Adult ADHD Part Two …  20 Everyday Problems and 5 Easy Solutions

In part one of this series, I explained what adult ADHD is, and how it works in the brain. In part two, I’ve curated a list of twenty chronic problems that seem to occur with more frequency in those with adult ADHD. (These examples are all drawn from people I know, and/or stories I have heard.) At the bottom, you’ll also find a list of five strategies you can use to turn ADHD struggles …. into solutions.

Please note this first list was NOT written as a list of “symptoms”. It is also not intended for neurotypical people to use as a checklist to see if they have adult ADHD. (Some of the items on the list are quite specific while others are more general.) Rather, it’s intended to be validating for those who DO have it — you aren’t stupid, or selfish, and you aren’t alone! Remember that every one of these examples can be directly connected back to an executive functioning core skill. These things happen simply because people with ADHD have brains that are different, not because they aren’t trying. Once you are clear on this concept, you can better learn to work with the brain you’ve got!

This list is also intended to aid loved ones who might be feeling a bit frustrated. Remember that your person with ADHD is doing their best! In fact, they might be working a lot harder than neurotypical people. It can be exhausting.

As a reminder, in part one I wrote about how Dr. Diamond summarizes these cognitive tasks into three umbrella areas, together making up our executive functioning. Here they are again.

  1. inhibition/interference control (the ability to restrain oneself and block out distractions),
  2. working memory (vital for being able to remember, plan and carry out directions), and
  3. cognitive flexibility (the ability to plan, adapt and problem solve).

So, when your brain struggles in these areas, what does it look like in the real world?

What’s Harder When You Have Adult ADHD?

  1. Replying to texts or emails (unless its regarding an area of particular interest)
  2. Concentrating on what people are saying, even if the person is speaking directly to them.
  3. Setting boundaries on TV watching or playing computer games.
  4. Keeping track of possessions.
  5. Prioritizing “needs” over “wants”, when it comes to spending money.
  6. Using appropriate language in any given environment.
  7. Waiting their turn in conversation.
  8. Remembering appointments, getting there on time.
  9. Remembering to keep devices charged
  10. Staying emotionally regulated when frustrated.
  11. Using substances moderately or safely. (There is research that shows that taking ADHD medications lowers this risk.)
  12. Avoiding car accidents and/or broken phones. Taking care of expensive possessions.
  13. Booking appointments in a timely way with the dentist, the eye doctor, or for an oil change on the car.  
  14. Keeping desks, bedrooms, homes and/or cars tidy and organized.
  15. Getting started on forms, doing taxes, paying the credit card bill, etc. (Might be overwhelming OR boring.)
  16. Finishing projects, wrapping up final details (even though it was really exciting to get started!)
  17. Learning, remembering and completing multi step tasks such changing a tire, planting a garden (let alone remembering to water it) crocheting, or tying complex knots (requiring sequential learning, working memory)
  18. Staying in a job (or in a home) for any length of time. (The next job or next home always seems like it will be better!)
  19. Relaxing. (Instead, feeling fidgety, compelled to move and do things.)
  20. Staying quiet when the situation calls for it. Being told that they talk too much.

As you read, consider which of Dr. Diamond’s cognitive skills are required in order to be successful in any of these examples. Which difficulties might stem from problems (wired into the brain) with interference control (otherwise known as distractibility)? What about working memory (either verbal or non verbal)? Finally, which ones come from problems with planning/adapting/problem solving?

What connections can you draw? Does this list resonate for you? Are there other expectations that you might have trouble meeting? Comment below!

Isn’t all of this just an excuse?

As a therapist I get a lot of confused people coming to me. If the brain is disabled, and I can’t do something, why would I keep trying? Most often, these are parents of children with ADHD, who worry that their child will stop putting the effort in that they need to succeed. But, remember the saying, “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over, and expecting different results”? ADHD is not an excuse, but it is a disability. And so, accommodations might need to be made. As parents, this means learning to parent differently. As adults with ADHD, that means learning how to think about yourselves and organize your life differently. The map to success looks different.

Phrased differently, executive functioning core skills need to be in working order, so that the challenges above don’t happen (or happen a lot less frequently). Adults with ADHD don’t have that advantage. So, what does it mean to work with the brain you’ve got? What are some accommodations that can be made to better set adults with ADHD up for success?

Learn more about this below.

What Helps? Consider Your Nervous System!

Our nervous system is meant to keep us in our “just right” state of calm, focussed, ready to work and to learn. According to research, people with ADHD have an “interest based nervous system” and those with neurotypical brains have an “importance (or priority) based nervous system” (Dodson, 2022).

  • Neurotypical Brains: If you have an importance based nervous system, you might order a to-do list for the day in order of most to least important (according to themselves, or to someone else). Or you know there’s a reward or consequence for meeting the expectation (or not). So, you can (for the most part) focus and get to work. This all sounds familiar right? It’s how our world is organized.
  • Neurodiverse Brains: With lots of help and practice, that’s not impossible for many adults with ADHD. But life is a lot easier if you use your interest based nervous system for good. This means you can set up tasks so that, whenever possible, they contain at least one of the following four elements.
    1. Something you are interested in, curious to learn more about, and/or is related to an area of passion or core values.
    2. Something novel or a creative, different approach (even if not super interesting)!
    3. Something that contains a challenge (eg competition), or
    4. Has an element of urgency. Last minute might not always yield the best results, but it helps to at least complete the task!

