ADHD adults too often focus on their weaknesses, instead of developing their strengths. That’s a mistake! Here is how you can change that.
- ADHD adults may often focus too much on managing their weaknesses.
- Focusing on talents and building strengths can make it easier to reach goals.
- Externalizing what you know about yourself is the first step in identifying your talents and strengths.
- Assessments can be helpful, but you shouldn’t rely on them to identify talents and strengths.
ADD Success Stories by Thom Hartman
One of the best ways to reach your goals is to identify and build on your talents. But right now, are you spending too much time managing your weaknesses? Want to change that?
You’ve tuned into Scattered Focused, Done – Reimagining Productivity with ADHD, a podcast for ADHD adults like you, who want to learn how to adopt the best strategies, tools, and skills to be able to get your essential work done in a way that works with the way your brain is wired. I’m Marla Cummins, and I’m glad you decided to join me today on this journey to reimagining productivity with ADHD. So you can get what is important to you done, without trying to do it like everyone else.
If I were to ask you right now to list your challenges and how they are getting in your way, I know you could easily do that. But can you as easily identify your strengths and how you’re using them to reach your goals? If not, you may be too focused on your weaknesses and spending so much time and energy managing these it might feel like building a sandcastle on an ocean beach. Just when you think you’ve got a handle on one of your challenges, something happens to wash all your progress away.
That’s not to say you might not decide to make changes to help you succeed. For example, if you aren’t delivering on time, in part because of your ADHD challenges with time, and that’s affecting your credibility with your boss and colleagues and clients, you may decide you want to change that. But if professional credibility is indeed important to you, as in this example I’m using, you would also want to use your time and energy to leverage and showcase the talents and strengths that help and support you in reaching this goal. Rather than using too much time and energy managing your weaknesses.
I want to start the exploration of strengths with a few definitions. First, a strength, at least as the way I’m defining it, is a combination of talents plus skills plus knowledge. That is, you aren’t born with strengths. Rather you develop a strength when you utilize your natural born talent and then accumulate the right skills and knowledge.
On the other hand, a talent, as I’ve already alluded to, is natural, innate, an innate aptitude. That is, it is something you are born with. And, if you are able to use them, your talents can help you develop strengths.
If you noticed, I emphasized if. Because we know there may be factors beyond your control, such as forms of oppression, including racism, sexism, heterosexism, ableism, classism, antisemitism, and ageism that can make it harder for you to easily use your talents. Not everyone has the same opportunities to apply their talents in building strengths. I hope you do.
Optimally, you can start by identifying your talents and then decide what knowledge and skills you need to build the strengths that you want to help you reach your goals, hopefully in alignment with your values. Let’s unpack this for a moment by looking at the example of Chloe, who is the senior director of data science at her company. Chloe was wicked smart in math and computers.
It came naturally to her. So, no surprise, she double majored in math and computer science as an undergrad. Then, after deciding it to go into data science as a career, she went on to get her masters in the field to expand her skills and knowledge. She was also naturally strategic and creative in her thinking. And even as an individual contributor, she was considered a leader on her team. Eventually, Chloe was promoted to senior director, her current position. She continued to leverage her talents and the strengths she had developed.
But she was struggling to manage the people on her team because that just wasn’t a skillset she had developed, yet. While Chloe contemplated going back to being an individual contributor, she really was enjoying many parts of her new position. So instead she decided to close her skill gap by working with a leadership coach. Eventually, Chloe was able to become a strong leader in her position as senior director by first leveraging her natural talents and then upgrading those skills where she was relatively weaker.
Maybe you are stressed and overwhelmed right now. But, like Chloe, you have talents as well as strengths you have developed over time that you can build on to achieve your goals. And, as Drs Hallowell , and Ratey, authors have Driven to Distraction and Delivered from Distraction, point out, the best way to change a life of frustration into a life of mastery is by developing talents and strengths, not just shoring up weaknesses.
If you are able to operate in contexts in your personal and professional life that more often utilize your talents and strengths, you’ll likely find it more enjoyable, interesting, and maybe even easier. When this is true for ADHD adults, you’ll find your ability and motivation to perform will also be easier. Though not without its challenges. Ok, so by now you may be wondering how do I do this? How do I identify my talents and strengths?
Like many, who are curious about discovering their talents and strengths, you may think the best way to identify these is by taking an assessment or reviewing the results from ones you’ve already taken. While I’m sure you’ll find some interesting data points, I caution you against using these results as the final arbiter, though. Because the results can change day to day, depending on factors like how you’re feeling and what’s going on in your life.
For example, I’m sure you’ve heard of the Meyers Briggs assessment. And many who take it consider how the information might be helpful in guiding them in career in relationship decisions. But, not only have studies shown that 40 to 70% of people who take it get a different score when they take it a second time, but studies have also shown it’s just not a good predictor of people’s success in their jobs.
So, to gain a fuller picture of your talents and strengths, the first step is to uncover what you already know about yourself. Because, when you take the time to do this, you might find, you know more than you think you do. Here’s some questions you can use to do this either by yourself or with one of your fans, maybe a friend or family member. You can decide to answer a few at a time or all at once, whatever suits you.
To start with the most obvious question is, what are your talents and strengths? List as many as you can think of. Also, the activities that capture your attention and you can engage in easily may also be ones that use your talents and strengths. Make sense. So think of activities that really interest you and hold your attention. What are the talents and strengths you have related to these activities?
