ADHD 2.0 (2021) provides updated science and guidance on living a successful and happy life with attention deficiency hyperactivity disorder – ADHD. It offers insights into how people with ADHD can tap into their strengths and unleash their full potential.
Introduction: Learn how to tap into the unique potential of your brain.
Table of Contents
- Introduction: Learn how to tap into the unique potential of your brain.
- People with ADHD have brains that are structured and function differently.
- Your brain has the engine of a race car.
- Connection is the foundation of a strength-based strategy.
- The right kind of challenge will unleash your superpower.
- Create environments that work for you.
- Exercise is one of the best tools to optimize your performance.
- Final Summary
- About the author
- Table of Contents
For a long time, society has been quick to brand people with attention deficiency hyperactivity disorder – ADHD – as unreliable, impulsive, and disruptive. But it’s a lack of support and education about ADHD that’s the real problem. Without the right tools, ADHD means a huge loss of talent, ingenuity, and creativity for the world. And it can mean unhappiness, poor mental health, and reduced life expectancy for individuals.
When the right support is available, however, that story is different. ADHD can become a powerful asset that propels individuals toward success and fulfillment.
This summary will first shed a light on what’s happening inside the brains of people with ADHD and the influence this has on how they experience the world. Then, we’ll explore four strategies that anyone can use to unlock ADHD as a superpower.
In this summary, you’ll learn
- why you find it so hard to fall in line;
- how a doctor changed a little boy’s life without ever meeting him; and
- why you should get a pet.
People with ADHD have brains that are structured and function differently.
If you or someone you care about has ADHD, you’ll be used to the negative stereotypes. There’s the socially awkward kid who disrupts the class. The spouse who’s constantly late and forgets appointments. The employee who’d be a workplace star if they could just get their act together.
And this isn’t fair. Because people with ADHD are many other things, too. They’re the kid whose projects are amazing when they’re interested in the subject matter. Or the partner who loves more fiercely than anyone else you know. Or the colleague who comes up with a brilliant solution seemingly out of nowhere.
Yes, they may be impulsive, hyperactive, and distractible. But they have important qualities that outweigh this. An ADHD brain makes you energized, creative, fearless in the face of problems no one else wants to deal with and committed to seeing whatever you’re invested in through – no matter what.
These are some of the many gifts ADHD brings to the world. In fact, it can be a superpower. To unleash its full potential, it helps to understand what’s going on inside that dynamic brain, and then put some strategies into practice to get the most out of it. We’re going to explore those strategies a bit later on. But first, let’s take a look at what makes these brains in particular, such a hive of activity.
We’ve recently learned a lot about how different brains function, thanks to the development of fMRI – functional magnetic resonance imaging. This amazing new technology lets us watch the brain in action, kind of like a moving X-ray. It’s helped scientists identify two key modes of thinking that act like a seesaw with each other.
The first is TPN – which stands for task-positive network. This type of thinking happens when you’re immersed in a task – in the zone, so to speak. When TPN is in play, you pretty much forget everything except what you’re doing. If you experience hyperfocus, you’ll know how that feels. It’s also the reason why sometimes you can’t step away from what you’re doing.
The second mode of thinking is DMN – or default-mode network. This is the realm of the imagination. It allows you to look back, draw on past experiences, and look forward to imagined plans or outcomes. When you’re in DMN, you might be innovating or solving problems.
TPN and DMN are designed to tag team each other, keeping us balanced between getting things done and dreaming up the next big thing. The challenge for people with ADHD is that their brains don’t switch between the two modes of thinking as seamlessly or regularly as other people’s brains. This makes them susceptible to getting stuck in one mode. And this can lead to all kinds of consequences.
First, they might be so engrossed in a task that they forget their other obligations – picking up the kids from school, going to an important appointment, meeting the person they’re dating. Or their imaginations can lead them into dark places, making them fixate on failures, disappointments, and shame they may have experienced because of their ADHD.
The other recent discovery we’ve made about ADHD brains is that a strip down the center of their cerebellum is smaller than in other brains. The cerebellum is the part of your brain that looks after motor function, as well as cognitive and emotional processes. It’s responsible for things like learning new skills, regulating emotions, and making quick decisions, but, interestingly, also balance and coordination.
Luckily, the cerebellum is also the most plastic part of the brain, meaning that with some understanding and commitment, people with ADHD can strengthen it and overcome some of the challenges ADHD causes.
Your brain has the engine of a race car.
So, what does all of this mean in practical terms if you have ADHD? Well, the best way to think of an ADHD brain is that it has the engine of a race car but the brakes of a pushbike. That’s why it’s running a mile a minute and you can’t seem to slow it down.
