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Know Your Brain

I’ve come to believe that this is the key to living with ADHD. You can’t create a life that fits with the way your brain works until you know how your brain reacts to different situations – that is, until you know your brain.

The process of figuring out how your brain works and how it does some things better than others doesn’t necessarily come naturally. Before I got diagnosed with ADHD, I didn’t even realize that I was trying to cope with my symptoms using a much less successful philosophy: change your brain.

Knowing your brain might be the key to living with ADHD, but you don’t have to take it this far.

Wanting to change your brain means thinking maybe you can just will yourself to concentrate better – an idea that can be encouraged by teachers and parents. It means thinking you can conjure motivation out of thin air and just try harder next time, which will fix everything.

When I got diagnosed, I started to accept that my brain is my brain, and it works the way it does. It has its own strengths and weaknesses, and it does some things better than others.

That shift of perspective allowed me to stop wasting my energy trying to make my brain run in a different way, and redirect my efforts into learning about how my brain worked.

Instead of trying to make myself better at forcing concentration, I started taking note of environmental changes like listening to music that helped my brain get in gear. Rather than beating myself up for being unmotivated, I started paying attention to which activities, situations and ways of working piqued my motivation.

I also supplemented learning about how my own brain worked with learning about how the ADHD brain worked more generally. I began to read up on research being done into ADHD, and I started noticing connections between scientific findings about the ADHD brain and my own personal experiences. You’ll notice that I reference a lot of scientific studies in my blog posts – that’s because learning about how the ADHD brain is different gave me context for making sense of how my own brain is different.

Basically, the shift that let me start making progress on managing my ADHD was the shift from trying to change internal things that I can’t control to changing external things that I can control so that the way my brain works internally and the way my life is structured externally line up. In other words, the shift from accepting my environment and trying to change my brain to accepting my brain and trying to change my environment.

Of course, it’s still a process. You never know your brain completely, and just because you know your brain doesn’t mean you find effective ways of dealing with all your symptoms. But the more you learn about the brain, the more you’re able to make changes in your life that will make your brain happy. And when my brain is happy, I’m happy!

Image: Flickr/el Neato

Know Your Brain

Neil Petersen

Neil Petersen writes regularly on psychology, ADHD and education. In addition to ADHD Millennial, he writes about psychology at Psych Central's AllPsych blog and about ADHD at He can be found on Twitter at @ADaptHD_blog

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APA Reference
Petersen, N. (2017). Know Your Brain. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 29, 2020, from


Last updated: 27 Jul 2017
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