If you’re an adult with ADHD you are probably used to experiencing deeply negative thoughts. It can be challenging to pull yourself out of a state of melancholy, but if you can learn to recognize when this is happening, there are a few techniques you can use to bring yourself back to a point of optimism.
Spirals of Success and Struggle
When we do something, and do it well, it feels good. This encourages us to do more of it. When that happens, we get even better at it, making us feel even better. We get more praise for it, develop more self-esteem and start to focus more on it. This good feeling can even lead us into trying other activities and if the success continues, we feel good. A spiral of success is created in the process.
However, the problem with the success spiral is that the good feelings only last as long as the success does. This makes it feel precarious and uncertain. We’re always just one bad grade, one harsh criticism or one missed deadline away from becoming completely demoralized.
Hard things tend to have the opposite effect. We do something challenging, we struggle, and then interpret this as something negative about ourselves – we’re stupid, we’re lazy, we’ll never be able to do anything right. So we avoid what made us feel this way.
When we avoid doing the thing we are struggling with, we don’t improve, and the next time we struggle just as much if not more. In this way, we create a spiral of struggle
This is where our mindset comes into play.
Fixed and Growth Mindsets
In her book, Mindset: Changing the way you thin to fulfill your potential, Dr. Carol Dweck talked about fixed and growth mindsets. She wrote that in a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work, and that brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment. It keeps us out of the spiral of struggle and keeps the spiral of success
By comparison, someone with a fixed mindset believes they won’t improve at something no matter how hard they try, so there’s no point in trying. It is a belief that ability, intelligence, and aptitude are all fixed. You have what you are born with and that’s it. In this this mindset, success is a signal of ability. Failure, on the other hand, is a sign that you aren’t smart or can’t succeed. Failure, or even just struggle, signals inherent weakness.
A growth mindset helps you be optimistic and feel good about what you’re doing. Adopting a growth mindset can help someone with ADHD feel encouraged and motivated to complete tasks, even when those activities are challenging.
There are many things you can do to develop a growth mindset. Here are some recommendations from experts.
- Work on self-compassion – Self-compassion can help those who have ADHD curb self-criticism, build resilience and flourish in ways they may not have believed possible.
- Practice expressive writing – Write down your thoughts to dump all the negativity out of your brain and onto paper. This can be a great way to put separation between you and your negative emotions.
- Seek out supportive connections – You can benefit from a support network of people who understand your particular challenges, particularly those who understand the neurodivergent brain. These individuals and communities can lift you up if you’re stuck in a negative mindset.
- Look for actionable ways to learn from negative experiences – When you reflect about things that might have gone wrong, think about actions you can take the next time that will remedy the situation. This helps create a “learn and optimize” cycle.
- Exercise and take some vitamin N – Exercise helps to increase the release of dopamine, which is often at low levels in the ADHD brain. It improves your ability to focus and increases attention span, and can help blow away the cobwebs of negativity. Getting out in nature has a similar effect.
The good news in developing a growth mindset is that your brain is already a world-class learning machine. From the moment we are born to the instant of our death, our brains are constantly making new connections, constantly learning. This happens whether we are conscious of it or not. Developing a growth mindset can put us in control of that process and provide us with a better quality of life.