But there are four distinct strategies that can help you strengthen those brakes over time. And when those brakes are nice and strong, you’ll be able to tap into the enormous potential of your superpower brain. These strategies are adaptable for adults and kids, so they’ll interest you whether you have ADHD yourself, or are supporting a child with ADHD.
Before we delve into them, a case study. We’ll be talking about this case study as we explore the strategies because it really shows how they can work. It’s about Samuel, a seven-year-old boy living in Shanghai, and his mother Lily.
Author, psychiatrist, and ADHD specialist Dr. Hallowell met Lily after giving a talk about his and Dr. Ratey’s first book, Driven to Distraction. Lily told Hallowell that her son exhibited all the classic ADHD characteristics he’d mentioned in his talk. Samuel was struggling to focus at school, couldn’t follow instructions, and his grades were slipping. And worse, he was getting sadder every day. Since there were no local professionals to help Samuel, Hallowell agreed to treat him remotely by drawing up a treatment plan for Lily to follow. And because there wasn’t a local psychiatrist who could prescribe medication for Samuel, Hallowell would rely on other treatment methods to help this little boy thrive.
Hallowell’s plan centered around the idea that Samuel needed to strengthen the brakes on his race-car brain. The first step of the treatment plan might surprise you. Lily was asked to give Samuel lots of hugs each day to counter the punishment he received at school. She was told to ground all her interactions with him in warmth and kindness. Each day, Lily told Samuel that she believed in him, that all he needed to do was strengthen his brakes and he’d be a success.
Hallowell also prescribed daily balancing exercises which he supplied instructions for. Every day for 30 minutes, Samuel did a range of exercises, from standing on one leg with his eyes closed to taking his socks on and off without sitting down.
In essence, that was it. Lily was dedicated and motivated. She got her husband and Samuel’s school on board and within weeks, her little boy was more focused and less disruptive. His progress was so impressive that everyone started asking Lily what her secret was. She told them there was no secret. She’d just found a strategy that worked better than punishment – a strategy that focused on Samuel’s strengths instead of shaming him for his behavior.
With that as our inspiration, let’s keep looking at how strength based strategies work.
Connection is the foundation of a strength-based strategy.
People with ADHD are prone to disconnection – no matter how old they are. It’s not that hard to imagine why. If your brain functions differently from 90 percent of the population, you’re going to feel confused and out of step with everyone else.
Disconnection is the cause of so much pain for people with ADHD. It can lead to anxiety, poor performance at work, relationship difficulties, and acting out at school.
In many schools, the consequences for kids acting out only make them feel more alienated. In Samuel’s case, he was punished, felt shame as a result, and then withdrew because of that shame. All this does is encourage kids to put up even thicker walls between themselves and the rest of the world, leading to low self-esteem, anxiety, and depression. And by the time kids reach adulthood, it becomes even more challenging to tear those walls down.
That’s why Hallowell focused so much of his treatment plan for Samuel on connection – the foundation of a strength-based strategy for managing ADHD. He believes that kids with ADHD need boundless connection, every single day and throughout the day. Lily implemented this by initiating lots of cuddles, telling Samuel how much she loved him, and by creating connection and intimacy through reading to him each night. Her husband also joined in and gave Samuel lots of hugs.
What this did was flood Samuel with what Hallowell calls “the other vitamin C” – connection. Whether you’re an adult or a child, it’s important not to dismiss its power. Fear and shame are the biggest barriers to learning, and connection is the antidote.
Connection is so potent that it can even mitigate childhood pain. And if you have kids of your own, it can create a better childhood for them. In fact, the biggest gift you can give yourself, or anyone else, is a life filled with diverse connections. And remember that connection doesn’t just happen on its own, it’s important to actively practice it. Here’s how.
First and foremost, make it a rule that worrying is never a solo activity. If you share your worries with someone you trust, you’ll quickly find yourself in problem-solving mode which eases the burden and identifies solutions while staving off loneliness.
Next, if you live with other people, use mealtimes as a way to connect. Whether it’s family members or housemates around the table, make a point of sitting down together and inviting friends to join you.
Foster at least two meaningful friendships and make a point to connect with these friends each week. That might mean a regular lunch date or an evening phone call. And say hello to people you see all the time but don’t count as friends – like the barista at your local café or the trainers at your gym. This stops you from being another anonymous face in the crowd.
If you’re supporting a child with ADHD, block off 30 minutes of one-on-one time each week to do whatever your child wants to do. This special, dedicated time will do wonders for your relationship. Organizing a sleepover for some friends from school will also help your child connect with peers.
And if ADHD is part of your household, consider getting a pet. A furry sidekick guarantees a hearty dose of “the other vitamin C” each day.
The right kind of challenge will unleash your superpower.
If you were a kid with ADHD, like Samuel, you were probably in trouble a lot at school. You may have been labeled as naughty because you were disruptive, or lazy because you were never motivated to do your work.
