much to say. In our moments of genius, we are moving with grace while trusting our instincts. But trusting our instincts can also get us into trouble.
What all these motivational I-words have in common is that they are all connected with the subconscious. What is the difference between impulsivity, instinct, inspiration, and intuition? When some sparkly idea calls to you, something that aligns with what you already know, or with questions you have, pursuing it feels irresistible, inspired. But children who feel inspired and act accordingly are hard for teachers and parents to keep up with, and need to learn to control their impulsive behavior. We help them to do so by getting them to slow down and become conscious of their actions.
It’s the same with adults. The difference between random idiocy and reactivity, versus inspired, powerful action, has to do with knowing yourself.
Do your impulses come from curiosity, or are they reactions to feeling unheard, bored, or anxious? Are they part of a greater theme? Or are they habits held over from an earlier time in our lives? If we take the time to unravel those urgent feelings, we can find out if they have a deeper purpose or need to be released. But with ADHD, sometimes those urgent feelings are part of the background noise, and we need to calm them, not unravel them.
All humans struggle with creativity and self-expression. Creativity is a spiritual urge as much as sex is a physical one, and on these paths we want to be inspired, not impulsive. Yet pursing these paths also calms us, keeps us sane, and gives our life meaning. In some countries, mental illness is recognized as “unheard muse” issues, a.k.a. blocked or stifled creativity. Recognizing and responding to our callings makes and keeps us sane.
Clearly there is a difference between following your dreams and following every whim that comes into your head. One creates a rich and purposeful life; the other takes us in circles and prevents us from carving a deep groove. Those of us with neurological tendencies toward the disorderly mind of ADHD need to become keenly aware of our own motivations, and use all of our tools—rituals, routines, and rewards, personal supports, nutrition and exercise, medication and medication—to choose between the thoughts that take us toward our callings and the ones that keep us stuck.
Slow down and listen to your dreams and ideas. They may be lofty or humanitarian or creative. Or they may be self-interested, like making money or having nicer things. Whatever they are—graduating from college, having your socks match, or finishing the book you started—becoming conscious of your motivations will make them real. When your impulses align with your inspiration, you can trust your instincts and thus develop your intuition.
And that is called using your imagination.
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