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ADHD and Flexible Thinking

ADHD and flexible thinking don’t always go together.

It’s a complicated equation. ADHD + negative self-talk + wonky EFs = not-so-flexible thinking.

But if you think about it, Flexible thinking isn’t easy for anyone.

Take for example Kim Kardashian’s recent comments about “nobody wanting to work anymore.”

Kardashian’s stunningly tone deaf comments are infuriating for sure. But when we get mad at her garbage  advice we’re missing an important point.

Kardashian does not have the ability to pause, consider different perspectives, and adapt her thinking.

Flexible thinking is a skill, and like all skills it requires work. 

I know how much we all love WORK. But the more I learn about flexible thinking, and how it contributes to emotional wellbeing, the more important I think it is.

ADHD adults tend to struggle with certain types of thinking:

There are other aspects of flexible thinking, but these are the ones I notice most often in my clients and community. So let’s start there.

ADHD and Flexible Thinking



Flexible thinking is directly impacted by our own self-talk.

ADHD adults have notoriously negative self-talk. We also have EF challenges that make it hard for us to use our self-talk effectively.

I picture my own narrator as Helena Bonham Carter in The Crown. She’s judgy and sarcastic and likes to talk trash about every time in my life I’ve made a mistake or felt ashamed. As much as I resent her, I understand that I cannot shut her up.

There are some who like to fight with their inner voice, talk back to it, “slay the demon” or whatever. But realistically it’s not like I can drown her in her own infinity pool in Mustique. So I have to learn how to live alongside her.

You cannot get rid of your inner narrator, so you must learn to live with them.

The best thing you can do is let go a little.

Acknowledge their presence without listening to the trash talk that comes with it. Most of the time your inner voice is trying to protect you. Listen, feel the discomfort, and then choose a tiny first action.

Life isn’t a zero sum game, your next move won’t be all right OR all wrong.

Black and White Thinking

Speaking of uncomfortable, we with ADHD sometimes have trouble seeing the grey areas of life.

Quick decision making is useful and necessary.

For example, I’ve avoided a number of stomach bugs because I have a rule of thumb about potluck dinners and parties. I DO NOT eat food that 20+ people have breathed on and touched.

But I’ll be the first to admit that black and white thinking can become problematic.

We with ADHD sometimes miss details. Or maybe we overfocus on one detail and miss everything else.


My clients think about themselves in very rigid ways.

Some of us get stuck in these thought loops.

If the story you’ve told yourself is one of failure, you won’t be as willing to try new things and you definitely won’t be able to see progress along the way.

Noticing your black and white thinking is the first step to seeing more grey.

Lower the stakes a little. Nothing and nobody is all good or all bad.

You’ll feel more calm, and that’s when you can spot opportunities for change and growth and adventure.


Starting, stopping, and task switching

You are probably familiar with the idea of hyperfocus.

I like to say my son has a “flavor of the week” in video games. He will talk incessantly about certain games from the moment he wakes up until he passes out. When I change the subject he gets grouchy.

This is hyperfocus in action. He is talking about the THING even when THE THING is not available to him.

In adolescents this is simply annoying.

Hyperfocus to the exclusion of everything else is how we get ourselves in trouble.

Hyperfocus is the inability to STOP doing the thing in front of you. It’s like a suction cup on your brain, you need something to jam in there and break the seal. Preferably not a screaming human. But sometimes that’s the only thing that will break the spell.

Task initiation, or activation, is also a common complaint with clients.

We all have conditions to starting. Some of these are environmental, and some of them are internal. I like to call myself the Goldilocks of ADHD because I have a lot of conditions to doing things.

ADHD also lends itself to avoidant thought patterns.

My husband calls this “mental gymnastics.”

You probably have some avoidant thoughts of your own. If you can identify what they are, and look for the patterns, you can start working on them.

The key here is to get curious about yourself, not critical.

CBT Therapists are particularly good at this. So are coaches.

Task-switching is the other major roadblock for most of us.

I’m only gonna say this once. Multitasking does NOT work. 

Multitasking doesn’t even work for “neurotypical” unicorns. So stop beating your head against the wall.

You know what works?

A sense of completion.

It is actually easier to do one project at a time, start to finish. And get this -your work quality improves!

I call it monotasking.  These daysI try to do three things per day. If I can only do one or two they carry over. And I don’t spend much time worrying about doing things perfectly.


ADHD and Flexible thinking

The bottom line is this: Our brain type creates barriers to self-awareness.

You cannot THINK your way out of ADHD.

However you can seek to better understand yourself and how your mind works. That type of work will get you closer to the life you want than managing individual symptoms with tips and tricks.

Flexible thinking is a skill, and like all skills it requires work.

ADHD and flexible thinking is not one of the flashy, sexy topics we all love talking about. But it’s a useful skill if you’re open to working on it.


recap for the scrollers:



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