Any one of these four elements will release extra dopamine to the dopamine-deficient ADHD brain. This will then increase motivation to keep going. (These four strategies can help “neurotypicals” too! It’s just that those without ADHD don’t need this approach as much, and can get motivated in other ways as well.)

How Can You Use This Knowledge in the Real World?

In the headline above, I promised five easy solutions. Here are four. Keep reading for the last one!

  1. To add urgency, set up short term deadlines for different steps of a larger project, and ask for help to keep yourself accountable. Or set a false or early deadline to trick your brain into thinking its last minute.
  2. To add a challenge, practice using flashcards or practice quizzes when you have to learn something new. Or set goals and gamify progress made.
  3. To add novelty, switch up the colors of your sticky note reminders, or of the markers you use to create signs for yourself. On a to-do list, draw a stick man picture of each item rather than just a boring list. Change the song that your phone plays when your reminder goes off.
  4. To add interest, find a small piece of a project that grabs your attention, and start there. Go deep, rather than trying to do everything on a more surface level. (If you need to do the other parts too, get help or use the “urgency” strategy above.) Look for jobs that fit with your core values or passions.

These are just suggestions. What else can you think of?

A Fifth Strategy: Find a Body Double

Adults with ADHD benefit from using the body double approach to complete unwanted tasks (Zillines, 2021). This simply means doing the task in the presence of another person. The other person might be working together with them, or they might be working on their own, on a similar goal. Body doubling works well for neurotypicals too. For example, I dislike gardening, and find it impossible to get started on yard work unless my husband is working in the yard too. Body doubling also works well for children. The next time your child has to work on their homework, try sitting down beside them and working on your own unwanted tasks! (For more on the research and theories about why this works, see the last link in the references list below.)

Adults with ADHD Who Have it Figured Out

There are many examples of successful actors, musicians, athletes, entrepreneurs, scientists, writers, and comedians who have been diagnosed with ADHD. There is something about ADHD qualities that can be a driving force to work for what you want. Here are five of my favourites, just for a bit more encouragement!

  1. Dave Grohl (lead singer of the Foo Fighters)
  2. Adam Levine (Maroon 5 lead singer)
  3. Simon Biles (American Olympic gold medal winner, mental health advocate)
  4. Emma Watson (Hermione on Harry Potter movies, and many other movies)
  5. Dav Pilkey (creator of the Captain Underpants series)

Just google the question and you will see endless articles, with a lot more names!

Reframing Problems Into Gifts

One airline mogul diagnosed with ADHD said the following. “If someone told me you could be normal or you could continue to have your ADHD, I would take ADHD. With the disorganisation, procrastination and inability to focus, and all the other bad things that come with ADHD, there also come creativity and the ability to take risks.” The same article goes on discuss findings that demonstrate how impatience and impulsivity can shortcut through fear of failure, and be a driving engine to make bold decisions in a short period of time(Dimov, 2017). In the same way, hyperactive can become “energetic”, talks too much can become “passionate”, and interrupts can become “excited”! It doesn’t mean the negative consequences are not valid, but it is important to shine a light on their positive side. BOTH can be true.

So, remember to follow your interests and use your superpowers. Don’t try to make your brain work like everyone else’s!

That’s it! I hope this series was helpful. (I got so passionate writing it I had to resist bolding and capitalizing everything haha!) If you need more help, reach out and book an appointment with Rainstorm Counselling today!

References

Brown, T.E. “The Mystery of ADHD Motivation, Solved” (2022). Retrieved from https://www.additudemag.com/adhd-motivation-problems-getting-started-on-tough-projects/

Chau, A. “The First Pillar of ADHD: An Interest Based Nervous System” (2019). Retrieved from https://theadhdmanual.com/2019/01/15/the-first-pillar-of-adhd-an-interest-based-nervous-system/

Dimov, D. “Why ADHD Can Be a Valuable Bonus for Entrepreneurs” (2017). Retrieved from https://theconversation.com/why-adhd-can-be-a-valuable-bonus-for-entrepreneurs-75255#

Dodson, W. “Secrets of Your ADHD Brain” (2022). Retrieved from https://www.additudemag.com/secrets-of-the-adhd-brain/

Honos-Webb, L. “The Gift of ADHD Controversy” (2013). Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-gift-adhd/201303/the-gift-adhd-controversy

Quinn, K. “The Amazing Adult ADHD Mind: Why ADHD Can be Reframed as a Superpower” (2021). Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/ca/blog/optimized/202103/the-amazing-adult-adhd-mind

Villines, Z. “What is ‘body doubling’ for ADHD?” (2021). Retrieved from https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/body-doubling-adhd

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