Would you like to learn how you can turn ADHD into a strength and an advantage?
Today we are going to review 7 potentially positive ADHD traits, that have helped people achieve extraordinary results in their lives.
However, before I begin, I have to say… this is a controversial subject.
Yes, it is a fact that ADHD is considered a ‘psychiatric disorder’ in the DSM-V (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual 5), the “Bible” of the American Psychiatric Association…
Also, several studies show that the repercussions and consequences of ADHD can be VERY negative. Things like:
- Academic failure
- Low performance
- Work instability
- Conflicts in relationships
- Chronic feelings of frustration
- Low self-esteem
As you can see, it is not a very positive or encouraging picture …
If you recognize some of these problems in your life, you may be wondering: how can ADHD possibly have positive characteristics?
Or… How can a condition that is considered a psychiatric disorder be an advantage?
Well, it all depends on one crucial difference…
The difference between having a “disorder” vs. a “sparkling kind of mind”
To understand the difference above I will quote one of my main sources of inspiration, Dr. Ned Hallowell, MD Psychiatrist specializing in ADHD, and author of several best sellers on the subject.
Dr. Ned Hallowell, in his excellent book (one of my favorites on the subject) “Delivered from Distraction”, tells us:
“Attention deficit disorder, or ADD, is a misleading name for an intriguing kind of mind. ADD is a name for a collection of symptoms, some positive, some negative.
For many people, ADD is not a disorder but a trait, a way of being in the world. When it impairs their lives, then it becomes a disorder.
But once they learn to manage its disorderly aspects, they can take full advantage of the many talents and gifts embedded in this sparkling kind of mind.”
Read that last line again.
How about that?
Pretty good, right?
Now, what you may not know is that Dr. Hallowell himself has ADHD… so his knowledge on the subject comes from not only his expertise, but also his own personal experience.
ADHD has not stopped him from developing a very prominent career as a psychiatrist, professor at Harvard, author of 18 books (several of them best sellers) and, if that weren’t enough, he also founded one of the largest mental health centers in the United States.
In my opinion, these achievements are a VERY convincing argument for this approach.
Following Dr. Hallowell, what I propose here is not that ADHD is a “gift” or something like that…
What I am saying is that some of the unique traits of this different attention and cognitive style can be an advantage for you… if you first learn how to control its negative aspects.
Creativity is one of the most positive aspects of ADHD.
The same potential for distraction (and frequent daydreaming) that can cause so many problems can also be a source of novel ideas – and surprising connections between them – that ordinary people would never think of…
Many prominent artists, musicians and writers with ADHD account for this superpower.
An example is Will-I-Am (Black Eyed Peas).
In this interview, he tells us:
“I have all these things in my head at the same time. I’m doing other things and I do not know how to stop or slow down. But it’s all right, because I know how to control it …
I’ve figured out a place for it. If you listen to the songs I write, they are the most ADHD songs ever. They have five hooks in one and it all happens in three minutes. I figured out a way of working with it.”
Now we not only have anecdotal evidence of this, but there are studies that have scientifically explored this phenomenon.
For example, in a study conducted at the University of Memphis, adults with ADHD were found to have higher levels of divergent thinking (create novel solutions to solve a problem) than people without ADHD.
In a later study by the same team, people with ADHD were found to score higher on creativity and creative achievement than people without ADHD. It was also noted that people with ADHD preferred to generate new ideas and that people without ADHD preferred to clarify problems and develop ideas.
2. High Energy and Excitability
This is one of my favorite ADHD traits.
Here I’m talking about that burning enthusiasm that makes us really excited before any new project or activity that we are passionate about.
In a study on “emotional impulsivity” in adults with ADHD, something very interesting was found…
Within a long list of problematic emotional reactions, like impatience, low tolerance for frustration, and others, a “quick and easy excitement” was also described.
As the overwhelming majority of studies focus on the negative aspects of mental health, the fact that they found something potentially positive in this study was kind of cool to find out!
Of course if we get excited very quickly with something and we launch into the adventure without weighing the consequences, that could lead us off a cliff…
But it can also set us on the path to adventure and achievement if we have at least a minimal ability to contemplate the future consequences of our decisions and actions in the present moment.
Again, the key here is the degree of control we have over this trait.
Have you noticed the ability of children with ADHD to spend hours immersed in a game that they are passionate about? Have you ever stopped noticing time passing when you are engrossed in some activity that you are really into?
Taken to the extreme, this ability to hyper-focus on a topic or activity is a true ADHD Superpower!
My favorite example is Gold medal Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps and his ability to focus 1100% on his swimming skills.
Many articles have described his almost supernatural ability to focus with the precision of a laser beam, and with a determination and concentration that does not look human.
Not bad for someone who in his childhood was dismissed by his teacher, who even told his mother that “he would never succeed in anything because of his lack of concentration”!
Hyperfocus is one of the ADHD qualities that I value on a personal level because it has allowed me to advance a lot in my professional career and it has helped me to develop my entrepreneurial spirit 🙂
A problem with hyperfocus is that most of the time it only happens when you are doing activities that are naturally fun for you and not always what is best for you in the long-term.
