Mindset

The Joys of ADHD and the Risks of Being Normal

 

Most of us have spent our entire lives feeling broken.

We grew up knowing something was wrong with us, even if it at the time we didn’t know it by its four-letter acronym. We’ve spent years, even lifetimes, trying to get normal. We’d have been better off to escape Wonderland on the tail of a tardy rabbit. That would have been just as realistic.

What I’m saying is this:

If you are still trying to become normal, you need to wake up. There is no Wonderland. There is no normal.

Why Embrace the Joys of ADD?

Yes, 8 out of 10 kids may be able t0 sit still in class. Not all of those 8 will pass those classes with flying colours though. 8 out of 10 people don’t lose their keys every single day. But not all 8 of those will have tidy homes. 8 out of 10 people don’t interrupt in conversations. But not all 8 out of 10 are great conversationalists.

All of the things that make up our ADD-selves, the part of ourselves through which our ADD traits manifest themselves, those are things that other people (who don’t have ADD) also experience. Lots of people are frequently late. Lots of people are incredibly disorganized. Lots of people are long-winded interrupters who seem to have no point to their stories.

Just because we have all of those things, we are told we have ADD.

But let me ask you this: If a tree falls in a forest, does anybody hear?

Or put another way: if an ADDer is put in an ADD-friendly environment, do they still have ADD?

Let’s imagine I sent you on a little vacay for a couple of weeks. I left you on a deserted island, with only a spoon, a tarp and a box of matches to aid your survival. Because I am a wonderful travel agent, I also informed you that there were wild beasts from which you would need to defend yourself whilst simultaneously searching out a food source. Then I left.

Would your ADD hinder you in any way during your stay?

Think about it. You have no itinerary. You don’t have to awake at any set time, and there is nowhere you have to be. You have no home to maintain, no items to lose but the clothes on your back, and no one expecting you to remember the shopping. There is no TV to distract you. It’s just you and the elements of nature. Your duty is to survive and enjoy whatever the day may bring.

Would ADD get in your way AT ALL?

How might it help you?

People with ADD are often quick to react. They are frequently distracted by all the stimuli in the environment which, in this hypothetical environment, makes them a “scanner”. It’s pretty useful to scan the environment frequently when you need to watch out for predators and seek out your prey. Hyperactivity wouldn’t harm you in anyway either – it’s quite useful to be constantly on the move when you need to survive, or so I’ve learned from the Walking Dead anyway.

If you still can’t see what I am blatantly trying to tell you, let me encourage you to think of it from a different perspective. How useful are the skills of sitting still, listening in class, being neat, tidy and organized and punctual when you are running for your life (or at least for your stomach)?

Yes, of course, it’s not a real-life situation except on Survivor. But that doesn’t change the fact that if you were able to live in a different environment, your ADD might not be a problem at all. Maybe you don’t live on a deserted island, but that doesn’t mean you have to conceptualize yourself as the problem, rather than the environments modern society allocates us to live in.

You know, it’s only been in the last 100 or so years that kids were forced to sit down and learn the same standardized curriculum in a group of thirty same-aged peers. We think that’s normal. But if the world is tens of thousands of years old, and we’ve only started teaching our kids that way in the last century, in my books – that makes school abnormal. It may be the way we do things currently, but it’s not the way we have always done things and it’s very unlikely to be the way we will always do them.

Yes, the world has seen an explosion in ADD diagnoses. I don’t think it will always be this way. If Daniel Pink in A Whole New Mind has anything to say about it, I’m right. You should go read that book (or listen to the audio).

There are plenty of things that the ADD mind is adeptly built for. Like creativity, and innovation. Like chaos management and crisis resolution.  Like firefighting and emergency response. Like, like, like….

You see, when you look at things from a “broken” perspective, you assume that you need to fix something that is wrong, when nothing is wrong at all. It is what it is. When you celebrate what is good about that thing, you find a place for it.

That’s not to say that ADD doesn’t have its disadvantages, of course it does. But there are a lot of hazards to being a genius. And many hazards of being frugal. And also many hazards of reclusive or self-restricted. We don’t have to think that those things are ALL BAD though.

I happen to think that there is a place in this world for us ADDers. Thom Hartmann, author of The Edison Gene: ADHD and the Gift of the Hunter Child, agrees with me. He’s a pretty smart guy, so you should believe us both. Even if you don’t agree, at the very least you must accept that having ADD isn’t all bad, all of the time.

Research shows that ADDers have a higher tendency towards creativity. They also suggest that ADDers are frequently drawn to intense, high-demand and high-risk careers such as entrepreneurship.

You may not be one of those people. You may be, like so many of us, stuck in a career that is ill-suited to your energetic, associative, divergent thinking and need for constant stimulation and frequently changing environment.

It’s a lot easier to feel bad about being in the wrong place than it is to feel about being the wrong person.

I don’t have a simple solution to this. Try as hard as you can to find a better job for yourself. But in the meantime, try as hard as you can to make your job fit you.

