In theory, I know how to not have ADHD. The problems start when I move from knowing to doing.
I know I’ll regret it if I procrastinate. I know I need to pay attention. I know to listen to what other people have to say and not to interrupt them. And I know that if I don’t leave soon, I’m going to be late.
But when you have ADHD, the gap between what you know and what you do gets bigger. Taking what you know and turning it into action requires self-control, self-regulation and executive functions, all of which are impaired in ADHD.
Being unable to efficiently turn knowledge into action can make it hard to learn from your mistakes. We do something impulsive and counterproductive, then we think “I’ll never do that again.” And then we wake up the next morning and do it again.
Because of the knowing-doing gap, managing ADHD is sometimes like spinning your wheels frantically, trying to gain traction with different coping techniques, but not really getting anywhere. You know that such-and-such coping technique would help with such-and-such symptom, but when it comes time to actually implement that coping technique, the knowing-doing disconnect kicks in.
At times, there’s something circular about trying to manage ADHD while dealing with this discrepancy between theory and practice. I know that of all the things I want to get done, I’ll never get around to most of them if I don’t sit down in advance and parcel out time in my schedule for them. But then, sitting down and planning out my schedule becomes one of those unscheduled things I just never quite get around to.
The yawning chasm between what you know and what you actually do can show up in all parts of life with ADHD. I’d guess that most people with ADHD have been described as performing “below their potential” at some point in their studies or their careers. And while everyone impulsively says things they know not to say in relationships and social interactions, people with ADHD have probably perfected the art form.
In a way, the distance between what you know and what you do might be a good proxy for measuring how much ADHD is impacting your life and how well your treatment is working. The bigger the discrepancy, the less under control your symptoms are. And the more the gap starts to close, the better you treatment is working.
Other people don’t necessarily even notice the difference between the two. After all, the people around you only know what you do, not what you know. But for people with ADHD, the discrepancy can be painfully obvious – we’re aware that we aren’t following through on what we know we should do, and we don’t always have a good explanation. “Mind the gap,” they say, and we do. It’s just that, before we’re diagnosed anyway, we don’t necessarily know what to do about it!
Image: Flickr/Pawel Loj