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3 Radical Ways to Go from Bad to Badass When You Have ADHD

Let’s face it, having ADHD makes life more difficult.

It’s harder to maintain good daily habits, to get tasks done efficiently, to remember stuff, to organize, to plan, to handle your emotions. Heck, for many, it’s harder just to remember to eat, much less elegantly plan your day and sail through tasks with ease. This can lead to a lot (a lot, a lot) of negative self-talk and self-shaming - telling yourself that you are simply “bad.”

But, what if you could turn “bad” into “badass?” What if, instead of always trying harder to improve yourself and be good at everything, you decided that you only want to be great at a couple of things? What if you stopped worrying so much about all of the little, less-important-to-you things that you hate to do anyway? What if you embraced the radically unique parts of you (ADHD included) that make you a rebel, an artist, a deep thinker, a jack-of-all-trades, a collector, or a disrupter even? Is there something about you that lights up when I suggest that you “be a badass?”

What is a Badass?

Badassery implies the willingness or aptitude to cause a little bit of trouble, to be a little rogue, to sacrifice the convention of being nice all the time. It is the opposite of being sheepish.

Being a badass also implies that there is something extraordinary going on. If I said, “She is such a badass artist,” that would imply that she’s uniquely talented, right? Being a badass usually means you shine - that there is a real talent that you show to the world without obvious fear of being judged. Being a badass means that you are doing something exceptional with your life, and that showing up as imperfect is one of those things. You might experience uncertainty, but you have the courage to show up in a big, bold way despite your fear.

Why Go from Bad to Badass

I spend many hours each week talking with very successful folks with ADHD. They are more educated than I am - like Ph.D. educated. They work in very demanding careers to help educate others; research super complex issues; protect, defend, or prosecute the law; lead others to do great work. They make the rest of us better. And yet, they often feel as if they are falling apart, not focusing on what’s important, never getting enough done, disappointing everyone around them. These are not mutually exclusive traits. When you have ADHD, it is entirely plausible for you to be extremely successful and falling apart at the same time.

For outwardly successful people, like the lawyers and professors with ADHD that I work with, they have managed their more difficult ADHD life by exerting tremendous amounts of energy trying to be good (or, at least, better). They learned to overcompensate for their ADHD challenges by trying harder, aiming for better, and striving to be "good" all the time.

But, I would argue, that this very thing - trying to be good - has gotten in their own way. Most of them are now stuck in a cycle of over-doing that keeps them underperforming. They complain that they aren’t getting things done, are overwhelmed with diverse commitments at work, aren’t managing their own time, have run out of energy. They also neglect to take care of themselves - not eating, exercising, or sleeping in a self-supportive way, which are all critical to optimal executive functioning.

So, how do you know if you are trying too hard to be good? Have you caught yourself over-doing in any of these 3 ways?

1. Over-focusing on trivial stuff - this includes things like writing perfect emails, triple checking references, thinking harder about how tidy your office is than about your main project for the week.

2. Over-working to prove you’re a hard worker - these are behaviors like staying later at the office, promising to attend every meeting, rarely saying “no”.

3. Over-anticipating how you’ll be judged - which leads to attending to everyone else’s needs, trying to be really good at the things you suck at, and often a paralyzing fear that keeps you from doing your most important work.

These are all signs that you judge yourself as “bad,” that you feel the need to somehow make yourself better, that you are trying really hard to be good. And, this is could be the very thing that is getting in your way.

Going from bad to badass could free you from this cycle of over-doing so you can actually get your most important work done. Does a badass worry if there are typos in a trivial email? No. Does a badass fret that they might not have pleased every single person in the meeting? Heck no. Does a badass spend half their day working on tasks they don’t care about? No way.

How to Go From Bad to Badass

In order to help you go from bad to badass, my clients and I have explored 3 radical approaches. All three approaches ask that you think deeply, shift the way you are habitually thinking, and take action steps toward helping that shift to stick around.

3 radical approaches to help you go from bad to badass:

1. Define what you want to be known for, and what you don’t.

Exploring what you want to be known for is a little different than exploring your strengths. Knowing your strengths is a passive knowledge: I am good at creative problem-solving. Okay. So… There is no implied action. If I switch that to knowing what I want to be known for, then it becomes more active: I want to be known for my creative problem-solving. Okay. How are you going to do that? There is an implied action. Defining what you really want to be known for takes some deep thinking. It will help those of you with ADHD to actually write it down on paper to externalize it.

Defining what you want to be known for also forces you to exclude a ton of other things that you do not want to be known for. I want to be known for helping people with ADHD make profound and lasting changes that allow them to reach their own goals. I do not want to be known for perfect spelling, getting up early in the morning, or having a super tidy office. See how that works? A professor friend of mine wants to be known for engaging his students in deep, exploratory thinking and learning. He does not want to be known for having the world’s most perfectly organized syllabi. As an effective badass, he will spend most of his precious cognitive energy on engaging students, and less on organizing his syllabi.

2. Practice evaluating how important something is.

Once you have defined what you want to be known for, you can more easily assign levels of importance to things. This takes practice. For many of my clients with ADHD, everything can appear equally important. Is it important to inspire learning in your students? Yes. How about to spell correctly? Well, yes. Is it important to show up to court or a class on time? Yes. But are each of these really equally important? This is where the gravestone test can come in handy. I don’t want mine to read “Got up early each morning” or “Never had a typo.” For data-driven folks, you could practice assigning a value of 1 - critically important, 2 - important, but not critical to my being, and 3 - mildly important, but not important enough to sacrifice myself to.

3. Give yourself permission to be bad.

Remember that part of being a badass is the tendency to be a little bad. It means focusing on what you want to be known for, what you care most about, without caring what other people think so much. So, in order to free yourself from a paralyzing state of over-doing it, you need to give yourself permission to make errors, to misjudge, to be late, to be messy, and not care so darn much. To not ruin your life’s work because you might not be perfect. Allow yourself to let go of being good at the things that are less important (the 2’s and 3’s). If you want to externalize this permission, you could write a list of things that you can do imperfectly. You could also delegate these things to others who might do a better job. These are the things that are not worthy of your unique, badass talents and precious time.

I am not suggesting that you start showcasing your weakness, highlighting your errors, or announcing each failure. But, if you think that your tendency to focus on what you are “bad” at is leading you into over-doing that is getting in your way, then I suggest you give badassery a try.

Going from bad to badass might just give you the time and energy you need to free yourself from the cycle and lead to better and better things.

Are you a high achiever who happens to have ADHD?

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