The point about celebrating ADD isn’t to stand on top of your roof top and shout into a megaphone how wonderful you are. That tends to draw the wrong kind of attention to yourself and may lead to an all-expenses paid trip to a psychiatric facility.

However, celebrating your differences can have real advantages. People who celebrate their differences aren’t limited to ADDers. With the change in the way we think about “normal”, the idea of normal becomes a more and more obscure concept. Once upon a time, the only so-called normal people were white heterosexuals, with husbands who worked 12 hour days and smoked cigars, while their wives baked bread all day and their children played kick-the-can.

C’mon. Normal is so last century. But even last century…

Albert Einstein was not normal. Thomas Edison was not normal. Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks were not normal.

Normal never changed the world.

The Risks of Trying to Be Normal

The strengths of ADD are inherent in their challenges. Abundant minds tend to be scattered. Energetic people tend to have a hard time sitting still. And quick-reactors tend to be impulsive at other times. It’s just the way it is.

But there is more to this point than accepting it’s okay not to be normal. You can never get to where you want to be – to get the most out of life – when you are trying to work towards a false ideal.

Sometime, you might get to where you wanted to be. You may get very, very close to normal. And in the process, you may lose everything that was wonderful about you as you were.

I know this first hand.

I will never profess to be normal but I can say that I got very close to acting like a normal person on a routine basis. I got to the point where I was never late. But it usually meant that I was a harried mess trying to get out the door, shouting and badgering the kids to hurry up. I stopped making impulsive decisions and “winging it” most of the time. Instead, I was always thinking about next steps, appropriate courses of action, and reasonable expectations. I lost the ability to be spontaneous.

I became an automaton of efficiency. I was the family Border Collie, herding them all day long.

I learned to keep my environment neat and organized. But I became dependent on it. I couldn’t function in a disorganized environment. I spent so much of my time keeping things in check that I started doing less of the creative stuff. I daydreamed less. Which meant that I seldom had any ideas at all, let alone good ones.

I became very dangerously close to not having ADD anymore. Though it would never go away, I came close to shoving it in to remission. It required herculean effort to be normal. So much so that I lost my way. I actually caught myself wishing I could be more ADD again.

Life was certainly more chaotic with full blown ADD, but it was also a lot more fun. Though at times it was frustrating, I enjoyed living in my head and having interesting ideas. Sure, there were many projects that I never finished. But without my ADD brain, there were also fewer ideas and the projects that I did take on all tended to be very mechanical and lacked flare.

I couldn’t keep it up, being someone who I wasn’t. The pendulum, they say, swings both ways. It seems that my pendulum had to swing completely in the other direction, before it could come back to the middle ground in a reasonably feasible way.

Now, I am living in what I call ADHD Integration. Its where I am able to take the parts that work for me and keep them, while managing the parts of ADD that don’t work for me. I don’t want to give the impression that I can turn it on and off, but rather that I have the ability to switch gears when I need to.

The whole point is that I was extremely unhappy when I wasn’t letting myself be ADD. I was functioning better on the exterior, but I had lost a core part of myself and failed to fulfill my needs to be creative, expressive and spontaneous.

Embracing ADD does not mean that you just let yourself be late, disorganized or dysfunctional in many areas of your life. But don’t try so hard to not be ADD that you lose everything that is wonderful in the process. Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water.

Some of the most interesting people I know have ADD. I also know many interesting people who don’t have ADD. The difference is that the people who don’t have ADD don’t walk around feeling broken because they don’t fly-by-the-seat-of-their-pants. They fit in to the world but that doesn’t make them better people. It just means they’re better at fitting in.

People who don’t fit in have a place in this world. The shoes you have to fill may not be comfortable but no one said life was going to be comfortable.

Embrace who you are and what you have to offer the world. Be yourself. Manage ADD by all means, and don’t let it interfere with your happiness, but don’t let yourself be fooled into thinking you’d be happier without ADD in your life because trust me, you won’t.

 

Mindset

10 Things I Want My Kids to Know About Life With ADHD

Lately, my 7-year-old has been asking me about ADHD. I’m glad, of course. It means she’s interested in my work and what I spend my free time writing about. It’s quite an honor actually, that my daughter would want to know more about something that is so important to me.

No one has suggested that either of my kids have ADHD. That doesn’t mean I don’t see traits in them. But those traits do not seem to be impairing them in a major way… so far. I count that as a blessing, and in turn, parent them to the best of my ability, aspiring to be someone who teaches them how to get the best out of themselves.

But if my kids were to be diagnosed, there are a few things I would want them to know about life with ADHD. I am certain that knowing these things could change their lives forever, and maybe yours too.

 

1. You are Not Your Diagnosis

Having ADHD means your brain is wired a bit different. Being diagnosed with ADHD is only an explanation of that wiring. It doesn’t explain who you are. You are so much more than a diagnosis. Let ADD be a part of you, but don’t ever think it is who you are.

