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Do you always feel like you are running out of time? You have a lot of ideas and start many projects simultaneously, but then you get bored pretty quickly (or you change your mind). Are you a person who doesn’t like waiting or is often late? Do you tolerate substances like painkillers or alcohol more than other people around you? Are you messy? Easily distracted and/or impulsive? If some of the described behaviors apply to you, the chances are high that you suffer from Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD). Reducing the impact of ADD can be beneficial for you. I perceive it as more of a personality trait/behavior problem than a pathology. You can often improve it by learning skills, using strategies, and doing some activities, and in extreme cases, it has to be treated with medication.

What is Attention Deficit Disorder ADD?

As its name implies, ADD is a condition where people are easily inattentive, distracted, and have poor working memory. ADD is derived from ADHD, which was diagnosed by doctors in 1902. But until 1980, It was all about little boys who couldn’t sit still and had hyperactivity disorder, thus the term ADHD (Attention Deficit with Hyperactivity Disorder).

The name changed many times throughout history, but it was all about behavior problems. Until 1980 when doctors first changed the disorder’s name to include the words “attention deficit,” they realized that this is not only a behavior problem but also a problem with the brain’s management system. They also discovered that it is the attention problems that tend to cause more trouble for people. Particularly as they get a little older and are expected to manage themselves. ADD seems to be equally common in men and women and occurs all over the IQ spectrum. People complain about having trouble staying concentrated. When reading, listening, or working, they focus only briefly. Thoughts and ideas go through their heads, and they switch from what they were doing to contemplate these distractions. Most people can push those distractions away. Not people with ADD.

How to know if you have ADD?

Unfortunately, no single test can determine whether or not you have ADD. A clinical diagnosis has to be conducted by a health professional to confirm excessive difficulty with the majority of the inattentive ADD criteria. To make a diagnosis, the doctor will assess any ADHD symptoms exhibited in the past six months. These symptoms need to be regularly problematic at home, work, or school to be significant and cause impairment. It is also known that genetics play an important role. Doctors will ask whether family members have similar problems, which increases the likelihood of ADD. 

Symptoms of ADD

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition (DSM-V), six of the following symptoms must be present to warrant a diagnosis:

  • Makes careless mistakes/lacks attention to detail
  • Difficulty sustaining attention
  • Does not seem to listen when spoken to directly
  • Fails to follow through on tasks and instructions
  • Exhibits poor organization
  • Avoids/dislikes tasks requiring sustained mental effort
  • Loses things necessary for tasks/activities
  • Easily distracted (including unrelated thoughts)
  • Is forgetful in daily activities 

Additional symptoms of hyperactivity

For ADHD, you should add the following criteria:

  • Fidgets with or taps hands or feet, squirms in seat
  • Leaves seat in situations when remaining seated is expected
  • Experiences feelings of restlessness
  • Has difficulty engaging in quiet, leisurely activities
  • Is “on-the-go” or acts as if “driven by a motor”
  • Talks excessively
  • Blurts out answers
  • Has difficulty waiting their turn
  • Interrupts or intrudes on others

The problem with these symptoms is that most people have them to a certain degree. We all sometimes have difficulty focusing or getting started. We get distracted too much or quit on a task too soon. Those are things that everybody has some trouble with. Therefore, a person needs to be interviewed by a health professional with solid knowledge of ADHD to get a diagnosis. 

The difference between pathology and personality trait

In psychology, there is a difference between personality traits and pathology. A little bit of everything is what makes you, you. Only when it becomes extreme in a way that is not normal (but then you have to define “normal”) that it becomes an illness. Being a person who likes cleaning does not make you a person with a pathological compulsion for cleanliness that might scrub the floors for hours every night without being able to control it. There is a thin line between complex and pathology. Shyness, anxiety, sadness, sexuality, grief, fatigue, and many more can become an illness when they trespass a certain level, get out of your control, and substantially impact your daily life. In extreme cases, the person is in denial of their condition.

“A complex is not pathological per se. It becomes pathological only when we assume that we do not have it; because then it has us” Carl Jung.

The same applies to ADD. You must understand to which degree it impacts your life to determine if it is just a personality trait or a pathology that has to be addressed. Creative people, for instance, have a lot of ideas, making them inattentive to their environment, unorganized, and bad listeners. So if you have ADD, to a tolerable degree, you can work on it without needing medication. You can improve your concentration and memory by doing specific activities, finding strategies, and using technology. Otherwise, you should visit a health professional to get an evaluation and a diagnosis.

