ADHD Awareness: Become a Student of Your ADHD
ADHD is not a challenge of attention or hyperactivity. It is a challenge of response inhibition. This is an all too common misconception. Why is it not called RID? Because the challenge of attention and hyperactivity, among other characteristics, is the manifestation of the condition - our perception of it and how it appears in the world around us.
I am so scattered! is much more tangible and relatable than I am not inhibiting!
As researchers learn more about the mechanisms of ADHD, though, they get closer to the causality of the condition which is, at a very basic cognitive functioning level, a response inhibition challenge. This has come to light from recent general neuro-scientific research that our brains are voting ‘No!’ all day long to incoming stimuli - that inhibition is a primary mechanism of the brain.
Take the classic marshmallow experiment that is basically a test of one’s ability to inhibit a certain response - don’t eat the one marshmallow in front of you now and get rewarded with a second marshmallow you can’t see in a few minutes. We Global Creatives can suck at this experiment because it exposes our inability to inhibit the primal urge to eat the marshmallow, to delay gratification. This is why we have such challenges around establishing and working toward goals that extend over some far-off time horizon. We can also excel in this scenario when we proactively and creatively manage the intense desire to eat the one marshmallow.
Key lesson - just because you struggle to inhibit impulses doesn’t mean you can’t successfully manage this behavior.
It all starts, though, with becoming a student of your ADHD.
Needs and Challenges
Since ADHD impacts brain functioning at this most basic level of inhibiting it is not a stretch to see the connection between our basic physiological functioning needs and how ADHD has an impact. We need food and water but we also need basic self care like exercise and sleep. When we have a solid self care routine we function better (and inhibit better) but one can appreciate how ADHD can disrupt in the planning and execution of something like managing basic needs that is never urgent in the moment.
In my Hierarchy of ADHD Needs I have added an often overlooked practice that I think is the most important one - ADHD Awareness. ADHD disrupts our ability to see our ADHD in play.
The main reason most people do not actively address their ADHD is because to address a pain point one has to see and appreciate the pain point.
Back in the day my core challenge with ADHD was finishing - finishing tasks, projects, conversations - but I was unaware of this for the first 8 years of knowing about my ADHD. I thought the problem was either someone else (blame) or some inherent flaw in me as a person. When I became a student of my own ADHD I was able to see that my inability to complete was connected to my inability to inhibit new and exciting ideas. The new ideas were so compelling in the moment, it was as if the obligation or commitment I was working on the day before blew away like a pile of leaves in a sudden wind storm. Let’s toss memory challenges in there to seal the fate of that earlier, perfectly good task, project or conversation.
Getting to the Root
Becoming a student of your ADHD is to become more tuned into causation (and the fundamental cognitive functions in play) rather than focusing on the theatrics and drama of the effect. This can be tough because the theatrics and drama are where most of the stimulation and interesting stuff occur - the emotional response of your girlfriend because of your lateness, the smoke infiltrating the entire house because you forgot to open the flu in the fireplace.
A place to begin is to observe how your ADHD impedes basic functioning and the practice of meeting basic needs. Start to identify physiological needs that are in short supply like sleep, eating well, meditation and exercise. Make a proactive plan to bring these activities into your daily regimen. This is not easy but research shows time and again a key connection between identifying and managing basic physiological needs and thriving with ADHD.