That is why it is important that you take control, and actively find the activities that really fascinate you AND are something you want to do in the long term, where you can develop your talent and creativity… So you can apply the hyperfocus on it and achieve extraordinary results.
The other ‘problem’ with hyperfocus, is that sometimes we can be “caught” in an absorbing activity, and we can’t stop when it is necessary to do so …
For example, looking for information on the internet or reading or watching a video … and you completely forget that you had to leave 1 hour ago for an appointment with the doctor.
In my personal experience the best tool to learn to control this “ADHD Superpower” is the practice of that Attention Training that we call Mindfulness.
4. Entrepreneurial spirit
There are many famous entrepreneurs who have ADHD.
The list is long and I will not mention them all, but it includes people like Richard Branson, David Neeleman (Jet Blue Airways), Paul Orfalea (Kinko’s), Ingvar Kamprad (Ikea), among many others.
Some of them attribute their success in business at least partially to their ADHD.
Look at what David Neeleman says, for example:
“If someone told me I could be normal or continue to have ADD, I would take the ADD.”
For him certain characteristics of his ADHD (like creativity, impulsivity, ability to take risks) have given him a great advantage in business…
It’s at a point that he refuses to take medications to control the symptoms of ADHD because, as he says:
“I’m afraid of taking drugs once, blowing a circuit, and then being like the rest of you.”
Now I personally have nothing against taking medication, and in fact, think it can be helpful in some cases…
…but at the same time you can see Neeleman’s point of wanting to preserve what is most useful about his ADHD, instead of seeing it as a problem.
5. Resilience to adversity
This is an amazing quality and I see it almost every day in the patients who come to see me at my practice.
It has to do with the ability to rise again and again after having had countless stumbles and failures.
This resilience is also a source of persistence, bordering almost on obsession, when we pursue something that really matters to us.
I believe that this ability is the result of having had so many trip-ups, that to fall and rise again, over and over, becomes a part of life like sleeping and waking up every day.
6. Broad perspective
People with ADHD tend to have an ability to see ‘the big picture’, and this can help them see solutions to problems that other people miss.
This quality is often explained as the result of some kind of ‘greater sensitivity’ in people with ADHD.
For me however, I think this actually has to do with the difference in attentional processes in ADHD.
The ability to have a broader focus and not filter things out, is what allows us to see the full picture and to capture elements that others simply overlook.
Here is my report on a study conducted at the Catholic University of Chile that provides Neuropsychological evidence on the possible origin of this broader perspective in people with ADHD.
7. Impatience and intolerance of boredom
This is a feature that clearly seems negative, but can actually be a big advantage if channeled properly.
Look at what the founder of the enormous Kinko’s copying and printing chain, Paul Orfalea (who not only has ADHD but also dyslexia) says about this:
“I get bored easily and that’s a great motivation for me. I think everyone should have ADHD”.
The origin of this feature has been explained by some researchers as the result of a genetic variant associated with ADHD.
The famous “DRD4 gene”.
This gene is responsible for a dopamine receptor in the brain (there are at least 5 different types) …
And this variant has been associated with ADHD in some studies, and also with a personality trait called “Novelty Seeking”.
This trait is expressed as “exploratory activity in response to novel stimuli, impulsivity in decisions, losing calm quickly and seeking immediate gratification”.
There are many studies that show the negative side of Novelty Seeking. For example it is associated with drug use, delinquency and addiction, but recently there have been new studies showing the positive side of this feature.
This is where we can list typical behaviors of ADHD, such as:
- Jumping into action immediately even before reading instructions!
- Not conforming to externally imposed routines and structure
Not everyone agrees that ADHD can be an advantage.
We could almost say that the terrain is divided into two clearly opposing sides:
Traditional researchers and scholars, on the one hand… and some professionals and authors who dare to challenge the conventions of the mental health establishment, on the other.
We have already seen the perspective of the latter side in this post, so now I’ll show you what the vision of the former side is.
One example is Dr. Russell Barkley (one of the world’s leading authorities in academic research on ADHD).
He always says that ADHD is NOT an advantage, but quite the contrary, and his argument is based on the comparative shortage of scientific studies that provide evidence in this regard.
On the one hand he is right…
While there are some studies (such as those we have mentioned here), they can not be compared in number with studies demonstrating the negative consequences of ADHD (see the beginning of the post).
Now, you have to consider that scientific research is complex, takes time and is not cheap (I know because I have been involved in it during my postgraduate studies).
Funding is required to carry out good quality studies.
And can you guess who finances most scientific research in mental health?
The gigantic pharmaceutical industry (which obviously has no interest in funding studies that show the positive aspects of the different conditions for which they market their medicines).
In my opinion, this is the main reason why there are not many studies that account for the positive traits of ADHD and how they can be used to improve our quality of life.
Also in our over-medicalized culture and search for quick solutions, the most seductive solution is almost always the “magic pill” that hopefully solves all of our problems over night.
As we have seen, to take advantage of the positive qualities of ADHD, you must first learn how to control its negative aspects.
And this requires work and persistence …
It certainly will not happen overnight.
BUT IT IS WORTH IT!
How many of these potentially positive ADHD characteristics do you recognize in your life??
Is it possible to use ADHD in your favor or is it a serious disadvantage that has nothing good?