First, things first: A Caveat. A Clarification. A Disclaimer. Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder is not a gift. It is not a blessing. And I’m not suggesting it is wonderful.
Nor am I suggesting you should be envious if you don’t happen to have profound problems with focus, attention, restlessness, follow through, distractions, memory, procrastination, and regulating emotions, etc.
ADHD is considered a Disorder because it can sabotage every area of life, including your career, your marriage, your parenting skills, and your dreams. It’s that bad. And every person with ADHD has a unique combination of symptoms and challenges. Procrastinating, over-committing, impatience, noisy rooms? Those are challenges for me. Other people with ADD struggle with time-management, losing things, or forgetting appointments.
Yes, I know, these are challenges EVERYONE faces in our modern, distraction-filled world. But for some 4 to 5% of adults, it reaches the point where it causes severe problems. Bad enough to have us seeking help from a doctor, confused, and asking, “What’s wrong with me?”
OK, ENOUGH DISCLAIMER!
Right. You’ve been to the doctor and, thankfully, were not misdiagnosed. That’s good, because once you know what’s going on, it is possible to dramatically reduce the downside of ADHD and learn to handle the challenges. And then, somewhere along the road, something amazing might happen—you may discover there are things about this “mindset” that you can use to your advantage.
At least in certain situations. (Damn! Another disclaimer!) Shouting out your thoughts at a funeral? That’s a problem. But doing the same thing as part of an improvisational comedy troupe? That could make you very successful!
So, while the focus will always start with the disorder of this disorder, there are potential strengths that many of us with ADHD are able to use to our advantage. Which leads us to one last disclaimer: Developing any superpower takes awareness and practice. Before Spiderman could fight crime, young Peter Parker had to practice shooting webs alone in his bedroom. (Until then he just suffered from Premature Ejection.)
WITH GREAT POWER COMES GREAT RESPONSIBILITY!
In no particular order, here are five potential ADHD super-powers. Use them wisely!
1. Super In A Crisis
A recent study found that the ADHD brain tends to produce more Theta waves than the brains of average folks. Theta waves are the ones you produce as you’re nodding off to sleep. Or listening to your father-in-law share stories about bass fishing. They indicate a state of deep relaxation.
So when something goes boom!—a disaster, a crisis, or even something thrilling—and most people’s brains overload, ours can jump up to… “normal”. As one of the Doctors in ADD & Loving It?! says, in a 911 situation, we would turn to “The ADDer”.
Several doctors have told us that they see a lot of ADHD among E.R. doctors and nurses, police officers, fire and rescue personnel, journalists, stock traders, professional athletes, and entertainers. When others are in crisis, we can be cool, calm and under control.
The downside? When life is calm and cool and under control, we’re in crisis. The staff meeting drones on into its second hour and we’re ready to explode with the fidgets. This is likely why adults with ADD often end up involved in dangerous, high-risk activities—it wakes up their brains.
Alan Brown, of ADDCrusher talks about making sure you make smart choices about how you get your thrills. He used to feed his need for speed with drugs, now he races. As for me, I’m calmer onstage in front of 1,000 people than I was before I sat down to write this blog.
2. Super Creative
A study done at the University of Memphis confirmed what many experts have told us, and many ADHD books claim… People with ADHD tend to be more creative than their Non-ADHD peers. On average. Not everyone with ADHD is Da Vinci. Though there is some strong evidence that Da Vinci was ADHD.
In the study, 30 ADHD students scored higher than their peers on 11 different tests for creativity. (Who knew doctors could test creativity?!)
It could be those Theta waves again: In such a deeply relaxed state, it turns out that the sub-conscious mind is more accessible, along with high creativity and insight.
So any company that wants to be on the cutting edge of innovation would be wise to hire some ADHD folks to generate breakthrough ideas. And then hire a bunch of people who are great at follow through and details to actually make it happen.