This happened because teachers didn’t understand that you have a race-car engine in your brain. Race cars are powerful. They’re designed to go fast. Adrenaline, risk, and boundary-pushing is their thing. They’re not meant to be used for a drive to the local grocery store any more than a family sedan is meant for a Grand Prix. That’s why it’s so hard for people with ADHD to sit quietly and fall into line, either at school or in many work environments.
Because of this, the extraordinary talents of people with ADHD are often at risk of lying dormant or being dismissed. Typically, people with ADHD have one of two things that they’re exceptional at or passionate about. And when you – or the people supporting a child – can identify those talents or interests, you can finally put that race-car engine to good use. That’s why it’s so important to take a strength-based approach to managing ADHD – nurturing that superpower.
Say you have a child with ADHD, and you know they’re obsessed with science or video games or playing the cello, share this with their classroom teacher. If the teacher can integrate these interests into your child’s classwork, something magical will happen. They’ll stop being disruptive and they’ll be motivated to do their work because they’re interested in what they’re learning. Kids with ADHD aren’t naughty or lazy. They just need adults to engage them effectively. When this happens, the relationship between the teacher and your child will improve too, which makes everyone happier.
This is why identifying your interests is the second of Hallowell’s strategies for managing ADHD. If you’re an adult, it’s crucial that your job involves your interests somehow, otherwise, you’ll end up bored and unmotivated, and your performance will naturally suffer. Poor performance in the workplace leads to anxiety, shame, and depression, and you might end up stuck in the DMN mode of thinking we explored earlier.
If you’re not sure what your interests and talents are, write a list of everything you’re good at, what achievements you’re most proud of, what you love to do, and what you’d like to get better at. Also, think about things you find easy that other people struggle with.
Use this list to assess whether there are ways to better align what you do at work with your interests and strengths. Ideally, you should be spending your work hours doing something you like and that you’re good at. This is when you’ll do your best work, and be your happiest and most engaged. If you can’t find any scope for alignment, it might be time to start looking for work that makes better use of your talents.
Keep in mind that creativity is an innate part of having ADHD. Whether your interests are writing a book, carpentry, or turning your latest invention into a marketable product, creativity is an itch you just have to scratch. When you center your work around your drive to create, your superpowers will shine.
Create environments that work for you.
The environment you’re in has a huge impact on whether or not you flourish. We saw this in the case study about little Samuel. By following Hallowell’s treatment plan, Lily turned Samuel’s home environment into a safe, loving place where his ADHD was accepted and valued. She was also able to influence the school environment by sharing what she’d learned about ADHD and advocating for a more supportive approach.
But environment is more than just the physical spaces you move through. It spans everything from routine to diet. You won’t be able to change every aspect of every environment you’re in, but there’s always scope for some change to support yourself or someone with ADHD better. It would be easy to instinctively resist what comes next but, give it a chance.
Start taking charge of your environment by introducing more structure. Now, the ADHD brain is hardwired to resist structure, so this will be a challenge but the secret is to start small, setting yourself up for success.
To-do lists are a great way to introduce structure into your day. Just the act of writing them reinforces the importance of those items in your brain. Begin with just two tasks each day and try your best to complete those. Ticking them off the list will give you a hit of self-satisfaction that’ll keep you motivated. Over time, start adding more items to your daily list.
Next, think about the home, education, and work environments you’re in. Are they fear- and shame-free? Are the rules and expectations clear? Do they promote open dialogue and engagement or are there hierarchies you need to bow down to? And importantly, do you feel valued in them? If not, what can you change to improve these environments? If the answer is “nothing,” it might be time to move on.
Your environment includes what you eat – so reflect on your diet. You wouldn’t put low-grade fuel in a race car and expect it to perform. Are you doing this to your brain? We are best fueled by unprocessed foods that are free from additives, preservatives, colorings, and sugar. Try to stick to whole grains, unprocessed meats, fish, nuts, and as much fresh fruit and vegetables as possible. Water is also essential. Ditch the sugary soda, limit coffee, and stick to water or tea instead. You’ll be performing at your best this way.
Finally, prioritize quality sleep. People with ADHD are prone to FOMO – that fear of missing out. It keeps you at parties or online longer than is good for you. Your race-car engine needs its downtime to work well, and quality sleep helps offset the risk of low mood or anxiety that DMN – that’s the default-mode network, if you’ve forgotten – might cause.
Optimize your sleep by switching off all devices at least an hour before bedtime and banning them from your bedroom. Keep your room dark and cool – but not cold. We all know how much easier it is to tackle a challenge after a decent sleep, so it’s worth doing yourself that favor.
Exercise is one of the best tools to optimize your performance.
