An ADDitude reader recently wrote to me, “I was diagnosed with ADHD at 45 years old. I struggled with my ADHD throughout adolescence, and didn’t understand what was wrong with me. I had to take lots of mental tests in grade school, only to determine that I was higher functioning and ‘normal.’ My parents did not know that I had ADHD, and they struggled along with me. They punished me when I acted up or seemed defiant. This left me with mental scars and low self-esteem. I lack confidence. That affects me at the job and in social relationships. Can you give me tips and strategies to help me feel more positive about myself?"
You have struggled for a long time, which was made ever harder by the fact that you were unaware of what you were struggling against. Being blamed and punished for something you didn’t understand made matters worse. I commend you for wanting to address the challenges that are adversely affecting your work performance and social relationships.
Many people who had similar experiences as children have found relief in therapy. They discuss and explore hurts from the past that affect them as adults. It’s a journey worth taking. When you are ready, I suggest you explore this option. As an ADHD coach, I feel that a strengths-based approach will help you feel better about yourself. But first, I need more information.
You told me about what’s wrong with you and your life. If you want to feel better about yourself, let’s explore the other side. What’s right about your life?
To find out, take out your notebook, or open a document on your computer, and title it “Strengths.” Spend at least 30 minutes answering these questions:
1. What do people say you are really good at?
2. What activity gives you energy?
3. What’s working in your life?
4. What do you think you’re good at?
5. What do you enjoy doing?
6. What’s important to you?
7. What are you looking forward to in the next two to three weeks?
8. What are you proud of?
Why Focus on Strengths?
The answers to these questions are the first steps in discovering your strengths. Highlighting your strengths will energize you and enable you to perform your best at work and in relationships. Your strengths are what are best and true about you. Research shows that people who focus on their strengths every day are six times more likely than others to be engaged in their jobs, and more than three times as likely to report having an excellent quality of life.
Despite these benefits, most of us do not naturally focus on our strengths. Why?
> Strength blindness. Many people are not aware of their strengths, or, if they are, they aren’t using them to their full capacity. This is commonly manifested in situations in which people use their strengths in one area of their life but not another.
> Brain negativity bias. Since prehistoric times, our brains have been wired to emphasize negative experiences over positive ones.
> The false belief that personal growth comes only from improving weaknesses.When you focus on what you do best, you will achieve greater results than when you focus on your weaknesses. You will also notice an increase in self-esteem, which will contribute to more positive experiences in your life.
Think of a time in your life when you were performing at your best, when you felt energized, authentic, and positive about what you were doing. This feeling might have been at the office or from a relationship with a friend. In your notebook, write a 250-word story about this experience. It should have a beginning, a middle, and an end, and make sure that it contains the following information:
> What were the conditions that allowed you to be at your best?
> What skills or strengths were you using to help you perform so well?
> How did you feel? Why?
The final step in discovering what your key strengths are is taking an online strength assessment survey. There are a number of good ones available, but my recommendation is the Values in Action Inventory of Strengths survey (viacharacter.org/survey/Account/Register), created by Christopher Peterson and Martin Seligman, well-known researchers in the field of positive psychology. Their goal was to create a tool to diagnose mental health, not illness. It takes 15 to 20 minutes to complete.
Based on the results of this questionnaire, the information in your essay, and other life experiences you can think of, write down a list of your top five strengths in your notebook. Many of my clients give their strengths a name. Some say, “teacher,” or “change agent.” Others say “narrator” or “explorer.”
Ready for Some Homework?
The focus of your homework should be: What do you want to accomplish over the next 10 days? Think of a short-term goal you have, or a challenge that you want to overcome. Now look through the list you created of your top five strengths. Choose one that you will use to accomplish this challenge or goal you just set.
In your notebook, write down the following list and complete each one:
2. Completed by:
3. Strength to be used:
4. How I will use the strength: (list concrete behavioral steps)
5. First step:
6. Potential problems:
7. If (potential problem) happens, I will use my strength of (blank) , and do the following (action) to solve or overcome it.
Keep a journal that explains what happens over the next 10 days. It would be amazing if you accomplished the goal in that time. However, depending on the goal and circumstances in your life, that might not be possible. To be honest, hardly anyone achieves their goal the first time out. The good news, though, is that you will see improvement. The more you practice the strength you listed above, the more you will learn how to use it and develop it.
Nothing that has happened in your past prevents you from creating a more positive life for yourself now.
If you complete the above exercises, you will identify specific assets that will help you improve your life and feel better about yourself.