Getting Things Done

Why ADHD Self-Awareness is the Key to Effective Action, Change, and Progress for Each of Us

Unlock real power and productivity by working to accept who you are, how you think, and what makes your ADHD brain hum. Here, learn what it takes to maximize your strengths and create the strategies you need to get things done.

illustration-brain with wrench

ADHD brains rely too much on magical thinking.

We want things to be different, and we hope change will happen automatically without sustained effort. Or we battle our ADHD brains, denying and fighting a lifetime of truths about how we do and do not function well. Or we think about something so much that we convince ourselves we actually did it. Knowing what to do is not doing it. Moving from knowing to doing is at the heart of the ADHD challenge.

So what unlocks real change and progress? Recognizing (not resisting) our ADHD differences — and embracing our true selves. The more we understand ourselves (self-awareness) and appreciate the way we are (self-acceptance), the easier it is to maximize our strengths and create workarounds where needed (the power of possibility and choice!).

Our ability to strategize and take effective action depends on understanding, and working with, the way we think. Change is a process, and the more we understand the process, the easier it is. Here are a few ways you can start the process.

#1. ADHD Self-Awareness Begins with Honesty

Self-awareness starts with taking an inventory of your strengths and challenges: who you are and aren’t, what you are likely to do or not, how you work versus how you wish you worked. Without self-awareness, you risk building a life or taking actions that won’t work for you. When you know who you are and how you function (or not), you can develop strategies to boost your strengths and compensate for your ADHD challenges. When you are aware of your frustration triggers, you can take steps to minimize them. When you understand what recharges your energy, you can commit time for it on your schedule.

Angie was frustrated because she had trouble fitting exercise into her workweek. She decided to begin each day by going to the gym. It was a great idea, but it wasn’t sustainable for someone who struggled to get up and arrived at work late several times a week. So she signed up for an after-work exercise class, which she often missed because she was exhausted by her job. We discussed more realistic alternatives. A midday yoga class got her out of the office, and she became more focused and energized in the afternoon. She went to yoga with coworkers, so it was a social event, making it easier to stick with the commitment.

#2. Practice ADHD Self-Acceptance

You may not like everything about yourself, but when you accept who you are, how you think, and the way you do things, you are more likely to get things done.

Create a judgment-free zone, and let go of how you think you should be. You are a unique combination of personality, history, ADD, LD, IQ, genetics, birth order, talents, environment — it’s all you. When we accept ourselves, we are less likely to react and better able to act. Break out of the guilt trap of self-criticism. Guilt keeps us stuck in a web of failure and regret, instead of allowing us to move forward. Studies show that those who accept themselves are happier and more productive!

[Get This Free Download: 25 Things to Love About ADHD]

#3. Recognize That You Always Have a Choice

Accepting our challenges doesn’t mean we can’t change things. Let go of the victim mentality! Our problems may be compounded by biology, history, environment, experiences, or other people in our lives, but we can choose how we respond to any situation. Instead of focusing on what we can’t do, look toward what we can. Maybe you’ll have to work around a problem, but that’s something the ADHD brain excels at.

#4. Trust Your Ability to Do Things Differently

Are there beliefs that limit you? Are you realistic in assessing a situation or your abilities? Do a reality check. Don’t trust your first impulse to react. Our brains like drama. To us, it’s all or nothing, black or white, perfect or useless.

James was struggling in college. He used the strategies we discussed and changed many of his behaviors, but his grades didn’t improve. I asked him if he thought he could do well, and he said no. James was trapped because he didn’t believe he could change. When he worked on changing his mindset, his grades—and his self-confidence—improved.

#5. Give Your Brain a Roadmap

Believe you have the power to make changes in your life, and make your goals specific. Working on too many goals at once makes it less likely you’ll accomplish any of them. You can’t catch two rabbits at once — even if you take pride in your ability to multitask.

[Read This Next: All You Need is Self Love]

Aaron, a new coaching client of mine, was frustrated by his attempts to “master time.” He had changed his sleep and wake patterns, and was proud of sticking to a schedule designed to maximize his productivity. It worked for a while, but he burned out. Why? He tried to embrace behaviors that didn’t work with his ADHD brain. Together, we explored more doable alternatives for accomplishing the things he wanted to change (such as “white space” in his daily schedule for downtime or unplanned tasks). We slowly shifted his sleep/wake cycle, and he acclimated to the changes. His brain had time to internalize these new behaviors. Less was definitely more!

#6. Strategize for Success!

Change happens when strategies are clear and realistic, objectives are specific, and goals are achievable. Instead of Aaron’s “I am going to master time,” start with “I will leave the house by 8:15 each morning, so I will arrive at work relaxed and on time.”

The better you know yourself, the easier it is to develop ADHD-friendly strategies that work with your brain. Think of each task as needing two sets of strategies. The first is to assemble the tools, tips, and techniques to accomplish the task, and the second is to motivate yourself to complete the task.

#7. Take Action

Think about what might get in the way of your taking action, whether it be external events or internal concerns (negative self-talk, avoidance, doubt, lack of energy or conviction). Be prepared with counter-strategies, and always be kind to yourself. The more you know and understand your ADHD brain, the better prepared you’ll be to get things done.

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