 

2. It’s good to Be Different, but Normal to Want to Be the Same

Nobody wants to be different, least of all kids. When you’re young, fitting in can feel like the most important thing in the world. It’s not. You may not fully realize this until you are much, much older. One day, you will realize that being different can also be an advantage in life. It’s never too early to start celebrating your uniqueness. Learn to feel good about living in your own skin. This step alone will make all the difference.

 

3. Sometimes You Must Harness Your Energy, But You Should Never Squash It.

Yes, sometimes you do have to sit still and hold back your impulses. This is a good skill to learn, as hard as it may be. But that doesn’t mean you should hold back on your passion, energy or enthusiasm. Sit still when you have to, but don’t let anyone put out that spark of yours.

 

4. It’s Okay to Be Misunderstood

It sucks to feel as if no one gets you. But I get you, and your father gets you. And all the people in our family and our close friends who love you – they all get you. We love you for who you are – strengths and flaws, just the same. People might not always follow your train of thought, but that doesn’t mean you don’t have valid thoughts and interesting ideas. It just means that not everybody thinks the same way.

 

5. Being Normal Is Not the Same as Being Right

Being tidy, punctual, organized and stoic are nice characteristics to have. Spontaneity, courageousness, creativity and passion are also great characteristics to possess. There is no one right way to be. Some people have an easier time with certain things than you do, but that does not make them right. Be who you are and own it. It’s your life and no one can tell you how you should live it.

 

6. ADHD Isn’t All Bad

ADHD can make some things more difficult, but it’s not all bad. There are some real strengths to having your brain-wiring, strengths like creativity, enthusiasm and passion. One day, you will have more control over your life – how you spend your time and what you do. If you focus on doing the things that you are strong at and the things that you love to do, ADHD may become your biggest asset.

 

7. Push Yourself, Just A Little Bit Harder And A Little Bit Farther, Than You Think You Can Go

ADD will make you want to give up the moment things get uncomfortable. Just like you, there are many things in my life that I gave up on as soon as they started to feel too hard. Go a little bit further than you think you can go. You will surprise yourself. You are not a prisoner of your ADHD-brain. You are in charge of it, and can train it to work better for you. It’s like weight-lifting. You will only build brain-muscle by making your mind work harder than it wants to.

 

8. You Are Completely Okay As You Are

I love you no matter what. If your hair remains messy or you eat with your hands, if you forget your homework or leave finger prints on my clothes, if you don’t listen or lose my phone – I love you. We all make mistakes. You are good enough because you are you, not because of what you do.

 

9. I Try Harder than You’ll Ever Know

I want to be a better mom than I am. Sometimes, I make a big deal out of things because I am trying to prevent you from having the same struggles I’ve had in life. When I tell you off for doing things, it’s not usually because I am mad at you. It’s because I am mad at me, for not doing a better job of teaching you. This is something every parent does, ADHD or not. Know that when I don’t do a great job of being your parent, it’s only because I am human. Every day I try harder to do better than I did the day before.

Something else you need to know: I see how hard you are trying too.

 

10. Almost Nothing Is Quite as Important As You Think It Is

Everything in life passes. The good times are short, but so are the bad times. Enjoy the ups with the downs. Life is meant to be lived. Don’t spend your time trying not to feel something. Spend your life embracing whatever you feel in the moment, good or bad. Your feelings are what let you know you are truly alive.

I don’t care if you get good grades or ever have a good job. I don’t care if you win at a sport or never even attempt one. I don’t care if you get married, stay single or run away with the circus! Just enjoy your life and whatever it throws at you. The point of life is not the pursuit of happiness. The point of life is to simply live it.

 

These are the 10-most-important things I would want my kids to know about life with ADHD? What do you want your kids to know?

Mindset

What Does Acceptance Look Like?

If you’ve been following this blog, you’ll know I talk a lot about acceptance, especially the importance of accepting your ADD/ADHD. But what does acceptance look like? More importantly, why is it even important?

Acceptance is a vague word. Dictionary.com offers a couple of definitions of this word, but for the purpose of this post, the first definition is important.

“The act of taking or receiving something offered”.

The act of taking or receiving something offered? Taking or receiving ADD? How exactly does a person go about taking or receiving ADD?

Let’s face it, you don’t exactly have a choice. You have to take AND receive ADD because you can’t give it back. As much as you would like to…

Perhaps it is easier to explain what acceptance is not. It’s not self-deprecation. It’s not beating yourself up. It’s not making excuses and it’s certainly not trying to be something you’re not!

Acceptance does look a little something like this…

“I know by now that I need to plan my day in advance if I hope to get anything done. My ADHD makes me think I “wing it”, even though that seldom works out. Sometimes it does and those times are so good, I wish it could always be like that. But if I don’t plan, there’s a better chance my day won’t go as well as it could. Sometimes, I’m overly optimistic – which can be a good thing, in some situations. But I am learning to become more realistically-optimistic when it comes to planning my day!”