My personal experience with Attention Deficit

I consider myself a person with an attention deficit because most of the symptoms apply to me. I have watched many videos explaining the disorder and the medication. The most prescribed ones are Ritalin and Adderall. Many patients experience both benefits and side effects. Honestly, I don’t think I will be ok with taking the drugs. Still, I have a good opinion regarding behavioral therapy. It could help me manage my ADD symptoms effectively. My biggest problem is organizing my environment, my thoughts, and prioritizing. Becoming better organized could give me a clear overview of my life and business. I don’t have problem finishing projects. In fact, I wrote a novel, and it was a process that took many years. So I think my problem is more with having a clear vision and structured strategy than not completing what I have started. I am not very well organized but also not a complete mess. I rarely lose my keys, wallet, or things needed for everyday functioning. All in all, I need a little bit more attention and order in my life.

General recommendations on the management of Attention Deficit

If you suspect that you have ADD and want confirmation, you should consult with a health professional. Only a qualified person can conduct a diagnosis and give you a professional opinion. If you have ADD, then two options are available to you. The medication and the cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). Depending on how ADD affects your life and your opinion about the drugs, you might choose or not to take them. Typically ADD in adults is treated with medication, but this is not the only treatment. In fact, not everyone responds to medication, and some people don’t want them, and some don’t like their side effects. A CBT is always suggested. The therapy is considered complementary to taking the drugs and can significantly impact your life in the long run. Learning a new set of management skills can be highly beneficial. Cognitive-behavioral therapy usually addresses the following:

1) Time Management:

Topics that address time management are discussed in detail to improve the feeling of time and keep track of or learn to estimate it accurately. These includes:

  • Time awareness: Becoming more aware of time means improving the feeling of time. Practicing time estimation, wearing a watch, and keeping track of past time can help fix your broken time perception. 
  • Planning: Planning is all about describing the steps you need to take to reach a goal. It is a good practice to anticipate hurdles and keep track of your progress. Scheduling in planning enables you to clearly and quickly determine what you need to accomplish and when and this helps you stay on track and avoid being behind.
  • Prioritizing: There are many different methods to help you learn and apply task prioritization. To name a few: Getting things done, Eat that frog, ABCDE, Chunking/Timeboxing, and the Eisenhower matrix.
  • Using to-do lists: Writing down a list of everything you need to do in one place is very simple and efficient. It means you shouldn’t forget anything important, and by prioritizing the tasks, you plan the order in which you’re going to do them. Nowadays, with the help of technology, making to-do lists has never been easier.
  • Breaking down large tasks: Create a list of subtasks. Think about the logical order of completing them. Put them in a timeline. Now you have turned a large project into much more manageable and time-boxed small tasks. By the end of this exercise, you will have a better overview and a lower stress level. 
  • Avoiding procrastination: The first step is awareness, then Motivation. Minimize distraction, commit to the task and promise yourself a reward. Those are good practices when it comes to avoiding procrastination. Accountability and taking breaks are also essential tools that help you stick to the tasks. 

People see their stress levels decrease dramatically by addressing these issues and learning better and more adaptive time management strategies. This is due to the feeling of being caught up on the things you need to complete and not being behind as always. 

A great article about task prioritzation can be found here: https://www.projectcentral.com/blog/prioritize-tasks/

2) Organization / Reducing distractibility:

Distraction happens when your attention is uncontrollably diverted from the task or thought at hand. It occurs due to our inability to filter out outside stimuli such as noises or internal thoughts when trying to concentrate. You can learn to turn off a distraction by modifying your working environment to lower external stimuli such as smartphone notifications, practicing mindfulness, and using visual reminders. These techniques help you learn to pay attention to the present moment with awareness and without emotional reactivity.

3) Adaptive thinking to reduce negative thoughts, feelings, and behavior:

Negative thoughts cause stress, add distractibility and interfere with the completion of tasks.

If you have a project coming up, you may have the immediate automatic negative thought: I’ll never be able to get this done, which makes a task seem even more stressful and increases the likelihood that you will procrastinate in order to avoid stressful situations.

