(originally published July 26, 2013, updated May 31, 2020)
Mindset matters for ADHD adults! And there are certain mindsets ADHD adults need.
But when you first think of how to manage your ADHD you probably think of needing new strategies and tools, right? No doubt, you probably do need new tools in your toolbox, literal, and figurative ones. And, amongst these tools, you likely need to learn how to employ new strategies, too.
Have you thought carefully about how your mindset impacts your ability to learn and adopt these new strategies and tools successfully?
You know there are certain mindsets that can help you progress with greater ease and others that will make it harder for you to make the changes you want. Do you know what they are? And do you know how to adopt new ones into your plan for working with your ADHD?
If not, you’re missing an important piece when it comes to learning how to work with your ADHD. So, let’s take a brief journey to help you start thinking about your mindsets and how you can start strengthening helpful ones and changing those that are getting in your way.
What Is Mindset?
First, let’s look at one definition of mindset:
“Mind-sets are those collection of beliefs and thoughts that make up the mental attitude, inclination, habit or disposition that predetermines a person’s interpretations and responses to events, circumstances and situations.”
Now let’s take that apart.
The beliefs and thoughts — mindsets — you have about yourself others and the world around you create your attitude. And this attitude determines how you respond to circumstances in your environment. This habitual response, as a result of your mindset, influences your emotions, thoughts, and deeds.
Are you responding the way you want to your circumstances, including your ADHD? If not, it’s likely, at least in part, you need to upgrade your mindset to be able to respond differently. If you’re game to trying, read on to find out about some of the different types of mindsets. And learn what you can do to strengthen or change them.
Meeting Your ADHD Challenges with a Growth Mindset
You probably read or at least heard of a growth vs fixed mindset.
If you tend toward a Fixed Mindset when it comes to meeting the challenges of your ADHD, you believe you can’t cultivate talents that you don’t currently have. And, moreover, you can’t even develop your natural talents — the ones you were born with.
I have a Fixed Mindset when it comes to clapping, really. At some point, I convinced myself that I can’t clap to a beat. So, now I don’t clap. When I share this with someone a version of the following conversation usually ensues:
Other person: “Sure you can clap.”
Me: “No, really, I can’t clap.”
Other person: “Give it a try…”
Me: “No, I can’t try. I can’t clap.”
Somewhere along the way I adopted a Fixed Mindset when it comes to clapping. What if I had embraced a growth mindset? With practice could I learn to clap? Probably. While this is a trivial example, for sure, it has me thinking about where else I’ve sold myself short because I said, “I can’t.”
Where have you sold yourself short?
Since you’re reading this, though, I’m assuming you have a Growth Mindset when it comes to working with your ADHD. This is the type of mindset that allows you to believe or at least develop the belief that with effort, passion/interest, and support you can:
- continue to enhance your natural talents
- bounce back from failure and use the experience to help you move forward
- address your challenges, including ADHD, and make life easier.
- access the resources and support you need to do all the above.
If you didn’t have a growth mindset, why would you be reading an article about how to make life better with your ADHD, right?
Make Better Progress by Adopting a Mindset Acknowledging Your Stories Are Made Up
One of the first steps you can take to inhabit more of a growth mindset is to change your internal dialogue.
Because, as Rosamund and Benjamin Zander, in their book, The Art of Possibility, reminds us every story you tell yourself is made up “based on a network of hidden assumptions.” And to break out of this box, you’ll need to acknowledge the stories holding you back, like these from your internal critic:
- “Nobody can rely on me.”
- “I’m always screwing up.”
- “I used to do great in _______________ (fill in the blank) college, before kids, etc. And now I can’t get anything done.”
If these sound familiar, you’re not alone. As many ADHD adults make up similar stories. And, of course, these negative comments feed your fixed mindset. So, to develop a growth mindset you’ll need to first change your internal dialogue to one that accepts “challenge, struggle, criticism, and setbacks,” and sound more like these examples.
