ADHD May Be Linked To Misguided Optimism


A positive outlook seems essential to making healthy choices. But what if it has a dark side?

As a card carrying member of the ADHD club I am keenly aware of the potential pitfalls of having a brain that gets distracted easily. To be fair I have always balanced my assessment of this “disorder” by pointing out some of its benefits including increased creativity, empathy, and curiosity that fuels a rich imagination. At the same time there is one particular habit that I have identified in myself and many of the clients I have worked with in managing the unique neurology of a so-called Attention Deficit.

When faced with a stream of interesting ideas and other amusements it’s common to be interrupted with a mundane task or responsibility like washing the dishes or getting ready for work or responding to someone’s request. If you’re like me you often rely on a well worn line of reasoning to delay the inevitable with a statement of misguided optimism. It sounds like this:

“I’ll do it in a minute,” or “There’s plenty of time,” or “I’m sure it will work out somehow.”

None of these statements are true. They are lies. It is a form of self-deception that allows someone to continue doing the fun thing and avoid the boring thing. It feels harmless but over a lifetime it can add up to a lot of problems, hurt feelings and missed opportunities.

This is a common symptom of ADHD and ADD… an inability to organize or complete tasks leading to persistent problems. In my work with many frustrated clients I have explored the idea that the real solution to this problem may actually involve thinking something negative.

Research shows that procrastination is not really a problem with managing time but an issue with managing emotions. When given a choice to do something now or later the decision to delay action may actually be symptom of low self esteem. Although you may be telling yourself that you are capable of achieving both tasks effectively you are almost certainly ignoring the truth about yourself.

In reality, you probably will forget, and you probably won’t have enough time. If you choose to wait your problems may not work out well after all, and you could end up with more problems than you started with. In each case you might be better off telling yourself that there is a real chance you are going to screw it up instead.

Saying that to yourself may feel like a punch in the gut, but facing the reality of your patterns is really the healthiest thing you can do. The trick is to recognize that making an honest assessment of your abilities and tendencies takes courage. Facing the discomfort of a hard truth now and taking immediate action will help you avoid the greater discomfort that might come from remaining willfully ignorant.

What may be most helpful is to spend some time coming to terms with aspects of your personality that seem unpleasant or even intolerable. In classic psychology this is known as the “shadow” side of your subconscious self. When a person finds it difficult to accept something about themselves, or they have been made to feel ashamed of a personality trait, they typically repress it and choose to hide from the possibility that it might be true.

When this happens it can linger in the psychological background interfering with your confidence and self esteem. You may blame others for these feelings or develop habits that sabotage your success. If left unaddressed such behaviors often escalate into deeper psychological issues including depression, anxiety, and substance abuse.

Although it seems unexpected, the pathway to a healthy self image may actually include an exploration of the things you don’t like about yourself. With the help of a therapist you can begin the process of developing a more balanced view of yourself and building new habits that lead to success.




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