What did you notice there? An objective analysis, rather than negativity or unrealistic positivity. An examination of all angles. A focus on learning. An awareness of how the self operates in tandem with ADHD. An endorsement of both strengths and challenges. A spirit of acceptance with a commitment to ongoing work at positive change.

What you didn’t notice was criticism or judgement. Not of the self or the ADD that goes along with it.

Why is this important? Because ADD is a defiant bugger. The angrier you get at it, the more it will act out. Have you ever had an argument with a difficult person? The more you engage in the argument, the more difficult they become? That’s your ADD – acting out, because it feels misunderstood.

Sometimes, in order to manage life better, you first need to change the dynamic in your relationship with your ADHD.

Some of you out there are struggling with the realities of living with ADD. I’d like to ask the rest of you to share your stories of personal growth and self-acceptance, so that we can reach out and help our tribe members who are struggling! Please share in the comments below.

(P.S. I’ve heard from some readers that they’re often afraid of commenting, for fear that they won’t be able to express themselves the way they’d like to come across. Here at The Art of ADD we promote a spirit of acceptance that allows you to say whatever is in your heart, however you are able to say it – so go ahead and say it!)

Focus

ADHD to Zen: Inside Job

This is the last post in the transformation series. As a recap, this series is intended to help you change nothing in your life but your perspective of it. We are speculating that: by starting to see your life, yourself, or your ADHD differently – without doing anything at all to change it – you will find yourself in a more powerful position to effect positive change down the line.

In Transform Your Life: ADHD to Zen, we talked about embracing the chaos of your life and getting out of your own way, to see the beauty of what you already have. In ADHD to Zen: Non-Doing, we discussed how the practice of non-doing or, of doing things effortlessly, without attachment to the results, can actually help you do things better. And in ADHD to Zen: Living Fully, we explored the notion that living fully is not about living happily, all the time. It’s about accepting every aspect of our situation as being okay, just how it is. Only then can we truly move forward, if we need to.

Today, in this last post, we’re going to talk about you. More specifically, we’re going to talk about the way you experience your life – through your thoughts.

I’ll try not to make this rabbit hole too long or confusing.

Most of us experience life through our thoughts about it. We ADDers, typically have more thoughts than the average person. Not ordinary thoughts, rapid-fire thoughts. Frequently, these thoughts can be very negative and drag us down.

In the past, I have written a lot about changing the way you think about things. We experience life through the lens of our thoughts. Life is bound to be unhappy if those thoughts are always negative.

Certainly, positive thinking has a prominent role in happiness. However, if you want lasting peace and contentment, then you need more tools in your belt than just optimism. Another “tool” for finding serenity can be to allow whatever thoughts occurring to exist, without changing or endorsing them.

“Thinking is the natural activity of the mind. Meditation is not about stopping your thoughts. Meditation is simply a process of resting the mind in its natural state, which is open to and naturally aware of thoughts, emotions and sensations as they occur… When you don’t understand the nature and origin on your thoughts, your thoughts use you… we can use our thoughts instead of being used by them”.  Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche, The Joy of Living

Think about rain for a minute. Imagine big droplets of raining falling gently from the sky, splashing down into puddles, hugging the curb outside your home.

What are those rain drops? Are they the sky? Are they the condensation from the clouds within the sky? Now they have fallen, have they become puddles? What becomes of each rain drop that has fallen? Is a puddle a large collection of single rain drops, or one, single entity?

Your thoughts are those rain drops. They come and go. They are not you. They are an expression of part of you, but they are not you. And as they pass, they become like the rain drops in the puddle. A puddle which, by the way, will eventually evaporate and cease to exist.

You are something much more than the rain or the puddle. You are so much greater than those thoughts that drop by and evaporate just as quickly.

When you follow or cling to your thoughts – when you chase them, or give in to them, you allow them to become you, when actually – they are nothing but a passing phenomenon.

When you sit back and notice them – simply notice them without judgement or trying to shoo them away – you tap into the nature of your own mind, the ebb and flow of conscious cognitions. And you realize that, while they are part of you, they are not the whole.

Rinpoche tells us:

“Everything I’ve learned about the biological processes of thought and perception indicates that the only way to break free from the prison of pain is performing the type of activity that imprisoned us in the first place. As long as we don’t recognize the peace that exists naturally within our own minds, we can never find lasting satisfaction in external objects or activities. In other words, happiness and unhappiness (is an) inside job.”

Living successfully with ADHD is certainly an inside job. Notice when you are thinking negatively, feeling scattered, or unable to settle your mind. You don’t have to change it – just notice it. Notice how one thought passes and another replaces it, only for that thought to quickly be replaced as well.

This is the nature of the mind, but not the nature of you. Thoughts can be scattered, negative or unsettled – but you exist beyond your thoughts. Noticing them from this vantage point, allows you to navigate through them and, as Rinpoche says, use them instead of being used by them.

