(originally published May 13, 2011, updated August 7, 2020)
We all want to minimize our challenges, of course. No doubt, our lives would just flow better if there were fewer boulders in the way. After all, you’re reading this article because that is what you want. Specifically, you want to minimize the detours you need to take because of your ADHD challenges. What if you could use your strengths to manage your ADHD?
Though, like many, who are trying to figure out how to manage their ADHD, you may assume you are broken. If this is your perspective, you might be focusing your time and energy trying to fix yourself. Because that’s what you do when something is broken. You fix it, right?
Here’s the thing I want you to know. You’re not broken. Your brain is just wired differently and so you may operate differently than your neurotypical peers. That’s OK. But, if you are focusing on fixing yourself, you are swimming upstream. And, because you are fighting the current, you are likely taking time and energy away from doing what is essential to you.
What if you did it differently? What if you instead, as Peter Drucker, influential management thinker, suggests:
“First and foremost, concentrate on your strengths. Put yourself where your strengths can produce results… One cannot build performance on weakness, let alone on something one cannot do at all.”
Sure, you also want to acknowledge your weaknesses, including your ADHD challenges. And learn how to manage them as much as necessary. So you don’t get caught in the rapids. But don’t start there. Start by acknowledging and using your strengths as much as possible to reach your goals.
Ready to see how you can do this?
Talents + Skills + Knowledge = Strengths
To do this you’ll need to first start by knowing your talents. Because contrary to what some believe you aren’t born with strengths. Though you are endowed with certain talents. “Talents are naturally recurring patterns of thoughts, feelings, or behaviors that can be productively applied.”
The operative word is “can.”
Because I know there may be factors beyond your control that can get in the way of applying your talents. For example, we know racism and other forms of oppression can make it harder to use your talents to reach your goals. Given there may be barriers that are out of your control how might you develop your talents?
For example, you may be able to easily come up with viable ideas for new businesses. You also may enjoy and find it easy to strike up conversations with strangers. That is, you’re talented in these two areas. Do these talents help you reach your goals? Maybe. Maybe not.
Of course, socializing easily does not necessarily mean you are a talented networker. Networking requires specialized skills beyond just having a fun conversation. So, if you enjoy socializing with people, but aren’t a great networker right now, you might decide to strengthen your networking skills by learning new skills and knowledge.
On the other hand, you might decide it is just too challenging to follow through on some of your ideas by yourself. Maybe you anticipate that you’ll find it hard to persist when the initial novelty wears off. So, you might decide to use your talent of coming up with great ideas and collaborate with someone else to carry the ball into the end zone.
The important point is you need to know your strengths and weaknesses to make these kinds of decisions. So, let’s see how you can identify your strengths. Since I’m guessing you know your weaknesses all too well, right?
Advantages of Knowing Your Strengths
Sure, you should definitely go after your dreams. And, as I noted above, you might decide to get help in areas where you are relatively weaker. But, before you design the road map for reaching your goal, consider the true story of Rudy Ruettiger, the subject of the movie Rudy.
Rudy applied to Notre Dame 3x until he was finally accepted. He then practiced with the team for two years. But it wasn’t until the final game of his senior year that he was allowed to play. He ended up making the game-winning tackle of the opposing team’s quarterback.
No doubt, this is an inspiring story of perseverance. I wonder, though, what he could have accomplished if he had put that much effort into an area where he had natural talent instead of spending years and thousands of hours of practice to be able to play one game for Notre Dame.
Once you know what your talents and strengths are, you are in a better position to make choices that will work best for you in reaching your goals. Who am I to say? Maybe this was time well spent for Ruettiger. In any case, once you know your talents and strengths you may:
- decide to operate more often in your areas of strength.
- figure out how to utilize the talents and strengths you use in one area of your life to other areas.
- become more skilled in an area of natural talent to really make it a strength you can use.
- find you are more motivated to follow through when you use your talents and strengths. because it is easier.
- have more fun when you are operating an area of strength!
The trick, of course, is to identify these assets and how you can use them productively to reach your goals.
Don’t Start with an Assessment to Figure Out Your Strengths
I know you’ll want to start your discovery process by taking one of the various “strength finding” assessments or reviewing the results from ones you’ve taken in the past. No doubt, you’ll likely find some interesting data points to help you in the process of discovering your strengths. Just don’t treat the results as the final arbiter of your strengths.
Because we know the results can change depending on the day that you take the test. For example, as I pointed out in How to Find the Ideal Job for ADHD Adults, studies have shown that 50% of people who take the MBTI get a different score when they retake it 5 weeks later. And the MBTI is not effective at predicting peoples’ success in different jobs. Hmmm…
Whatever your reasons for trying to figure out your strengths, you’ll want to get the full picture. And to get the full picture you’ll have to do some work beyond taking a test to uncover your talents and/or strengths.
