Deliberately choosing to do something that is difficult does not on the face of it sound tempting. Sometimes we voluntarily subject ourselves to the difficult in order to improve ourselves by say, going on a diet or taking up a new language. But over the years I’ve found there’s a special category in the world of the difficult that each of us would do well to understand.
I call this category “the right difficult”. This is the difficult the pursuit of which not only improves you but, far greater, fills you with a unique satisfaction no other activity can match. It is especially important for those of us who have ADHD to identify and then ardently engage with this right difficult for as long as we can. It will give us the stimulation our brains crave, providing satisfaction that enables us to focus. I’ve come to believe that finding and pursuing the right difficult is among the top strategies for living positively and successfully with ADHD.
I identified my right difficult in 12th grade when I wrote a novel. Might I call it my write difficult? I’ve been wrestling with writing ever since. Like all right difficults, writing is a stern master, and yields up rewards only grudgingly. But nothing else does it for me like writing does. By “does it” I mean engages me, preoccupies me, grows in my unconscious when I’m not doing it, and, while forever frustrating and bedeviling me, gives me fulfillment like nothing else can. Writing a good sentence makes me glow for a moment or two, maybe comparable to the quick thrill a golfer feels when he or she hits a great shot, or a scientist feels when good results come in at last.
I wrote an entire chapter about the right difficult in the new book John Ratey and I have just published, ADHD 2.0: New Science and Essential Strategies for Thriving with Distraction. As the title promises, it contains lots of new and good stuff, useful stuff, fascinating stuff, fresh from the research labs as well as the combined 80 years of clinical experience John and I can draw upon. One of the rewards of getting a bit older is that, as the ad puts it, you know a thing or two.
In the book we introduce a new term for ADHD, because ADHD is such an inaccurate term. There’s no deficit of attention in ADHD; there’s an abundance! The challenge is to control it.
And so many mega-successful people have ADHD that it makes no sense to classify it entirely as a disorder. Instead, we see it as a trait, which, depending on how you manage it, can become a burden or a special power. So our new term for ADHD is VAST: Variable Attention Stimulus Trait.
ADHD 2.0 will be available in print-form in the UK from February 16. It is already available in audio and kindle format from a number of booksellers here: https://drhallowell.com/read/books-by-ned/.
And after you’ve read it, John and I would love to hear from you. We want to build a VAST community based on our strength-based approach to this fascinating condition. Meanwhile, as you wait for your book to arrive, start thinking about what your right difficult might be. Identify it, start to pursue it, wrestle with it, and before you know it, you’ll be dancing with it forever.
Edward (Ned) Hallowell, M.D. is a board-certified child and adult psychiatrist and world authority on ADHD. He is a graduate of Harvard College and Tulane Medical School, and was a Harvard Medical School faculty member for 21 years. He is the Founder of The Hallowell ADHD Centers in Boston MetroWest, New York City, San Francisco, Palo Alto and Seattle.
He has spent the past four decades helping thousands of adults and children live happy and productive lives through his strength-based approach to neurodiversity, and has ADHD and dyslexia himself.