I hope this series has been helpful. I am curious to know what you’ve made of the concepts we’ve explored. For now, I am going to take a break from the mindfulness topic and explore other issues in managing ADD and creating extraordinary lives. If you have any thoughts or suggestions, feel free to share!

And have an awesome day.

Focus

ADHD to Zen: Living Fully

Life is hard. The ADD life is harder than many for one reason: We are playing with the right equipment, but in the wrong game.

It’s like someone gave us a pair of soccer cleats and said:

“Now go out there and put the puck in the net”.

It’s understandable that we cry out and demand “Give me some skates!” But nobody listens. Our cries fall on air-horn-deafened ears. After a while, some of us change our tune. We abandon the hockey rink, decide that if life won’t give us skates, we’ll find a soccer pitch and learn a new game.

But not all of us find a soccer pitch or figure out how to play the beautiful game. That’s when we really suffer. They say that when life gives you lemons, you should make lemonade. But if you don’t have access to water or sugar, you’re hooped. The adage is intendedly positive and helpful, but it does suggest that there’s something wrong with sucking plain lemons. If you can’t make lemonade, then I guess you’re screwed?

Today’s post is the third in the series of life transformation, from ADHD to Zen. If you want, go ahead and check out the first and second post. Today we are talking about sucking lemons and living fully.

“… We don’t need to fight against the circumstances in which we find ourselves. We have a certain degree of faith that no matter where we find ourselves that’s where we really need to be. In fact, no matter how much trouble we may have seeing it, the place where we are could be said to be exactly where we most want to be. This is hard to accept. But when you accept it, your situation improves dramatically. That doesn’t mean we should be complacent and accept a bad situation without trying to improve it. In fact it’s one of our duties to improve whatever situation we find ourselves in. To do this effectively, though, first we have to understand that we ourselves are not something apart from our circumstances.” Brad Warner, Zen Wrapped in Karma Dipped In Chocolate

When you’re playing hockey in a pair of cleats, you’re you. When you’re playing hockey in a pair of skates, you’re you. What’s changed? Only your equipment and perhaps your game, but you’re still you.

I happen to think there is nothing wrong with playing hockey in a pair of soccer boots if that’s all you’ve got. You may be slower, you may slip and fall more. You may, in fact, look absolutely ridiculous. What’s wrong with that? Does that make your journey any less worthwhile? What if you set a record as the first professional to ever play hockey in something other than skates? What if you invented a new game? What if you did nothing but just played your game, with the equipment you had and appreciated the fact that amongst it all, you are still you and nothing changes that?

Just like Brad, I’m not saying that you shouldn’t try to better your situation. But I am saying that living life fully means also embracing the negative aspects of it.

When we look at our challenges as something we have to master or have dominion over, we see them as our adversaries. We decide that something else is better than what we have. When we do this, we miss what is inherently worthwhile in the path we have been given. We miss our lives. We miss ourselves.

Go ahead – change your game. Change your equipment. Change how you play. But you won’t do any of those things by lamenting and judging that what you have and what you are isn’t good enough, as it is. When you accept the importance of who, what and where you are in this moment in time, you make room for your path to evolve and give yourself the leverage you need to change the situation.

Skates, cleats and lemons will all fade away at some point. And what will be left? You. If you start remembering that – life will get better no matter what changes (or doesn’t).

Let me know what you think.

And have an awesome day.

Focus

Transform Your Life: ADHD to Zen

 

Going from ADHD to Zen… is that even possible? You probably think I’m kidding. Actually, I’m not – and you shouldn’t be fooled into thinking they are dichotomous either.

Life with ADHD may seem restless, unfocused and disorganized on the surface. Dig just a little bit further, though, and you may find a layer of peace and calmness under the chaos, just waiting to be excavated.

When ADDers seek help through medication, counseling or coaching, they are hoping for strategies to overcome their symptoms and live “normal” lives. What they really want is to transform themselves, to have a different experience of life altogether. At the core, they want more peace and happiness.

Isn’t this what we all want?

But who has time for personal transformation? It’s hard enough just getting through the day with your head still on. Transformation is for caterpillars and Autobots, not people trying to muddle through each day without falling apart. Most of us would settle for just getting to work on time.

We should want more from life than just muddling-through. What about having a life in which we are flourishing and having a great time at it? We assume that by becoming more organized, productive and focused, our paths will eventually lead us to a life of tranquility.

What if we’ve got it the wrong way around? What if the way to organization, productivity and focus was through peace and calmness? What might be possible if transformation was the first step, not the result?

What I’m saying is this:

What if Zen came first and the rest followed?

I believe that complete transformation is not only possible, but inevitable, when you open yourself up to a new experience of life, even when circumstances haven’t changed one iota.  I’m not the only one. My ideas have been influenced by several likely suspects. Specifically – two monks, a professor and of course, a punk rocker. In this four-part series, I will explain what I have learned from them and challenge you to shift your perspective.

What have you got to lose?