Identify Your Strengths by Externalizing What You Know
The first step you want to take to get a full picture of your current talents and strengths is to clarify what you know about yourself. One way to do this is to reflect by answering the questions below. Yes, I know, this is going to take a fair amount of time and energy. But you may be surprised by what you find.
You can answer these questions in one sitting, or you may take a couple of weeks as you observe yourself in action. If you are not able to complete this exercise on your own, ask one of your “fans,” such as a friend or family member, to help you. Who would you ask?
- To start with the most obvious, what are your talent/strengths? This is not the time to be modest!
- What activities capture your attention and keep you consistently engaged? Often the activities that we get excited about participating in are those that use our talents/strengths. What you’re your talents/strengths related to these activities?
- What types of tasks do you learn and understand quickly, and which are challenges you approach with a sense of joy? If you are a “natural” at something, there may be a talent/strength related to the skills required by the activity. What are your talents/strengths related to these tasks?
- What are you passionate about? How are your talents/strengths related to your passions?
- Under what conditions and in what environment do you work best? When these conditions are present and you are in this environment, what talent/strengths do you notice?
- What are the talents/strengths you can use most directly related to achieving your goals?
After reflecting on your talents/strengths, you may be curious enough to go beyond these questions to learn more about your talents/strengths. What are other questions might help you uncover your talents and strengths?
Turning Talents That Come From ADHD Symptoms Into Strengths
What if you could leverage some of your ADHD symptoms into strengths to use to reach your goals? Would you still want to banish those traits entirely? Probably not. Depending on the context, some of your ADHD symptoms can provide you with strengths. That is if you can identify and nurture them. As Thom Hartmann, author of ADD Success Stories, notes, ADHD is considered a “context disorder.”
Think of some of the notable people who have ADHD.
Olympic swimmer, Michael Phelps found his place in part because of his tenaciousness. Sometimes we refer to this as the ability to hyperfocus. As he told Sports Illustrated, “I’m just different in the water. I just feel at home in it.”
Ty Pennington of ABC’s Extreme Makeover: Home Edition said he was “uncontrollable” as a child unless he had a crayon and piece of paper in hand. His creativity and high energy, hallmark symptoms of ADHD, worked well for him in his former role on the show.
How about the rest of us? We don’t need to be Olympic medalists or famous TV personalities to harness the positive aspects of our ADHD. I credit my willingness to take risks, persistence, creativity, and energy for my business success. The same is true of many of my clients who succeed because of their ADHD traits, not despite it!
When it comes to your ADHD symptoms a strength can be a weakness and vice-versa depending on the context. But, unless you identify them, you may be missing opportunities to use your ADHD symptoms to your advantage. So, as you reflect on your talents and strengths consider strengths you have that come from your ADHD. In what context(s) can they serve you? You can also check out Lara Honos-Webb book, The Gift Of Adult ADHD, to explore more about the gifts of ADHD.
How You Can Gather More Data Points
And then, if you’re interested, you could explore some of the assessments below to gather more data points. But, as I said above, just don’t let the results guide your decisions. Rely more on what you know about yourself.
If you are interested in exploring your character strengths, the VIA Survey of Character is a great place to start.
Kolbe A Index
The Kolbe A Index measures your instinctive way of doing things, your strengths. You can use this information in both your personal and professional life.
The DiSC is another assessment that gives you insight into your behavior and personality, designed primarily to help you understand yourself and colleagues in the workplace.
By finding out your personality preference as measured by the MBTI you can make decisions about your current environment and future goals.
The StrengthsFinder 2.0 is also a popular assessment to uncover your strengths. You can find a free strength assessment along with a 20 minute video by Marcus Buckingham, co-author of Now Discover Your Strengths, here.
Where Could You Make Different Choices?
Now you may be wondering, “After I figure out my strengths what do I do?”
First, as much as you can, put yourself in situations in your work and personal life, where you can apply and use your strengths. Sure, ideally, everyone would just get to do those things that play to their strengths. But, of course, that just can’t happen, at least not all the time. You can be more strategic, though, and try to spend more time and energy doing tasks that draw on your strengths.
To do this, you could:
- ask to “trade” tasks with someone for one that better suits your talents.
- delegate a task so you have more time for others that suit you better.
- barter for a task that will use your strengths.
- just say, “no,” so you have more time to operate in domains that use your gifts.
Just because you have been doing things a certain way up until now doesn’t mean you have to continue that way. What could you change up?
IMAGINE THE POSSIBILITIES!
Theoretically, you could do many things you want, given the right amount of persistence, dedication, and time. But, if you think the quality of your journey is just as important as reaching the finish line, then using your strengths along the way is critical.
Because when you are operating from your strengths you are more in flow and life is just easier. As Dr. Seligman, founder of the Positive Psychology Movement notes, using your highest strengths leads to:
- more positive emotions
- more engagement in life
- better relationships
- more meaning
- and more accomplishments
Wouldn’t that be nice? Once you know your strengths you can make choices that will work best for you in creating the life you want.