Problem-solving is hard for ADHD adults. Not exactly rainbows and unicorns. I know. And you may be tempted to stop reading this article right now. But, if you want to become better at handling adversity, I hope you’ll hang in there with me a bit longer.
I thought of writing this article while reading The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson. Ordinarily, I would bypass a book with this title. Because, well, it’s probably not serious enough and worthy of my time. But, as is often true when I judge a book by its cover and jump to conclusions, I was wrong.
And, as I was reading Manson’s book, I thought of the myriad of ways problem-solving is hard for ADHD adults. Of course, I also thought of the workarounds for these challenges. So, let’s get on with exploring how you can become better at handling adversity.
How Your ADHD Can Get in The Way of Solving Problems
Understanding how your ADHD can get in the way of solving problems is the first step in handling adversity better. As, once you recognize these challenges, you can incorporate this understanding in creating effective workarounds.
One challenge related to your ADHD is you may become easily frustrated and/or angry when faced with a problem. This may be due in part to challenges with emotional regulation. And, when you are in this heightened emotional state, you might not be able to think about solutions. Rather, you may become reactive or just avoid it.
Another hallmark challenge for adults with ADHD is difficulty organizing and sequencing steps. So, even if you approach the problem with a sense of calm, you may still not be clear about what steps you need to take to solve the problem.
Activating or starting is another challenge adults with ADHD face. While there are many reasons you may procrastinate and not start, one reason is you are not sure how to start. That is, you may not have clarity about the best first step. And this uncertainty can keep you stuck.
If you do manage to start, you may find it hard to persist and sustain the necessary effort to solve the problem. This is especially true for adults with ADHD when solving the problem doesn’t carry a lot of interest. So, you may hyperfocus on fixing your guitar, but neglect to figure out what that weird noise is in the garbage disposal.
Okay, now that I’ve outlined some of the challenges you may be facing, let’s turn to the 6 steps you can use to solve your problems
Step 1 – Acknowledge and Accept that Life Is Full of Problems
I know this seems obvious and you might even be thinking, “Look at who you are talking to, Marla!” Right, I get it, you know life is full of problems.
I’m suggesting when you make a choice you also accept it will come with its fair share problems. By doing this up front you can approach the inevitable problems with a sense of equanimity. And minimize the chances of becoming reactive or avoiding the problem altogether.
- When you buy a car you know eventually something will go wrong and you will have to fix it.
- And when you land that great job you may also have to deal with an annoying colleague.
- You decide you want to be a homeowner and then find out you need to fix the retaining wall.
- Your life might not be complete without kids. And then…
I know you get it.
But how do you approach problems when they occur now? If you are not as calm as you would like, read on to see how you can become more levelheaded. And, in time, you might even be able to use the mantra, “Stuff happens. I can figure out how to deal with this.” Wouldn’t that be nice?
Then you can move on to approaching your problems with the solution focused perspective.
Step 2 – Pause
The next best step is to learn to pause, especially if you tend to be reactive. That is, put the problem aside, and focus your energy elsewhere before going into problem-solving mode. It could be for an hour, a day, a week or whatever amount of time seems reasonable given the problem you are facing.
After all, you know how hard it is to come up with creative solutions when you are “out of sorts.”
Obviously, not all problems will lend themselves to this strategy. If your car breaks down, and you needed to get to work, you will need to figure out how to fix it. But, if you are having a problem with a colleague, maybe you could let it just sit for a few days. And then decide if or how you want to address the issue.
Step 3 – Decide If It Is a Problem You Want to Solve
One of the options when faced with a problem is to accept the situation, rather than trying to change it. This may be the best strategy, especially when:
- you really have no control over changing the situation.
- you decide you don’t want to spend the time or energy necessary to change the situation.
Choosing to accept a situation as it is does not mean you like it or want it to be that way. It just means you are choosing to not to put your time and energy into trying to change it.
For example, you may choose to accept someone’s “quirky behavior,” rather than exerting time and energy trying to change it. Not only will accepting others as they are save you time and energy, but it also just might improve your relationships.