You’ve already lost time and perhaps money trying to find the perfect system/treatment/cure for your ADHD. I’m daring you to try something different. Expand your horizon. For now, change nothing in your life but your perception of it. The nice part of this challenge – you don’t need to do anything but think. And we all know you’re good at that.

Transformation Step 1 – Embrace the Chaos

If you’re like me and many other ADDers, then I’m sure you’ve had this experience. You’ve tried countless tactics for getting yourself, your home or your work organized, and no system thus far has managed to stick. It’s not that you don’t know how to get organized, but keeping organized requires focus and effort – every single minute, of every single day. Focus and effort are limited resources and often – we’re just tapped out.

How can we transform this?

There is nothing inherently wrong with being disorganized or scattered. Sure, it makes our lives more difficult but there is no immorality in being less “together” than society seduces us into believing we should be.

However, the problem runs deeper than this. The pursuit of “getting-it-together” can actually divert us from the true purpose of our lives. Having an organized home, for example, should be something that supports us in getting on with our life’s purpose (if you don’t know what yours is yet, check this out). Yet the stress of trying to get and stay organized can be all-consuming, robbing us of the peace we are intending to achieve. A clean kitchen is a nice thing to have, but not something to record in a resume or obituary.

In The Art of Meditation, Buddhist monk Matthieu Ricard tells us:

“We expend a lot of effort to improve the external conditions of our lives, but in the end it is always the mind that creates our experience of the world and translates it into well-being or suffering. If we transform our way of perceiving things, we transform the quality of our lives.”

What if we see chaos as the tariff we pay for lives rich in creativity, purpose and meaning – lives that don’t rely on neat-and-tidy togetherness to substantiate them? Let me clarify:

‘Ms Jackson’

One of my clients was a highly creative work-at-home mom, whose creative spark invariably saturated her world at work and at home (they happened to be the same place). She was amazing at her job but her home looked like Jackson Pollock’s studio. And she wasn’t even a painter, so you get the drift…

In her “home time”, she engaged her kids in wonderfully imaginative projects that inspired their own creativity, curiosity and joyful experimentation. But she was always three loads of laundry behind and rarely could she string together a meal that didn’t come out of a bag.

Although my client highly valued creativity, being a mom made her believe organization and “togetherness” were something she should be good at too.

Parenting comes with a lot of “shoulds”, ones that other roles don’t necessarily have attached to them. A chemist doesn’t feel a need to program a computer, yet creative parents are always expecting to be better homemakers, organizers, cleaners, cooks and so forth. When did these attributes become inherent in the Job Description of a parent?

I wondered:

“How many creative-types did she know – painters, writers or the like, that were organized and tidy in all aspects of their lives? And if she had to trade her creativity for organization, would she?”

There seemed to be an important part missing in her story.  I mean – her kids got to school, nourished and nurtured, and went to bed the same way. She loved them and did the best job she could for them. She gave them the best of her abilities and shared freely with them her natural talents.

In fact, they were lucky to have a mom who had so many great ideas and could show them the joy of colouring their world. But on another account, they weren’t that lucky. Their creative mom was always stressed-out by their messy and disorganized home life, because of standards she assumed were essential to good mothering. I’d have loved to ask them: did they want a creative mom or an organized one?

She wasn’t letting herself be herself. She disallowed her joy in creative living by pursuing the got-it-all-together-mom persona. Her joyful spark was lost because she was too attached to the notion of who she should be.

Eventually, she experienced a shift in her perception. In short, she gave up on being a “great mom” and instead became a great “her”, who also happened to be a mom. She let herself be herself.  While she did her best to organize day-to-day life, she didn’t sacrifice her peace and joy to do it.

She found calmness amongst her chaos. She found a way to roll with the punches and think on-the-fly, not beating herself up when she didn’t quite manage things so well.

How She Found Calmness in Chaos

  • She became more mindful, present and grateful for the moment, rather than focusing on how things should be.
  • She set aside her judgement, and allowed each day to unfold, vowing to take each moment as a learning experience rather than a test she must pass.
  • She noticed that, whenever things weren’t going as well as she would like, these moments (like all moments) would pass. Each moment was a new opportunity to start again.

What was really cool was that, as she found more calmness in her “chaos”, she became more organically organized. Not perfect mind you, but functional – enough to get through the day without feeling like a complete failure.

Let me ask you:

What area of your life could be better-served by an attitude of acceptance?

What sacrifices are you currently making to your life’s purpose, by focusing on some externally-imposed standard you think is more important?

What shift might you experience in your whole well-being, if you simply gave up your need to control this one aspect of your life, and allowed it to be just as it was?

Finding Calmness in Your Chaos

Let’s imagine, for example, that your desk is cluttered (not hard to imagine, is it?). You’re always searching for items needed to complete your work. Your productivity is seriously limited by this kind of disorganization, no doubt. But you’ve tidied your desk a bazillion times and it never stays that way.

Should you try to organize it yet again? Maybe you should flagellate yourself with a mouse-cord. Or hire a thug to stand behind you, slapping you upside-the-head every time you misplace something. Perhaps that would keep you organized.

