Structure is a far more effective tool than fear is in dealing with ADD. Edward M. Hallowell
Dr. Ed Hallowell is one of the leading experts in the field of ADD. He also writes and speaks about the “Crazy Busy” world that leads many people without an ADD diagnosis to struggle in their efforts to get enough done! Hallowell is a strong proponent of using structure.
In his book, Delivered from Distraction (co-authored by John J. Ratey, MD), Hallowell explains (on page 59) why a person with ADD will not stay focused just because someone is “holding a gun to his head”:
If ADD is a kind of mind, rooted in anatomy, genetics and biochemistry, where does that leave discipline and hard work? Discipline and hard work will always matter, of course. They simply are not enough (nowhere nearly) to treat what can go awry in the brain, and certainly not what goes awry in what we call ADD.
“Oh, c’mon,” the skeptic says with a snort. “If a kid really wants to buckle down and pay attention, he can. If he had a gun to his head, I bet he would.” Actually, no. Even if he had a gun to his head ready to blow his brains out the minute he drifted off, sooner or later he’d forget the gun was there, and he would drift off. The only way to make sure he stayed on task would be for the person holding the gun to his head is to remind him every ten seconds or so. But if the person is willing to do that, the gun would be unnecessary. Reminders alone would do the trick. Fear alone wouldn’t keep him focused, but reminders would. Structure is a far more effective tool than fear is in dealing with ADD.
Based on our direct experience coaching college students and other adults with ADD, my partner, Camille Harris, and I couldn’t agree more with Hallowell’s analysis! Structure is what is most needed!
Examples of what we call “structure” include new habits and support systems, such as:
- Being accountable to oneself and others (e.g., a family member, friend, or personal coach)
- Establishing daily routines (including bedtime and wake-up routines) and schedules
- Entering daily routines, scheduled events, and other commitments into an electronic calendar
- Sharing an electronic calendar with at least one other person (an “accountability partner”)
- Truly committing to WHEN actions will take place and taking action (as opposed to saying, “I’ll try!”)
- Comparing a daily schedule with actual actions and results at the end of each day
- Using reminder systems (smartphone notifications and other reminders)
- Rewarding oneself for sticking to the structure (e.g., a special meal, a movie, or a weekend trip)
For those with ADD, rapidly approaching deadlines often create a sense of fear, resulting in heightened short-term motivation. However, a more effective and sustainable way of “being” is to embrace structure as a way to avoid fear and panic. In fact, some of our clients come to the conclusion that structure actually results in “freedom.” By developing daily routines and increased accountability, they free themselves from the panic and low self-esteem that comes from not being able to accomplish goals and fulfill promises.
Structure helps people with ADD to improve up to six groups of “executive functions” as described by Thomas Brown, ADD researcher and professor at Yale University. For an overview of all six groups, click here.
Questions for Reflection:
- If you have ADD or are the parent of a child with ADD, does this blog resonate with your experience?
- If you have never been diagnosed with ADD, do you feel that any of the “structure” suggestions might help you accomplish more?
- Who could you choose as an “accountability partner” to help you stay on track with your daily routines and commitments?
- How can “structure” actually free you from a pattern of underachievement?
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