Identifying the things that make us different as individuals with ADHD can be difficult, and accepting those things is often even harder. However, acceptance of our quirks is part of the larger process of living well with ADHD. Through acceptance, we can create systems and mechanisms that make our lives easier and more enjoyable. We can also make simple adjustments with meaningful impacts on our lives. Through acceptance, we can pause, and engage our thinking brains in goal-oriented problem solving — one of the most challenging and rewarding things we can do as people with ADHD.
Imagine, for instance, you are trying to create a consistent exercise routine. You may see others’ success with weightlifting and feel that this is a great path for you to take to improve your physical strength and wellness. After weeks of trying to create and sustain a weightlifting routine, however, you find that it’s nearly impossible to stick to. Why? Other people can do it! Why can’t you? At first, the easiest path is self-judgment: if other people can lift dumbbells, you should be able to as well. But it’s important to dig a bit deeper. You may find that dumbbells are just not stimulating for your brain, and that’s ok! It may mean that your weightlifting routine relies more heavily on pull-up bars, monkey bars, bands, complex body-weight movements, or something else. When we allow ourselves to get hung up on judging ourselves for how we “should” be able to do something because others can, we miss out on opportunities to brainstorm and make the small adjustments that help us create consistent, sustainable routines.
Similarly, I had a teenage client who faced her self-judgment head on and brainstormed a small adjustment that made a big difference. Erica was struggling to consistently brush her teeth, even though she knew how important it was. Like many of us with ADHD, she had a hard time completing this task that provided her with no dopamine. And, like many parents of children with ADHD, Erica’s mother was sick of constantly badgering Erica to brush her teeth, and Erica was sick of being reminded by her mother. Instead of judging herself for not being able to brush her teeth more often, Erica did some thinking with me about why the routine was so difficult to adopt. She realized that the mint toothpaste was the culprit: the mint hurt her gums, and she hated the taste. So, Erica made a small adjustment: she found out that she could buy strawberry toothpaste instead. As it turns out, she loved the taste, and now enjoyed brushing her teeth! The key here was acceptance: Erica accepted her struggle with teeth brushing, set aside her judgment of herself for having a hard time with something that “should” be easy, and focused instead on identifying and making a change that would make it easier.
As people with ADHD, we have important work ahead of us each day: the work of acceptance. By going through the process of understanding our ADHD and accepting it as part of our lives, we can move past judgment towards solutions. This process of acceptance can show up in all kinds of places, and at times can be difficult to spot. But by focusing on what we can do instead of what we “should” do, we can make small changes that have a major impact on ourselves, on our relationships, and on our lives.
ADHD Coach and Life Coach, Executive Skills Coach