Another tack might be to change your point of view.

A Fix That Fits

Accept that part of your work day will involve time spent looking for misplaced artefacts. I’m not saying that you can’t work on de-cluttering your desk, but you can factor-in a cluttered desk as a natural part of the way you work. You’re a square peg, so make the hole square too. After all, you’ll lose more time in endless cycles of de-cluttering and re-cluttering than you will by allowing a few extra minutes to find things.

If you can get organized and stay organized, you will. But if you can’t, you will have to make peace with your disorganization.

Zen in Clutter  

Allow yourself to find the Zen in a cluttered workspace. Take the pressure off. Be present and accepting of the way things are. When you notice your desk in disarray, take a moment to tidy it. Or don’t. But do not beat yourself up for being disorganized. The calmness in finding this Zen could actually help you get more focused and organized, simply by being more present and accepting of the moment.

Stop fighting the waves of ADD. Start riding them.

In the next three follow ups to this post, we will explore:

  • How doing less, or even nothing at all, can help you get more out of yourself.
  • How sucking lemons is the one of the greatest ways to live more fully.
  • How managing ADHD and living life well is truly an inside-job.

For the next couple weeks, work on your own perspective-shift. Whatever it is about your ADHD that bugs you the most – make a decision to see it from a different perspective.

What are the positive aspects or off-shoots of that challenge? For example, Ms Jackson was creative but that often meant she was also disorganized. What do you get to be despite your challenges?

Your challenges – are they really in opposition to your values, or to society’s imposed values?

What happens when you look for the Zen in your ADD moments? How do you feel? Does a shift in perspective help you when you other tactics don’t?

I’m curious to hear what you notice. And don’t forget – please share your experience in the comments below!

Mindset

A Perfect Letter to Your Critics

Dear Perfect Person,

I feel the need to write and explain myself because I think you may have gotten the wrong idea about me.

When you walked into my house today, you saw a disaster zone – stuff scattered all over, finger-printed walls and dust proliferating in the far corners of the floor. You saw counters littered with homeless debris, old dishes and clothing displaced like refugees from their rightful homes.

You didn’t see how many times I cleaned up this week, only to have my work undone by some other disruptive demand.

I know this shocks you, Perfect Person, because I’ve been to your home and seen with my own eyes just how perfect your home is. Everything in its place, including the dust – which lives not on your house but in your garden – where it should be.

When I interrupted you today (each time), I sensed your disgust at my utter lack of manners. You don’t interrupt, Perfect Person, but I am sorry that I can’t contain myself as well as you do. I just get excited when our conversation inspires new ideas in me.

You don’t know how many times I wanted to interrupt you, but held myself back – even though what I had to say was really good. How is it that you are always so stoic and controlled in your conversation? Where’s your enthusiasm?

And another thing – when you asked me if I’d gotten around to doing that thing you asked, your disappointment was palpable. I know it was very important to you. I really do want to be someone you can rely on.

But everyone in my life has something to ask of me – something that is very important to them. I don’t want to disappoint any of them, so what should I do, Perfect Person? I say “yes” to everyone. I’ve tried to say no, but I can see the distrust in their eyes when I do. I see it in your eyes, Perfect Person. When I admit the things I haven’t done, you don’t see the things I have.

When I’m late, I can tell how annoyed you are, Perfect Person. I don’t know how you manage to get everywhere on time, looking perfect and having it all-together. How can you possibly manage it EVERY TIME, hey Perfect Person? Maybe you don’t have enough to do, maybe you should be busier, maybe you should quit being so damn punctual, PERFECT PERSON!

By the way, back to the whole conversation thing… I know it annoys you when I go off on a tangent about something. I see your eyes glaze over. If you stayed tuned for just for a minute longer, you’d see the association I am trying to draw out is not only completely relevant, but also – very, very interesting!

*sigh*

Can I ask you something, Perfect Person?

How come you always blame me for not listening when you’re talking trite small- talk? I may waffle a bit, but why should I listen to your boring stories when you don’t listen to my long-winded ones?

And one last thing…

Yes, Perfect Person, I am scattered. I am disorganized, and waffly and forgetful and dithery. I am restless, and irritable, and sometimes – a bit emotionally unstable. I’ll admit to all these things.

Why is it that these things are so easy to point out in me, just because someone diagnosed me with ADD? If I take you to a psychiatrist, and he diagnoses your insensitive, arrogant, puritanical, anal, holier-than-thou finger-pointing as “Hypocriticalitis”…

Can I take YOU to task on all those things, the way you repeatedly blame me for my symptoms?

Good. I’m glad we talked and got this all figured out, Perfect Person. I certainly feel a lot better. Thank you for “listening”.

Now get out of my head, so I can start imagining what all the other people in my life are thinking about me too.

Sincerely,

Sensitive About ADD

 

Nine times out of ten, the critic who scorns you most for being scattered is you. That’s who this letter is really for, just to be clear. “Perfect Person” is just a figment of your imagination, just as anyone who pretends to be perfect is a figment of their own imagination.

