I’m pretty sure this is a human thing. But it is also a decidedly ADHD thing. The thing being, not being so good at remembering when we did well, overcame obstacles, tackled our anxiety, and generally succeded in an unexpected (to ourselves) way. Again, having only been an ADHD person and having mostly coached and studied ADHD people for the last decade plus, I come from the ADHD perspective. If my thoughts are more broadly applicable, great.
Over the years I’ve done a lot of thinking about why ADHDers are not so good at consolidating positive experiences and using them as templates for future challenges. I have some thoughts on that. I’m not sure that the post mortem on the “why” is the most important part of this. So, if you aren’t interested in the “inside baseball” analysis of this, feel free to skip ahead to possible strategies while I nerd out on the causes.
There are well known studies that show ADHD kids get something like 20:1 negative:positive feedback. Yet we are often pretty darn smart. My client base certainly is. But we tend to learn at an early age that what we are bad at is valued by society AND generally considered easy by our neurotypical peers. All that EF stuff like planning, being on time, handing things in, paperwork, showing our work, etc.
Simultaneously, the things that we are good at tend to come so easily that we almost take them for granted. And, sometimes they aren’t things that are valued, at least tangibly, by our society. For example, people skills are something that can be a great predictor of success in many career paths. But they are a thing that is almost never emphasized or rewarded at any level of schooling.
So, what often happens is that people who are largely successful have a distorted self image. They see themselves as average or below average at what they do. They often experience imposter syndrome. And their overall self worth is affected dramatically. All this because they spend so much time focusing on their comparative weaknesses and not on their strengths.
Sure, we need to work on our weaknesses. That’s why I have a thriving coaching practice. But, I also do a lot of cheerleading for talented clients who don’t give themselves nearly enough credit for how talented and competent they really are. These folks really deserve to work on the tough stuff but in the context of realizing that it is largely fine tuning, and that they are really pretty exceptional in the grand scheme. It’s not arrogant to know what you are really good at and be confident in it. In fact, I think it is key to balancing out our feelings of shame for the things we are weaker at. Hopefully, eventually, we can move past shame and just understand our limitations and love ourselves a whole. A flawed, but overall awesome whole. I figure everyone is flawed. Not everyone is awesome. Enjoy it.
As for how to get there. I’ll offer one simple solution today. Start keeping a success journal. Write down a quick entry about something that you were anxious about or something that you worked hard to get good at. Not the feelings you had, before, during, and after. Also give a little context. Don’t write a novel, or you’ll never make more than one entry. Do it for victories large and small.
Then, when you feel overwhelmed by something, whether it’s a task, an interaction, a situation, or whatever, consult the journal. Use your past successes as templates to move yourself through the present situation. It’s a way of reinforcing the power of experiential learning… which is really powerful… when we don’t ignore it. Try it. See how it goes. I just started a journal for my 13 year old. He’s had lots of recent success. I want him to use them to keep the ball rolling. Good luck!
Standard Disclaimer: In an effort to foil my own perfectionist tendencies, I do not edit my posts much… if at all. Please excuse and typ0s, Miss Steaks, grammatical errors, awkward phrasing. I focus on getting my content out. In my humble opinion, an imperfect post posted is infinitely better than a perfect post conceptualized but unfinished.