Lately when I talk with people about trying mindfulness for ADHD, their first reaction seems to be an immediate acknowledgment that this technique makes sense. They nod, with a sincere expression of interest. But then this expression is rapidly followed by one of amused doubt, even harrumphing. People get it: Mindfulness seems like an obvious tool for ADHD. Mindfulness helps the very core areas that are problematic for ADHD. But the doubt, whether amused or serious, comes flooding in as people put together what they think they know about ADHD with what they think they know about mindfulness.
The equation looks something like this:
ADHD + Mindfulness Myth = Impossible
Or, if your prefer:
ADHD + Mindfulness Myth ≠ Doable
Working with my clients, I have seen firsthand that this doubt, based on inaccurate assumptions, is just plain wrong. And, lucky for me and for you, the research backs me up on this – proving that people with ADHD can practice mindfulness and reap the benefits.
In order to benefit from mindfulness for ADHD, you need to actually do it. In order to actually do it, you might need to change your myth-skewed thinking about ADHD and mindfulness. Let’s examine some of the more popular mindfulness for ADHD myths:
MINDFULNESS FOR ADHD MYTH #1
People with ADHD lack the willpower needed to follow through with a new habit like mindfulness.
While sometimes ADHD looks and feels like a willpower problem, it isn’t. People with ADHD have a neurobiological set-up that makes it hard to consistently manage their own brain’s executive functions. No matter how hard you try, you can’t will that away. The good news is that you can change the way your brain works with things like medication, mindfulness and meditation, exercise, and sleep. ADHD is also powerfully affected by context. So, if you set-up your environment in such a way as to support your new habit, then you will be able to follow through. Setting up your environment to support your efforts toward a new habit of mindfulness works when you set realistic expectations, when it is intentional and articulated, and when you have support. It might not always be perfect, but it is doable. With coaching, my adult ADHD clients are able to successfully establish mindfulness habits.
MINDFULNESS FOR ADHD MYTH #2
Mindfulness and Meditation require too much attention for someone with ADHD.
Mindfulness does not require extreme levels of attention. It does take practice, and the more you practice, the easier and more effective it will be for you. Getting started is easy: Just take two breaths. Pay attention to how that feels right now. Breathe in…breathe out… Just that, without expectations or judgment.
Sometimes when I begin to describe mindfulness, people realize that they may already be doing it in one form or another. One of my clients loves to wash her dishes in the evening by hand. When I asked her about this, she said it was her time to pause and take notice of herself, the suds, the water, the quiet of the house at that time. Without realizing it, she had created a daily ritual of a mindful moment for herself.
Meditation is a formal way of exercising mindfulness. It can seem really hard to people who have not tried it or are just trying it for the first time. But, if you open your expectations, meditation does not have to be any certain way at all. Deepak Chopra sums this up nicely:
“One reason why meditation may seem difficult is that we try too hard to concentrate, we’re overly attached to results, or we’re not sure we are doing it right.”
He recommends learning meditation from a qualified teacher. I recommend starting by listening to guided meditations, so you feel comfortable giving it a try.
MINDFULNESS FOR ADHD MYTH #3
People with ADHD can’t sit still long enough to meditate.
This is one of my favorite myths because it makes me chuckle every time. A couple of weeks ago I had a client with ADHD in my office. Toward the end of her session, she asked if I thought trying mindfulness might help her curb some of her troubling ADHD symptoms. Before I could even reply, she laughed out loud, claiming, “I could never sit still that long!” What makes me smile is that she hadn’t realized the irony in that she had just been sitting still for an hour-long coaching session without fidgeting at all.
This myth is actually a double-edged, two-way-street myth. The first way to dispel it is to state very clearly that people with ADHD can sit still, as long as they are interested and engaged.
Secondly, meditation does not require sitting still. Meditation can also be done while walking, lying down, moving, or standing.
MINDFULNESS FOR ADHD MYTH #4
People with ADHD are already overburdened with too much to do and don’t have time to practice mindfulness.
While it is true that many adults with ADHD feel overwhelmed, overburdened, and over-booked, practicing mindfulness does not need to take much time at all. The benefits of a mindful practice clearly outweigh time concerns.
People with ADHD who practice mindfulness can start to experience greater attention, better moods, and an improved outlook on life almost immediately after starting a mindfulness practice. The folks in this study started with 5-minute meditations and a couple of mindful moments each day. After 8 weeks, nearly 8 out of 10 reported feeling less ADHD. Other studies have shown similar results with only a few weeks of brief practices. Initially, it might take support to find the time and make it part your daily plan, but that is not the same as not having the time.
MINDFULNESS FOR ADHD MYTH #5
People with ADHD can’t turn off their thoughts enough to get any benefit from meditating.
I have to wonder where this misconception about mindfulness and meditation comes from. Who said you have to shut off your brain? Not only is it impossible for people with ADHD, it is also impossible for people without ADHD. Ironically, the more you try to turn off thoughts, the more thoughts tend to crowd into your head all at once. Again, I turn to Deepak Chopra:
“Meditation isn’t about stopping our thoughts or trying to empty our mind – both of these approaches only create stress and more noisy internal chatter. We can’t stop or control our thoughts, but we can decide how much attention to give them.”
When we decide how much attention to give to thoughts, we exercise our brain’s attention-muscle, making it stronger and more flexible. Lidia Zylowska of the Mindfulness Prescription for Adult ADHD writes that “Successful practice is being aware of the present moment no matter how it is” (203). That includes paying attention to the noisy chatter as well as the spaces in between the noise. When you think about it, that’s the opposite of turning off your mind.
The best way to dispel these mindfulness for ADHD myths is to give mindfulness a try. If you're interested in learning more about how to use mindfulness to manage your ADHD, send me a quick email and I'll share some more helpful resources with you.