Stop imagining what other people think about you and your ADHD, and get working on what you think about it.

How many times in day do you notice all the things you didn’t get done, instead of the things you did finish?

When you look at your home or your office – how often do you notice the clutter but fail to acknowledge all the other things you do on a regular basis just to maintain it?

If your ADD flares during a conversation with a friend or a new acquaintance, how much of your “post-mortem” focuses on repetitively replaying the silly things you said, rather than the meaningful and successful parts of the encounter?

How frequently do you focus on what sucks about you, but COMPLETELY IGNORE WHAT IS AWESOME!?

You gotta wake up, friend. The only person you can never get away from is you.

So if you want more from yourself, you’d better start with being a little bit kinder.

Please share this with anyone who needs a wake-up-call to their awesomeness.

And have an awesome day.

Mindset

The Monsters University Guide to Non-Conformity

“One who walks in another’s tracks leaves no footprints.” Proverb

In the last post I urged you to accept your ADHD for what it is, and start living with it instead of judging it. Today, I will tell you why. And let me give you a little hint – it has everything to do with non-conformity.

We are all born with limitless potential. From the moment of birth, the path laid before us is one of never-ending twists and turns, speed bumps and potholes. There are ups and downs, unexpected sharp curves and just sometimes… unswerving thoroughfares we can coast along enjoying the journey. We know this about life. Though we don’t know exactly where we are going, we do know that we are going somewhere. At least we hope we are.

Over time, our faith in the path erodes. We can’t see where we are going. We see the twists and bumps, the curves that took us off guard, but we lose sight of the destination. Others seem to coast along, while we veer from side to side and occasionally even hit the ditch. We compare our journey to theirs. We start to wonder if we are going anywhere. We fear that, in fact, we are going nowhere.

So what can a couple of fictitious monsters teach us about course-correcting our life’s path?

If you haven’t seen Monsters University, here is a little synopsis (spoiler alert here):

Mike Wizowski is a small and somewhat cute one-eyed monster. All his life, he has dreamed of going to Monsters University and becoming the best Scarer there ever was. He believes it to be his destiny. When he finally gets the chance, he discovers that despite his unequalled spirit, dedication and hard work, he does not have what it takes to become the Scarer he dreams of being. He knows the theory better than anyone but he lacks the one thing that can never be taught: he’s just not scary.

While at University, he does manage to overcome some major challenges. He finds a purpose for his wealth of knowledge and learns how to apply it to his work. But he never graduates and he never – ever – learns how to be truly scary.

There was an opportunity for Disney Pixar to give us the cliché happy ending we tend to want from an animated film. They could have had Mike reach deep down inside himself; get in touch with the inner Scarer he longed to be and let him out. That would have told the tale of the underdog finding victory through heroic self-mastery.

But they didn’t. Instead, Mike flunked out and got his coveted Scarer job – eventually – by working his way up from the mail room of Monsters Inc.

Profound, isn’t it?

In all seriousness, there are several take-aways this movie offers as inspiration. One being that just because you are not headed where you think you should be going, doesn’t mean you are going nowhere. Sometimes you have to go about reaching your goals in a way you hadn’t originally planned.

But I think the more important lesson that resonates is this:

“When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be.”
Lao Tzu (Click to tweet)

Uh-huh. I did just make a connection between the great Chinese philosopher and a Disney monster. You see, I did not tell you the whole story. Mike never became a world-class Scarer. But he did become a top notch “scare consultant”. One who helped other monsters, especially his best friend Sulley, achieve unprecedented success as Scarers through using prowess for advising on them with his expert knowledge. You don’t always have to play the game to be in the game. In essence, he became what he might be. Not what he originally wanted to be, but what he was meant to be nevertheless.
(I can’t stress enough here that I, too, am alarmed by the fact that I am philosophizing over a monster movie!)

 

But what does this mean for non-conformity and ADD?

When you think you are going nowhere…
When you feel like you’re chasing your tail…
and never getting any further ahead…

You might be forgetting an important truth about the journey. Just because your destination is not visible on the horizon, does not mean it isn’t there. And because your journey looks a little different to the journeys of those around you, does not make your journey any less worthy, or your destination any less beautiful. You just need to open your eyes to the horizon in front of you.

Put another way:

“The irony is that the energy ADD adults expend on their attempts at sameness is wasted, as is the anxiety parents generate of their child’s differentness. The world is much more ready to accept someone who is different and comfortable with it than someone desperately seeking to conform by denying himself. It’s the self-rejection others react against, much more than the differentness. So the solution is for the adult not to “fit in”, but to accept his inability to conform. The child’s uniqueness has to first find a welcome in the heart of the parent.” Gabor Mate, Scattered Minds

 

If you want to make footprints in this world, walk your own path. Even when you’re not sure of where that path is taking you … keep walking.

The destination is always in front of you.