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ADHD Self-Empowerment Begins With Finding Your “Right Difficult”

What qualifies as the right difficult? “First, it must be an activity that challenges us (it’s called “difficult” for a reason). If we’re not challenged, we get bored — and boredom is kryptonite for a person with ADHD. Second, it must be an activity that captivates us, that enchants us, and that is in our wheelhouse.”

After 71 years of living with ADHD (and dyslexia), and more than four decades treating thousands of patients of all ages, I’ve learned that one of the most transformative and empowering discoveries a person with ADHD can make is finding his or her “right difficult.”

What Qualifies as a Right Difficult?

It must satisfy two criteria. First, it must be an activity that challenges us (it’s called “difficult” for a reason). If we’re not challenged, we get bored — and boredom is kryptonite for a person with ADHD. Second, it must be an activity that captivates us, that enchants us, and that is in our wheelhouse.

For many of us, it happens in childhood — we fall in love with an idea, with cars, with a person, with a sport, with a musical instrument, with a subject or an activity, with a figure in history, with a book, with a particular cuisine, with a place in nature, with an animal, with geometry or math proofs, with arguments or poetry, or with a single blade of saw grass — and it changes our life.

[Set Your ADHD Brain on Fire]

Our wheelhouse is the repository of all that we love — all the people, activities, ideas, bicycles, and bolts that combine to create our own particular garden of delights. What could be more sustaining and fulfilling in life than to have such a rich and fertile store?

Your right difficult, then, combines an element from your wheelhouse with enough difficulty to hold your attention and keep you in thrall for a lifetime — just as the best love affairs can do. Lucky are the people who find theirs early on. But it is never too late to find your right difficult.

Self-Empowerment Through Creativity

I found my right difficult around fifth grade, when I discovered how much I liked to make up stories and write them down. By the end of high school, my ambition was to become a novelist. To this day, writing sustains me. I’ve not written a novel that’s been published, but I have written 21 published books, and I am about to embark on that novel at last.

Maybe it’s golf that captivates you, or the thrill of making money, or doing science experiments, or solving mysteries, or designing clothing, or climbing mountains. While finding their right difficult can spark anyone, it is especially important for people who have ADHD.

[Download: Your Free Guide to Choosing Your Best Career]

Why? What my patients confirm time and again is that people with ADHD have an itch, indeed a need, to create. We need to find an outlet for our creativity to feel right about life. If I don’t have a book in progress, I get ornery and depressed. When many of my patients do not find a place to pour their creative energies, they feel out of sorts, grumpy, dissatisfied, and tempted to make bad decisions.

Why a Right Difficult Is Essential

This need to create explains why entrepreneurialism is so common among people with ADHD. It’s why people with ADHD veer toward innovation. It’s why we march to the beat of our own drums, making up the music as we go. It’s not that we won’t conform; it’s that we can’t. We are driven to find and create our own ways.

Many people do not understand the primacy of this creative drive. And when it gets snarled up by problems with executive functioning, the need to create and build can look like rebellion, or chaos, or an inability to “get with the program.”

What others (and sometimes we ourselves) don’t get is that we can’t do anything well unless our heart is fully in it. Then, the difficulty electrifies the project, transforming it into more of a magnetic motivator than an obstacle.

Dr. Ned Hallowell has ADHD himself and is founder of the Hallowell Center for Cognitive and Emotional Health. Dr. Hallowell’s latest book is ADHD 2.0: New Science and Essential Strategies for Thriving with Distraction—from Childhood Through Adulthood, by Edward M. Hallowell, M.D., and John J. Ratey, M.D. Ballantine Books, an imprint of Random House, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. All rights reserved.

Self-Empowerment and ADHD: Next Steps


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