Many people wish they had superhuman powers to deal with life's problems. When you’re an entrepreneur, focus and concentration are seen as critical to success. So, if like me, you have ADHD, it can seem like you’re on the back foot from the get go.
However, if you’re determined to succeed, there are many ways you can embrace the condition and use its quirks to your advantage; in life and in business.
The commonly held perception of ADHD as a “disorder” is incorrect. Many of history’s greats were known to have overactive minds -- Picasso, Van Gogh, Rodin -- and imagine how different the world would be without Henry Ford, Bill Gates and Andrew Carnegie's unique visions.
That’s not to say ADHD always makes life a breeze. It doesn’t. But, with practice and presence of mind you can turn this deficit into a benefit. Here are a few things that helped me along the way.
1. Proactively let your mind wander.
ADHD is the inability to focus on one thing at a given time. Harness that. Let your mind wander -- with timelines. I’m fond of saying that ADHD is the ability to think up 10,000 ideas a day. If that’s true, then at least a few of those must be the next million-dollar idea. Or if you’re Richard Branson, make that at least 20!
Daydreaming makes people more productive because it taps into the subconscious mind and encourages creativity. If you practice being more imaginative in the moment, you’ll quickly find that solutions present themselves.
Another tip I stand by is to always practice empathy. Let it act as a filter on your thoughts. Whenever I come up with an idea that I believe will help me, I always ask myself how others might find it useful in their own lives. This will help narrow your ideas down to the marketable few.
It’s this combination of loose ideation and focused empathy that brings forth sustainable innovation. But, it’s not just me saying that the wandering mind is a good thing -- experts agree.
“As much as 50 percent of daily cognition is spent on spontaneous cognition -- basically daydreaming or mind wandering," Dr. Scott Barry Kaufman told CNN. “This is where things like problem-solving, creativity, goal driven thought, future planning, seeing the perspective of another person and so on find space to exist."
With a little strategic daydreaming, you can come up with more creative solutions to the problems you face and feel more relaxed in the process.
2. Don’t get put in a box.
If I’ve learned anything from the education system it’s that focus and rigor can be counterintuitive. “Concentrate! Pay attention!” isn’t exactly useful advice to someone with ADHD.
Back in my college days, I was always told to work in a particular way that didn’t match how I was thinking. Although I made a reasoned decision to drop out, I didn’t stop progressing by any stretch.
Those who “suffer” from ADHD are known to display intrinsic curiosity, and many have the ability to hyper-focus on topics that fascinate them. I believe this is the reason that a lot of us are also lifelong learners. That's certainly the case with me, and I’ve followed my curiosities to heights never offered by formal education.
We should be supporting students’ inherent drive from a young age. We all learn differently, and our education system needs to recognize this. While things are changing for the better, self-confidence is important for anyone who’s been labeled in any way.
Once you’re "put in the box" and forced to think a certain way, it’s hard to break out. Stop buying into the idea that the way you think is wrong. Learn to trust your instincts and always remember to follow your curiosity.
3. Be spontaneous.
Those with attention issues are often thought of as impulsive. I prefer to think of it as a willingness to be spontaneous. Switching things up can be good for the gray matter. Innovation sure won’t come looking for you.
Inspiration usually strikes when we’re doing something new and exciting. So, try out a new coworking space. Or travel and make the world your new office. Make a difference by going out there and doing something new. Getting a new perspective on your daily routine may bring new perspectives you never imagined.
4. Never listen to doubters.
No one ever achieved anything significant by blindly following others’ advice. Don’t let people whose opinions veer significantly from yours make you feel like you’re doing the wrong thing, just because it doesn’t match their way of thinking.
If your approach seems chaotic, unstructured or nonsensical to others, so what? The structure you create has to be meaningful to you.
I think back to that famous Steve Jobs quote: “Everything around you that you call life was made up by people that were no smarter than you.”
Haters gonna hate. Keep toxic vampires firmly locked in their coffins.
5. Find your outlet.
My overactive mind has helped me so much to think differently. But, what has helped me most is finding the right outlet for my ideas.
Before I launched YouMap, I spent years leading brand strategy in the coffee industry. What lead me on my current path was studying patent law. This process ultimately helped give me the confidence to take the leap required to develop YouMap. In fact, my interest in patents led to a product specification, which became a development guidebook used to create the final product.
Harness and channel creativity any way you can. And it never hurts to work with others who balance your deficits, giving you a chance to unleash your unfocused mind in the best possible way.
ADHD can be a tough stigma to break, particularly when everyone seems to treat you as troubled or in need of help. But, as more and more people, including business leaders, are openly admitting their creative diagnoses, that stigma is slowly disappearing. For many it seems less like a disadvantage and more like an aspiring entrepreneur’s personality wishlist: energy, flexibility, creativity, restlessness.
Maybe we do have superpowers after all.