ADHD is a disorder of things being more complicated than they should.
I mean, how hard is it to just focus?
In the hands of people with ADHD, relatively straightforward tasks can take on dimensions most would’ve never thought possible. “How did this happen?” could be the ADHDer’s motto (although “Why does this always happen?” is also a strong candidate).
This power to turn the simple into the complex and creep into every facet of life makes ADHD difficult to fully understand. Getting perspective on how ADHD impacts your life is a journey that never really ends.
And sometimes, because it’s so easy to lose your way trying to gain insight into just what kind of grip ADHD holds on your life, you end up telling yourself lies.
Mean, nasty lies that prevent you from gaining a deeper understanding of how ADHD expresses itself in your life and how you can push back against it.
So to help you recognize these lies for the superficial falsehoods they are next time you catch yourself telling them, here are the top 5 lies ADHDers tell themselves along with some reasons why you shouldn’t take them too seriously.
1. You’re Just Lazy
You’re not ADHD. You’re just lazy.
This lie is a convincing one – because really, what exactly is the difference between impaired executive functioning and laziness on the outside?
But moralizing about ADHD by talking in terms of “laziness” just doesn’t tell the whole story. Research has shown that having a hard time motivating yourself is part of the ADHD package and that this motivation deficit has very specific biological underpinnings in the way dopamine is processed in ADHDers’ brains.
If you break your leg, you might sit around all day. Does that make you lazy? No, and the only way to get up and move is by finding a concrete solution (getting your hands on a pair of crutches, say) – moralizing isn’t going to help you.
Similarly, if you have a neurological trait that makes it hard to motivate yourself in certain situations, calling yourself lazy isn’t going to solve anything. But looking into motivation techniques, finding out what sort of situations do motivate you, understanding that there is a specific biochemical reason for the way you are and figuring out how to dial up your dopamine (with meds, for example) is.
2. And You’re Stupid
Another piece of abuse ADHDers love to hurl at themselves – you’re so stupid!
And when things other people take for granted seem so difficult like they often do when you have ADHD, this seems like a pretty good explanation, doesn’t it?
The trick to not being fooled by this lie is to recognize the difference between seeming stupid and being stupid. It’s true that if you have ADHD, your life is probably full of moments where you act like a bit of an airhead – losing your keys for the third time in one day, zoning out and missing some vital piece of information your boss is telling you, forgetting to stop by the grocery store on your way home and so on.
But it’s an established fact that the attention deficit and executive functioning impairments that come with the ADHD territory have little to do with intelligence. The stupid errors ADHD leads you to commit do not make you stupid. There are many highly intelligent people with ADHD, and they experience the serious cognitive problems that are part and parcel of ADHD despite their high IQs.
So next time you feel tempted to tell this lie to yourself, remember that being exceptionally bad at some things does not in any way make you fundamentally stupid.
3. You Just Need to Try Harder
Finally, the silver bullet to solve all your ADHD-related problems – you just need to try harder and everything will work out!
Sounds good. The only flaw with this line of thinking, of course, is that not being able to just try harder is pretty much the definition of having ADHD. Problems with self-control are so central to the ADHD experience that researchers like Russell Barkley have argued that these issues are pretty much the core of what ADHD is.
Being unable to plan and modify one’s behavior in a deliberate, clearheaded way goes hand-in-hand with the “executive functioning deficits” ADHDers know and love. So while you could make a case that in the most literal sense, there’s a modicum of truth to the idea that people with ADHD just need to try harder, an ADHDer saying they just need to “try harder” is about as productive as a person with a broken leg saying they just need to do a better job walking.
Next time you catch yourself BSing yourself with this one, keep in mind that “I just need to try harder” is a counterproductive way of thinking about ADHD not just because it’s untrue but because it gets in the way of finding solutions that actually have a chance of working.
4. This Time Will Be Different
Here’s the thing about lying: one lie often leads to another. And for people with ADHD, the “I just need to try harder” segues smoothly into the “this time will be different.”
This lie enjoys rearing it’s ugly head in situations where you’ve been burned by ADHD before – taking on more work then your attentional challenges will let you complete or putting yourself in an environment where will you will struggle to stay motivated and productive, for example.
If you fall for “I just need to try harder,” “this time will be different” is actually a pretty logically sound conclusion – because if you actually do try harder this time, things will be OK, right?
Not being seduced by “this time will be different” means being able to spot the “try harder” lie that paves the way for this self-deception.
None of this is to suggest that ADHDers can’t succeed at things they have previously failed at. But there’s a difference between trying smarter and trying harder. The trap to watch out for is not really changing your approach to something but thinking that by just focusing a little more you can make things work out this time.
Of course, we want to be masters of our destiny and believe that we can will things to go differently the second time around. But sometimes the key to being masters of our destiny is recognizing the situations where we aren’t masters of our destiny and avoiding them.
5. I have ADHD, so I’m screwed
Having ADHD can be hard. Things don’t always go your way. And it’s easy to fall into a pattern of thinking that because you have ADHD, you’re basically just screwed forever.
But the number of highly successful people with ADHD diagnoses under their belts alone should tell you just just how blatantly deceptive this kind of thinking is.
Is David Neeleman screwed? Is Michael Phelps screwed?
Sure, we can’t all be Olympic swimmers or high-flying (literally) CEO’s, but we can all play to our strengths and find how to use our unique talents while working around our ADHD-related weaknesses like these people did.
And one of the first steps to doing that is calling this lie out for what it is.
Once you can consistently recognize this fib and the other four on this list for what they are, you’ve already gone a long way towards ridding yourself of the most self-destructive, toxic untruths people with ADHD tell themselves, and you’ll have laid the groundwork for coping strategies that actually work.