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Don’t Cut Your Left Hand Off

I want to share a quote I read this morning; it is a powerful and thought-provoking quote by Victor C. Frankl, the Nazi concentration camp survivor who wrote:

“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

As a coach, I work with adults with ADHD, and one of my most important tasks it to help them to respond to their situation rather than reacting. When they are first diagnosed, especially when their ADHD is discovered later in life, interpret their diagnosis as, “I’m broken!” The search for a cure begins immediately. They turn to their doctor, “Now that you know what it is, isn’t there a pill that fixes it?” We are conditioned to “react” with medication rather than respond with lifestyle choices – miracle diets make headlines when the only real solution is to eat less and exercise more.

Even adults with ADHD who discover that “pills don’t teach skills,” and that with or without medication, you still need to change your approach to life so it’s more “ADHD-friendly” perceive themselves as broken and begin looking for a quick “fix.” You look for training to help you overcome your weaknesses by working longer and harder, being more disciplined, being more driven… you struggle with time management so you take training to improve your time management, you struggle to make decisions so you find an expert in decision-making processes, you work with an organizer so you can finally get your files in order… In every case, you seek, and struggle to apply, advice from experts who are well-meaning and knowledgeable, but who are “neurotypicals.”

You seek out experts, but they are experts in the way non-ADHD people do things. What they teach you are strategies and techniques perfectly adapted to help non-ADHD adults manage time better, to get organized and to make better decisions. Unfortunately, when these strategies fail, as they must since they’re not designed for adults for ADHD, you blame their failure on your own shortcomings. As an ADHD adult, you rarely question the strategies, or the expert; you shoulder all the blame.

Sometimes, initial improvements provide a false “A-HA!” moment because the ADHD brain loves anything new, but over time, these strategies cannot work effectively for you because they deny that you are different from neurotypicals… not worse, not better… but different. This is like you cutting off your left hand so you’ll be forced to do things the “right” way, right-handed. In fact, for many, many years, left-handed people were beaten in school for trying to write with their left hands. Being left-handed was seen as being “broken” or worse, evil! However, we now know that if instead, you learn to work with your left hand you’ll have more success in life than if you deny your differences. Why, it might even work to your advantage… left-handed pitchers are often harder to hit than right-handed pitchers.

So if your reaction to your ADHD has been, “Can’t somebody fix me?!,” and you’ve been trying to adopt a “neurotypical” approach to managing your life, I highly recommend you choose instead to respond by embracing your ADHD. Embrace your uniqueness and learn to work with your ADHD, adopting ADHD-friendly ways to manage your life. It is only when you accept your uniqueness and respond to it as merely a difference rather than a defect… when you stop trying to be right-handed like everyone else but seek out left-handed tools, that you experience growth and freedom.

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