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Dr. Hallowell's Blog

ADHD – No Creative, Productive Outlet

NO CREATIVE, PRODUCTIVE OUTLET: All of us do better when we are creatively and productively engaged in some activity. It doesn’t have to be overtly creative, like writing a poem or painting a portrait. Almost any activity can become a productive outlet that you feel good about. Cooking a meal certainly can be. Even doing laundry can be.

How can doing laundry be fulfilling? By turning it into a form of play, by  turning it into a game. Children show us how to do this all the time. When my son Tucker was younger,  he turned his bath into a creative activity every time he takes one. He adds a few action figures and the game is on. If you are willing to be a little silly and let yourself go, you can turn doing your laundry—or anything else for that matter—into a playful, creative activity.

The more you can do that the more likely the activity will turn into flow, a psychological term invented by the great pioneer of the psychology of happiness, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. Flow is the state of mind in which you lose awareness of time, of place, even of yourself, and you become one with what you’re doing. In these states we are at our happiest as well as at our most effective.

The doorway to flow is play. You can play at anything you do. If you have ADHD, play comes naturally to you. So do it!  Play is deep. Play changes the world. Play can turn the most mundane of tasks into an activity you lose yourself in. Play is not a silly, superficial activity. By play, I mean creative engagement with whatever it is you are doing. The opposite of play is doing exactly what you are told to do; that is the refuge of people who have attention surplus disorder. For people who have ADHD, play should come easily. You just have to get shame, pessimism, and negativity out of the way and make sure you’re not so isolated that you get too depressed to play.

     To get out of S.P.I.N., PLAY. As you play, you will find something you like to play at over and over again. With any luck, it will have value to others. That is called a great career: some form of play that someone else is willing to pay you to do.

At core, being stuck means not having a creative, productive outlet. If you hook up to a creative outlet you can’t stay stuck. Oh, sure, you can get blocked. You can have periods of inactivity or frustration. But then you will start to fiddle around—to play—and you will dislodge the block.

Adults with ADHD who stagnate after starting treatment need to find some creative outlet to get going again. Everyone does better with such outlets, but for people with ADHD they are essential for a fulfilling life.

Once you find a creative outlet, or several, you will be much more able to hook your waterfall up to a hydroelectric plant. Don’t say you can’t find it. That’s negativity speaking. Get with someone who believes in you, or listen to the part of yourself that believes in you. Brainstorm. Try this. Try that. You’ll find your hydroelectric plant.

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