- “Nobody can rely on me” becomes “I was late again. I wonder how I can get to places more on time. I bet I can get help to figure this out.”
- “I’m always screwing up” could be replaced with “I screwed up today, but I’m going to figure out what I can do prevent this from happening so often down the road.”
- “I used to do great … and now I can’t get anything done” might become “My life is more complicated, and I’ll need to learn new strategies and skills. I can do that.”
You get the idea. It starts with your thinking. I know it is not easy to change your habitual way of thinking. But, If you’d like to try, you can start by telling yourself new stories.
An Experimental Mindset Makes It Easier for ADHD Adults to Start
We see little kids with an experimental mindset all the time. I’m sure this way of thinking came naturally to you when you were younger, as well. It started with, “I wonder what will happen if I…” Then, often regardless of the outcome, there is an air wonderment, “Cool…!”
Somewhere along the way, like many of us, you might have become more reticent to experiment in certain areas of your life. But, without this willingness that came naturally to when you were younger, it will be hard to leverage your ADHD strengths and manage the challenges, right?
Of course, as an adult, you want to be more strategic about your experiments. That is, you want to have a plan — a roadmap — for how you will reach your goals. So you have a greater chance of success. As the more success you have, the more confidence you will have in your capacity to reach your goals. And this confidence will contribute to the development of a growth mindset.
To maximize your chance of success you’ll need to make the plan as concrete as possible.
For example, Bob wanted to get to work on time and initially decided that he was going to leave his house at 8:00 am so he can be in the office and ready to work by 9:00 AM. although he really wanted to get to work by 9:00 he didn’t have much success until he made a plan including all the various factors that were getting in his way.
And then his plan looked like this:
- Set 1 alarm for 6:30 and place my medication on my nightstand.
- Set another alarm for 7:00 o’clock and place it across the room.
- When the alarm goes off at 6:30 take my medication.
- When the 7:00 o’clock alarm goes off head right to the shower.
- Get dressed and avoid “1 more thingitis.” That means no playing games on my phone or watching TV.
- Leave the house at 8:00. (It takes an hour to get the office, including a daily stop at Starbucks and time to park and walk to his office.)
After creating the detailed plan, he committed to trying it for a month and tracking how he did. It wasn’t easy to persist. But, when he was able to get to work more often on time, he felt better. And the memory and visceral connection to this reward — honoring his commitment to being to work on time — motivated him to keep on trying even when it wasn’t easy.
How can you make your plan more concrete?
A Mindset of Curious Accountability Will Help You Evaluate Your Experiments
Unsure how to create a plan with the right concrete steps? Uncertain as to how you will evaluate the success of your plan. If you’re prone to giving up too soon, maybe you’re also not sure how long you should experiment before trying another strategy.
Adopting a mindset of curious accountability along with an accountability partner can help you answer these questions. But does the mere mention of accountability stress you out? I get it. To make it palatable, you definitely want to find the right accountability partner. So, you don’t feel shame when some of your experiments inevitably don’t work out the way you envision initially.
Once you find the right person, you want to make sure you both approach the planning and evaluation with a mindset of curious accountability. This means, in part, when something doesn’t work out, you don’t define it as a failure. As Thomas Edison said,
“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
Rather, when something doesn’t work for you, you and your accountability partner can become curious and ask questions like:
- What do you make of it (the experiment)?
- What would it look like if you stayed the course? Do you just need more practice?
- If it is it the right strategy overall, what might need a little tweaking?
- What about what you did worked for you?
- If you think it’s time to quit, how do you know it’s time to try something else?
- What was challenging?
With this type of curiosity and support, you can better assess what is working and what is not working and then make any necessary changes to enhance your chances of success. So that your mindset of curious accountability also contributes to your growth mindset.
4 Mindsets ADHD Adults Need for Success
The 5 important mindsets you need to be successful as in ADHD adults are:
- all my stories are made up
- curious accountability
You can see that all these mindsets are connected, for sure. Which of these are you going to work on adopting today? If you decide to play with these, let me know how it goes.