This is especially important for individuals with ADHD. So the goal of learning to think adaptively is to reduce these negative automatic thoughts. Reducing negative thoughts makes you more capable, calmer, and happier.

Holding an Automatic thought record helps you fix the pattern of negative thoughts. This is done following these steps:

  1. starts with identifying the negative thinking, what and when it occurred. 
  2. Develop your adaptive response
  3. Try to identify your cognitive errors
  4. Reevaluate your automatic thoughts and how much do you believe after the

Download the automatic thoughts record framework to help process your negative emotions.

Preview of the Automatic Thoughts Record Framework

My personal tipps for handeling Attention Deficit and better focusing

I have noticed that some activities reinforce the attention deficit symptoms, whereas others diminish them. For example, some video games I used to play make me feel more nervous and click frantically everywhere. I have also noticed that I want to keep my mind constantly busy, even when playing. On the other hand, when I started learning touch typing. I had to concentrate and go slow. Otherwise, I would make a lot of mistakes and won’t progress. I found it hard at the start, but I slowly got into the habit. It implies that there is a way you can improve your symptoms by making changes to your environment and managing your behavior. I think habits are your most useful tool and that if you start working on these changes, great things might happen. So here is my recommendation list based on my experience:

1) Cut the noise and declutter your head

When I planned to move back to Germany, I had to recruit a person to care for my business operations. After doing that, I noticed how much free time I had. If you have a lot of things going on in your life, you should delegate some and get rid of the non-important ones. Only then will you be able to have more clarity. You also have to learn to say no to opportunities because too many things might make you feel overwhelmed and left behind—The rule should be: fewer tasks and only the important ones.

2) You cannot do everything at once. Make choices and set your priorities

You want to start a business, write a book, start a youtube channel and a blog, learn photography and drawing, travel more while having a job. Guess what? You cannot do all of them at once. You have to make choices and set priorities. If you want to be creative, you can. But focusing is crucial. You have to manage your time and structure your ideas to achieve your goals. Otherwise, you will end up with a lot of projects, either unfinished or of poor quality. 

3) Time blocking is extremely useful

This is an excellent technique to help you with the previous point. You have a finite number of hours per week, and you should try to figure out how you can use them in the best possible way. By splitting your tasks into time blocks, you get an overview of the whole week. It is efficient because you are reminded of what to do and when. You can adjust your calendar depending on how things are going.

4) Exercise with tasks that require focus and dedication

Tasks that require you to stay concentrated for a few hours are good exercises. They get you in the habit of doing something for an extended period, and the more you cultivate this habit, the easier you will get used to it. Practicing a new hobby like playing a musical instrument, drawing, or other forms of creativity might be a good starting point. They help rewire your brain and get new skills. I had personally noticed this when I started writing articles and practicing touch typing. 

5) Practice meditation and mindfulness

Unlike medication, mindfulness helps you develop your inner skills. By practicing meditation, you will learn to manage your attention. By increasing your ability to be aware of yourself, you will develop your focus and build different relationships with stressful situations. It makes you more conscious of your emotional state and teaches you to pay attention and not react impulsively.

6) Alternate between work and breaks

Staying focused on one task for a long time isn’t easy. A brief interruption helps you deactivate and reactivate your goals. It is best to impose breaks on yourself. They help you retain information, reevaluate your goals and get reengaged with what you were doing. Without any downtime to refresh and recharge, you are less efficient, make more mistakes, and get less engaged with what we are doing.

7) Smile more often (I am doing it right now)

Studies have shown that happiness and smiles go both ways. This means not only happy people smile, but also people who smile more, even if it is forced, feel happier. People with ADD are more prone to negative emotions. Smiling improves your mood and gives you a better sense of well-being. It is contagious, so If you go out with a smile on your face, it will likely be returned. Being friendly and flashing a smile can bring about a subtle but significant change over time.

Conclusion

Being an adult with a deficit disorder means that you are an explorer, an adventurer. You like to go to unknown places and discover new ideas. On the other hand, you tend to be easily distracted, messy, and stressed out. Working on your weaknesses might help you get the most out of your strengths. It enables you to achieve your goals, decrease your stress level, and live a happier life. Depending on your situation, you may or may not consult with a health professional. Using management tools and introducing new habits can help you dramatically increase your productivity and happiness.

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