Why having ADHD helped me become more attentive, focussed, and organised.
“Who you are, what you think, feel, and do, what you love — is the sum of what you focus on.” — Cal Newport
A broken brain
Looking back, I see now that I became obsessed with focus, attention, and self-improvement when they were hooking electrodes to my brain.
I think I was 8 years old at the time, and I actually didn’t feel much at all. I was a bit embarrassed to be in a Psychiatrists’ office, a little confused about all the tests, but I wasn’t kicking and screaming or anything like that.
Most of the feeling came afterward.
The Psychiatrist explained that I had ADHD. He had a battery of tests to prove it, but he didn’t really need the evidence. If you put a camera in my classroom, you’d spot me right away.
As we walked out of his office, carrying a brand new prescription for Ritalin, I started to feel: frustrated, angry, picked-on, embarrased.
Most of all, I felt labeled. From that moment on, I had a name for what was wrong with my brain.
Labels — the good and the bad
The ADHD label put focus on my inability to focus, which led me down two completely different paths.
Initially, ADHD was a limitation on my ability. I had no reason to try if I thought I couldn’t succeed. I stopped putting effort into school, started thinking of myself as incapable.
I had a few years of acting out, learning very little, and feeling very sorry for myself.
But after a few years, the ADHD label proved incredibly helpful, for the very same reason it was initially so limiting.
The label changed how I thought of myself.
Thinking of myself as somebody with ADHD opened the door to a whole new world of solutions I might never have explored.
Having ADHD felt like starting from scratch. You have to learn how to focus in a way that others don’t. As famed researcher Carol Dweck says:
“…when people already know they’re deficient, they have nothing to lose by trying.”
The label gave me a reason to try and focus, improve my attention, and get my shit together.
Focus on growth
The truth about your attention, focus, and ability to learn anything is this:
It’s all largely determined by self-belief.
Back to Carol Dweck:
“IF, like those with the growth mindset, you believe you can develop yourself, then you’re open to accurate information about your current abilities, even it it’s unflattering. What’s more, if you’re oriented toward learning, you need accurate information about your current abilities in order to learn effectively”
Having ADHD actually helped me believe I can develop myself.
What started out as a limitation turned into my greatest asset. I know where I’m deficient and I know I can work on it.
And that’s why I wrote this whole thing.
I wanted to share that labeling can be helpful. That your limitations are the beginning of your greatest strength.
Accurate labels, even as scary and embarrassing as ADHD, help you appreciate the current state of things. And you need that accurate assessment if you’re going to improve.
That’s what happened to me, and I hope it happens for others too.
Tomorrow — more on the practical steps I’ve taken to improve my attention and focus.