Deficits or Strengths?
Why focus on deficits at the expense of strengths? Professionals too often observe adults with ADHD through a neurotypical lens, intending to “help us” become normal, to become like most people. But extraordinary people don’t aspire to be like most people. Excessive focus on change is insulting and can inhibit us. Is it enough just to have your head above water?
Here’s an exercise: Think for a moment about your brain as an amphibious creature, capable of living in water or on land. It can swim with aquatics and walk with terrestrials, without the limitations of either. Would you prefer normal to being amphibious? There are many high achievers with ADHD, and they didn’t aspire to be like everyone else. They’re not normal.
If you are content being terrestrial, that’s okay. You can still achieve your goals and enjoy your life. If you want to aim higher, you might challenge the paradigm that you must first become “normal.” I once told a 15-year-old that I admired how he thinks outside the box. He replied, “I consider thinking outside the box to be an in-the-box concept.” He explained that being placed either inside or outside the box was limiting.
Vietnamese Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hann (1926-2022) once helped a group of U.S. combat veterans who were struggling with PTSD, some with episodes of rage. He began by telling the veterans that they were “like the hot tip of a burning candle” and had the potential to change the world. There was potential in their energy.
You don’t have to change the world or become wealthy to live well. Donald Horn is an extraordinary nature photographer whom I encountered one day in a local state park. I asked if he might be publishing a book of photographs, creating a calendar, or working for a magazine. He replied, “I just like taking pictures.” He told me how to find his photos on Facebook. He brings joy to many followers who view his prolific art for free.
You might believe you are aiming too high when you are aiming too low. Instead of asking yourself, who am I to think I could (fill in the blank)?, you can ask, why not? What is a deficit anyway? Impulsiveness can help you activate, defiance can help you aim higher, and hyper-focusing can help you sustain effort. Years ago, I would have given up after exhausting my first book outline with only ten typed pages. My outline did not represent a book-length idea. Who did I think I was, believing I’m a writer? Then I found my defiant energy, disregarded the negative voice, wrote another outline, and got my book published.
I believe most adults with ADHD see limits more easily than strengths. For me, evidence often pointed in both directions, to capability and to lacking it. Believing the negative evidence was a mental habit that obstructed me. I believed I was deficient. I didn’t respect my strengths or consider that I could cultivate the very strengths I needed.
Self-doubt is a waste of energy and time. The science on habits shows that we can develop new ones to counter old ones. Simply starting inhibits the negative mental chatter. Take a leap of faith. Silence the negative chatter by getting started. It’s time.
I look forward to reading your comments.