“Wait, I have another idea about how you could do it… And another. And three more…”
Creativity needs limits and structure. As Dr. Ned Hallowell, author of Driven to Distraction at Work explains, “Make friends with structure, make friends with organization. We tend to see them as the enemy because, because we think that is going to inhibit our creativity. And so we resist structure. Oh no, that’s for boring people that have attention surplus disorder. I’m free; I have ADD. Big mistake. Structure, in fact, potentiates creativity. Structure sets you free. My favourite examples are Shakespeare and Mozart — two of the most creative geniuses who ever lived. Shakespeare wrote within incredibly tight forms, blank verse, iambic pentameter, de da, de da, de da, de da. Within that structure he created infinite variety; he created extraordinary variety but, but he needed that structure.”
3. Super Intuitive
Some ADHD adults claim they have ‘Spidey Senses’. Some swear they have ESP.
There may be a simpler explanation.
And it has to do with filtering.
The average brain manages to sort and filter down all the incoming sights, sounds, tastes, smells, and touch sensations to a manageable 40 bits of information a second. The ADHD brain has an overload of sensory input plus issues with what are known as Executive Functions. That is, sorting, filtering, deciding, discarding, prioritizing, following through, checking details, tracking progress, following procedures.
I know you’ve experienced the downside of this… But, just for a moment, consider the upside. When your brain lets in a lot of what some folks might consider irrelevant noise, it can show up in odd ways: Sometimes, we are able to notice things that others naturally filter out. Which is why many ADD adults will swear they are intuitive, almost psychic, at picking up certain things.
4. 3, 2, 1… Liftoff!
Okay, sure… sometimes a little forethought goes a long way. And saves a lot of time. Sometimes it’s better to take 73 seconds and actually read through instructions that came with that kit for the garden chair. But we… :
- Are quick starters.
- Jump right in.
- Don’t worry, stew, waste time doing endless research.
When folks are resistant to risk, resistant to change, hung up on process and procedure? It can take forever to get anything done. People will stick with systems that don’t work. Get stuck in analysis paralysis.
But for the person with ADHD who is on his or her game? It’s like Linda Roggli says in her book, The ADDiva: “I’m a Yes To Everything.”
5. Laser Vision
It took me a while to start this blog. Stall. Delay. Check e-mail. Create a funny meme. View a video we’re editing. Coffee. Cookie.
Then it was either start writing, or re-sharpen the pencils. So I thought, “I’ll write for 3 minutes. Just 3 minutes. So at least I have started.” And then? It was way more than 3 minutes, though I couldn’t tell you how much more.
Welcome to hyper-focus!
In the zone. Experiencing flow. The super-powered opposite of drifting, lost in thought, day-dreaming, butterfly fluttering.
The vague restlessness and agitation that had me doing everything but what I should be doing, namely writing, was suddenly—poof!—gone. In ADD & Loving It?!, Dr. Laura Muggli told us that her own ADHD allowed her to write her final 6-hour exam with one break. Her non-ADHD colleagues needed numerous breaks.
The downside? Instead of hyper-focused on an exam, writing a blog, or finishing a project we can be hyper-focused on the wrong thing, spending four hours creating a personalized Birthday Card… and then arriving late for the party.
‘THE INJUSTICE LEAGUE’
By this point, you may be wondering… If we have these amazing powers, these powerful potentials, why don’t ADHD folks rule the world?
Well, in some ways we do. Talk to ADHD experts and they will tell you they have clients who are among the most successful people in the world. Award-winning athletes. Brilliant entrepreneurs. Famous entertainers. Dot.com millionaires. Top salespeople.
But most ADHD adults are struggling. Yes, even the successful ones.
Because, while we may have these potential abilities, they are usually not under our control. If they were, I would have started this blog three months ago, when I had the initial idea. And I would be able to sit and carefully proofread it.
But even now I can feel my burst of hyper-focus starting to slip.
I’m in my own ‘Fortress of Solitude’. And it’s only now, as I come out of the magical spell, that I notice the sound of our editor leaving for the day, the furnace coming on, the smell of coffee. They are penetrating the hyper-focus, disrupting the invisible energy field that envelopes me when I’m in the zone.
Luckily, like many superheroes, I’m part of a team. If it were left to me? This blog would make it to the website three months from now. Or maybe never. But my coach supports me in getting this on my schedule, my wife Ava and our web-wizard David will make sure it’s cleaned up, typo-free and posted in the right place for you to find it.
Now all we need on our Superhero team is… a Professor Paperwork! We’d be invincible!
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