Also, those tasks you learn and understand quickly, even when they’re challenging, may also be ones where you use your talents and strengths. What are these tasks for you? And what are the talents and strengths you use when tackling tasks that you do learn and understand quickly. If you have a passion activity, what is it? What are the talents and strengths related to this passion? Okay, last question. For you to do your best work what are the optimal conditions and environment? Think about what strengths and talents you use when you’re in this environment and the optimal conditions are present. Can you think of other questions to help you uncover your talents and strengths?
A hot topic in ADHD circles is whether ADHD is a gift or not. I’ll leave that up for you to decide. But I am certain some of your ADHD symptoms are also strengths in the right context. As Thom Hartman, author of the book, ADD Success notes, ADD is a context disorder.
Hyperfocus is a good example. No doubt. If your hyperfocus helps you solve and enjoy the New York times crossword puzzle, that could be a good thing if it’s a time you decide to use this hyperfocus ability to solve the puzzle. And that’s what you intend to be doing. But, if you lose track of time and forget to pick up your kid from a play date because you’re hyperfocusing on the puzzle, your ADD symptom all of a sudden becomes a liability.
Impulsiveness is another great example. In the right context the ability to act quickly might allow you to take calculated risks and take advantage of opportunities before they elude you. Maybe that’s why there are so many entrepreneurs who also have ADHD. If impulsiveness is one of your challenges, I also don’t need to tell you about the downside. I’m sure you already got that.
The bottom line is your ADHD symptoms may either be a weakness or a strength, depending on the context. If you haven’t thought about how your ADHD can be used to your advantage, try this exercise. List all of the ways you consider your ADHD symptoms a challenge. Now think of the contexts in which these challenges serve you or are talents. You might be surprised at what you find.
The key is to use your innate talents, including your ADHD symptoms, and build on them by acquiring the knowledge and skills you need to develop the strengths you want to help you reach your goals. Rather than just seeing your ADHD symptoms as liabilities that get in your way. And then, after you have done hard work of identifying your talents and strengths by reflecting on what you already know about yourself, you might decide to gather more data points from one or more assessments.
I’ll go over some of the more popular ones and have also included links to these assessments with the podcast on my website.
The Kolbe test spelled K O L B E is interesting in that it identifies how you naturally, instinctively approach task. Unlike other tests, it doesn’t measure your abilities or personality.
On the other hand, the DISC assessment, D I S C is a behavioral test to assess your style of operating based on four personality types, dominance, influence, steadiness and conscientiousness.
The Myers Briggs, which I’ve already alluded to earlier and I’m sure you’ve heard of, is a personality test, assessing domains, including whether you are more extroverted or introverted. Also, how you gather information. A third one is a how you make decisions. And the last one is how you deal with the outside world, whether flexible or preferring more structure. Again, as I’ve already noted, studies show that 40 to 70% of people received a different result when they take the test a second time. And, as I also already noted, it’s just not a good predictor of career success.
In any case, another popular assessment that I’m sure you’ve heard of as well is the StrengthsFinder. It measures reoccurring patterns of thought, feeling and behavior, or, in other words, themes in different domains, including executing, influencing, relationship building and strategic thinking. The results indicate talents either that you already have, or maybe strengths that you have or ones that you potentially can develop based on your talents.
Again, as I’ve already cautioned, if you have taken these assessments or decide to take one or more, just please don’t let the results of these assessments be your only guide in making decisions related to your professional or personal life. You really do know a lot about your talents and strengths already. Though you may need to take the time to externalize this information by writing it down. And, once you’ve identified your talents and the areas where you’d like to capitalize on these to create strengths, you can use this information to make decisions about how you spend your time and energy.
Have you heard about Rudy Ruettiger, who is the subject of the movie, Rudy? For sure, it’s an inspiring story of incredible persistence. He really wanted to play football for Notre Dame. After applying to the university three times, he was finally accepted and then practiced with the football team for two years before he was allowed to play.
And then he was able to play the final game of his senior year and he ended up making the game winning tackle of the opposing team’s quarterback.
Theoretically, if you have a dream to accomplish something in an area, you are not naturally talented, you might, like Rudy, be able to accomplish it. And I’m certainly not one to dissuade anyone from reaching for their dreams. But imagine what the journey might be like if your goals are more in alignment with your talents. I imagine you wouldn’t have to strive as much as Rudy did. You would be more in flow as things would just be easier. You might also have a more well-rounded life, if that was important to you. Because you wouldn’t have to be working so hard. Maybe you would even be more at peace and have better relationships with yourself and others. Just a few thoughts. So how can you align your values and goals with your talents?
Obviously, sometimes you will need to operate outside your comfort zone in areas where you are not naturally talented. And, when you do, you will want to be strategic by, when possible, offloading tasks that just don’t play to your talents or strengths. This could mean delegating, hiring someone, bartering, perhaps, or simply saying no. If you are interested in how you can say no more often, I’ve included a link to an article about this with a podcast on my website. Can you think of any changes you might make and how you spend your time and energy based on what you know about your talents and strengths? If not, I encourage you to give it some thought.
Operating more often based on your talents and strengths really can reduce your overwhelm and stress and make life more enjoyable. So, experiment. See what happens when you do this.
That’s it for now. I’m really glad you joined me and stayed until the very end. If you’re interested in learning more about my work with adults with ADHD, please do check out my website, marlacummins.com. Of course, if you’ve learned a thing or two from today’s podcast, please pass along the link to anyone else in your circles you think might benefit. And, until next time, this has been Scattered, Focused, Done. And I’m Marla Cummins wishing you all the very best on your journey to reimagining productivity with ADHD.