Overcoming Negative Thinking: 5 Tips for Adults with ADHD

group of friends eating outdoorsHave you ever noticed how people with ADHD, regardless of their age, remember, the negative things people say about them more than the positive? While all human brains are wired for the negativity bias, the minds of those with ADHD seem particularly vulnerable to holding on to what is “bad” about them. Most likely, this pattern developed over many years of criticism for not remembering things, not doing things properly, not controlling themselves, etc. Our ancestors needed the ability to learn and remember lessons from bad experiences for survival. People today, however, need to learn how to retain lessons from good experiences.

This positive reinforcement helps us grow, learn new skills and be self-confident–all important contributors to a fulfilling life. If you find that your negative thinking is getting in the way of a more positive outlook, know that change is possible. Read on to learn about 5 approaches that will help ADHD adults overcome negative thinking and lead a more rewarding and productive life.

Focus on beneficial experiences

mother and daughter laughing togetherPositive, beneficial experiences not only serve as the foundation of self-esteem and self-management, but they also nourish inner strengths. In order for the good moments to outmaneuver the negativity bias, they have to be installed in the brain’s neural structures. This process requires being held in the working memory long enough to be transferred to the long-term memory.

Folks with ADHD, by definition, usually struggle with working memory challenges. So, this transfer doesn’t occur as frequently as we would like, if at all. So the key is to focus on positive thoughts and experiences more frequently. By gradually increasing these good moments, you will get to that “long enough” period to reverse the negativity bias.

Then, you can live in the power of ‘yet’ instead of the shadow of ‘can’t.’ By accepting that life is a series of taking reasonable risks, weighing the costs and the benefits of things, and being spontaneous when the time is right, you turn up the volume on optimism and confidence. You pay more attention to what is going well and your innate talents. This process helps you build resources to assist you when the going gets tough. You learn to distinguish between real threats and distortions that mimic them.

So how do you actually lower the noise of the negativity bias?

5 approaches to overcome negative thinking for adults with ADHD

1. Slow down

man sleeping in hammockWhen something good happens, relish it. In our ultra fast-paced world, everyone moves on to the next thing so quickly, that the important integration needed to consolidate memory can be missed.

Slow down by taking a more mindful approach to your day. As the saying goes, stop and smell the roses. Release the pressure to stay focused by allowing your mind to wander. Take time to notice when something feels good, and reflect on that experience. Maybe you enjoyed your favorite lunch in the park. Perhaps a coworker complimented you on a job well done. Or, you’re simply feeling good on this day and looking forward to seeing a movie with a friend later. Catch these positive feelings in the moment, and savor them.

2. Reflect on the day’s highs and lows

Practice doing ‘highs and lows of the day’ at dinner with friends or family. If others aren’t around, try journaling, or find a comfortable spot for self-reflection. By doing this exercise, you create a safe place to hold both the positive and negative occurrences simultaneously–giving them equal weight. This process will help build new, essential neural pathways. 

To avoid dwelling on the lows too long, try to think of an actionable way to bounce back or learn from a negative situation. This will help build your resilience and boost confidence. Here are a couple examples of positive turnabouts:

high and low nob positioned to high

I was too distracted at work today and didn’t finish what I promised to do. Tomorrow, I will find a quiet place to focus on my project.

I feel bad that I forgot to wish my parents a happy anniversary. I’ll set up a reminder to call them tomorrow morning. I know they will be happy to hear from me, even if I’m a day late.

If daily ‘highs and lows’ are too much to fit in, then do them once a week at regular times, like Sunday dinners. This way, you can reflect on the previous week and set the tone for the week ahead.

3. Seek supportive connections

These days, there’s a lot to be upset about in the world, and we don’t have control over most of it. But, we can control whom we welcome into our lives. We can seek out people who are kind, understanding and supportive.

Adults with ADHD benefit from a support system of people who understand your particular challenges. These individuals and communities can prop you up if you’re stuck in a negative mindset. They may be friends, neighbors, relatives or coworkers. Open yourself up to those who will bring positivity and caring into your life.

You will create good memories and enjoy positive experiences through strong relationships. These interactions build the neural pathways we are seeking to create, increase inner strengths and foster interpersonal connection. 

4. The mind/body connection

woman smiling with yoga mat and water bottleExercise and physical well-being have a positive impact on our emotions and state of mind. A walk, bike ride or even dancing can improve your mood just as much as it provides you with an energy boost. Yoga and meditation are mindfulness tools which can help you focus and stay positive. Exercising also allows you to take a break from your daily demands.

Most importantly, physical activity keeps you away from screens and devices, so your mind can rest and unplug. Make movement a part of your self-care routine, and enjoy the benefits of calm and relaxation.

5. Keep it up with a growth mindset

For ADHD adults, the pull towards negativity and retaining bad experiences is longstanding and ingrained. Reversing the course is an uphill challenge. However, it is possible to improve and be successful with practice and patience.

Take things one day at a time, and use a “growth mindset” approach. Simply put, be open to learning from your experiences and changing for the better. See if you can gradually increase the good moments in your day, and keep building them up like a stack of blocks. If you have a setback, acknowledge it. Then dust yourself off to get back on track. Resilience goes a long way in turning a negative mindset to a positive one.

So, start building the good today!

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