Acceptance can also be the best antidote when you are worrying about past choices. You can’t change the past, of course. Yes, you may decide you will work on making different choices going forward. But you may also decide to accept what is done. This is the most compassionate choice when you can’t change what is, right?
Where might you practice acceptance, rather than seeking out a solution to what seems like a problem for you? As you practice using acceptance as means of addressing your worries, try also using this adapted version of the Serenity Prayer from Dr. Hallowell below:
God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; The insight to prioritize wisely what I want to change; The patience to resist trying to control everything I could, had I the energy and time; The courage and skill to change the things I have chosen to change; And the wisdom to know the differences among all these.
Sometimes the answer to your problems may be a change in your perspective.
Step 4 – Buy Into the Process
But, if you decide you want to find a solution to your problem, remind yourself it is a process and the solution may not come easily or quickly. I know being patient with the process may not come easy for you. Because, as an adult with ADHD, while you understand this, you may still want an immediate solution.
And, when you can’t find an immediate solution, you may just worry about the problem — ruminate. But you may not take the steps necessary to figure out how to solve it because you:
- are confused and don’t know what steps to take.
- decide you don’t have the time to figure it out.
- think you might fail and so don’t see the point in trying.
- tell yourself you’ll figure it out later when you are less overwhelmed.
Yet worrying about the problem still robs you of time and energy. Time and energy you could be spending on other pursuits, right? Though it might be nice to become worry free, for most of us this is not realistic. But you could spend less time just ruminating.
What if you could put your worry to work?
Step 5 – Ask For and Accept Help
In pursuit of a solution to your problem(s) you may need help from a variety of people. Along the way, you may ask for support from friends, family members, a therapist, coach or someone who is an expert in solving the problem you have.
In the beginning you may need some airtime to just talk about how you’re feeling. This is especially true if the situation brings up a lot of emotions. It’s normal. So, take the time you need and don’t shortchange yourself by trying to figure out a solution prematurely.
Then, when you feel you are in the right frame of mind to do the work, you can move on to the next step — finding a solution. And for this step you want to find the right person who can help you:
- think of the necessary steps.
- create an approximate timeline.
- estimate and schedule the time needed for each step.
- provide accountability.
- troubleshoot when the plan doesn’t work.
- think of other people who may be able to help you.
Who can help you with any of the above?
Step 6 – Be Willing To Do The Work
Once you’ve identified the people who can help you then you can collaborate with them in doing the work of solving your problem. When you’re ready to do this you will be able to stop focusing on what’s wrong. And focus on what you want to achieve by taking a solution focused approach.
Below are the steps you can take to do this. I’ve included the example of Herb, who has a colleague, Dorothy, he feels is not pulling her weight. After reading the answers Herb gives to the questions think of a problem you currently have. And then answer the questions for your problem
1. What do you want instead of the problem? That is, what do you want to achieve?
I want a fair workload.
2. Write out what the solution will look like. Include as much detail as possible.
Dorothy and I will agree on a fair distribution of tasks. We will meet each week to check in with each other to ensure we are both following through on our commitments. We will agree to renegotiate if down the road either of us feels that the workload is not fair.
3. What is it about having this solution that is important to you?
Like I said before I want the workload to be fair and I want to be able to spend more time doing things outside of work.
4. How will things be different when you arrive at this solution? On a scale of 1-10, what will a 10 look like when you have what you want?
I can stop worrying about this, for sure. And I’ll feel better while I’m at work and be more productive. When it is a 10 we’ll all be pulling our weight, following through on our commitments and renegotiating when necessary.
5. What are the steps you need to take to accomplish this?
Here are my initial steps:
I’ll come up with a suggested breakdown of our tasks.
Then I’ll email Dorothy to ask to meet.
I’ll email her my suggestions before the meeting so she has time to think about them
We’ll meet, and go from there…
Working toward a solution definitely takes time and effort. But so do the alternatives — worrying and being reactive.
Question for You
What are you going to choose to do to address a current problem you have?