We’ve now covered three of Hallowell’s four strategies that formed his treatment plan for little Samuel – connection, tapping into strengths and interests, and creating supportive environments. But what we haven’t covered is those balancing exercises that Hallowell prescribed.
Hallowell’s treatment plan included specific balancing exercises because he knew from Lily that Samuel was already getting plenty of physical activity. He played soccer regularly and got plenty of traditional exercise, so his heart and other muscles were getting a good workout each week.
Continuing this level of activity was a crucial component of Samuel’s treatment because exercise releases dopamine which helps concentration. But Samuel needed some tailored exercises to target the area of his brain that needed the most support.
Remember at the beginning of this summary, we looked at how part of the cerebellum – which manages our cognitive and emotional responses as well as fine motor movement – is a bit smaller in people with ADHD? Well, when Samuel did 30 minutes of balancing exercises every day, he was giving this part of his brain a workout. Don’t forget – your cerebellum is the most plastic part of your brain, so you can beef it up the same way that you could improve your pecs by doing push-ups.
People with ADHD benefit from any exercise that involves balancing but martial arts is a particularly good option. It combines balance with coordination, discipline, and focus.
But if that doesn’t appeal to you so much, yoga is a good alternative. It’s another practice that fosters focus and balance, forcing you to concentrate on your body’s alignment. Some forms have cardio exercises integrated into them too, so you can get that beneficial dopamine hit.
Twenty to 30 minutes of moderate exercise every day is all it takes to get those neurons firing. If you add balancing practices to your regular routine, you can actually renovate your brain. In just eight weeks, you’ll notice that your stress levels are lower. You’ll also have thickened that smaller part of your cerebellum which is in charge of learning, memory, and emotional regulation – all areas that people with race-car brains need a bit of extra support with.
Exercise can also be a really helpful short-term tool when you feel those pushbike brakes failing. If you’re struggling to focus on a task, raising your heart rate by going on a quick jog, doing some jumping jacks, or even putting on a good song and dancing it out can give you that quick dopamine hit which makes it easier to concentrate.
Many schools are actually using this technique now. Some teachers have started getting kids to jump on mini-trampolines instead of sending them to the principal if they’ve been disruptive. If your child has ADHD, you might want to swap your time-out with an impromptu workout. You’ll be amazed by the difference it makes.
People with ADHD have an essential role to play. They’re creative, energetic, entrepreneurial, and love a challenge. We need people like this to innovate and tackle big issues. With the right tools and support in place, you can harness the power of your brain and release your own brand of brilliance onto the world, making it a better place and helping you reach your full potential.
And here’s some more actionable advice: Get out of your head.
If you’re finding yourself in the clutches of negative thoughts, it might mean you’re stuck in that default-mode network thinking, imagining or planning but struggling to be concrete. To switch your brain back to TPN – or task-positive network mode, do a task that’s based outside your head, like walking the dog, chopping a carrot, or doing a puzzle. It doesn’t matter what you do. The point isn’t to be productive – it’s to click out of one mode of thinking and into the other. DMN is seductive and will try to keep hold of you. But if you can fire up a different set of neurons by doing something – anything really – you can release yourself.
Psychology, Science, Fitness and Dieting, Mental Health, Children’s Learning Disorders, Attention Deficit and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, Parenting Books on Children with Disabilities, Children’s Health, Attention Deficit Disorders, Relationships, Education, Parenting, Self Help, Neurodiversity, Adhd
Edward Hallowell, M.D., is a board-certified child and adult psychiatrist, a world-renowned keynote speaker, and the New York Times bestselling author or co-author of more than twenty books, including Driven to Distraction (with John J. Ratey), which sparked a revolution in our understanding of ADHD. A graduate of Harvard College and Tulane Medical School, Dr. Hallowell was a Harvard Medical School faculty member for twenty-one years. A regular columnist for ADDitude magazine, he is also the host of the weekly podcast Distraction. He is the founder of The Hallowell Centers in Boston MetroWest, New York City, San Francisco, and Seattle. He lives in the Boston area with his wife and their three children.
John J. Ratey, M.D. is a clinical professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. He is the author or co-author of numerous bestselling and groundbreaking books, including Spark, Driven to Distraction, and A User’s Guide to the Brain. He lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Table of Contents
1 A Spectrum of Traits
2 Understanding the Demon of the Mind
3 The Cerebellum Connection
4 The Healing Power of Connection
5 Find Your Right Difficult
6 Create Stellar Environments
7 Move to Focus, Move to Motivate: The Power of Exercise
8 Medication: The Most Powerful Tool Everyone Fears
9 Putting It All Together: Find Your Feel and Make It Real
Appendix A The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders Definition of and Criteria for ADHD (abridged)
Appendix B A Compendium of Resources
Stay tuned for book review…