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ADHD, Can’t Execute

There’s a special kind of frustration that comes from getting the idea that you want to do something, having the ability to do it, and then for some reason never getting it done.

People with ADHD have deficits in executive functioning – skills like planning and self-control that involve managing your cognitive resources and telling your brain what to do. And it turns out that if you have executive functioning deficits, sometimes you have problems, well, executing.

Sometimes your lightbulb moments burn out.

An example is the classic “here are all my brilliant ideas and here’s how many I’ve actually acted on” syndrome. You constantly have ideas for things you want to do, you’re going to do, and then somehow they never get done.

These could be things like starting a new hobby, learning a new skill, making a change in your career, or even just cleaning off your desk. The frustration comes from having these things you could have done, you wanted to do, and somehow just never making them happen.

A related problem ADHDers have is putting the skills they have into practice. This is the “lots of potential” syndrome – or, as some people might mistakenly tell you, the “if only you would just try harder” syndrome.

In this case, the basic problem is that you have all the skills necessary for a given task, but executive functioning deficits get in the way of actually channeling those skills to accomplish the task. The result is underperformance at work or in school, and lost opportunities. Once again, there’s a frustration that comes from a disturbingly wide gap between what you’re potentially able to do, and what you actually do in practice.

With both “here are all my brilliant ideas” syndrome and “lots of potential” syndrome, the problem isn’t about knowing what to do or having the ability to do it. It’s that when it comes time to actually execute, ADHD interferes with consistently putting this knowledge and these abilities into action.

In a way, it might be less frustrating just having no idea what to do or lacking the skills to do it in the first place. Because then, hey, what can you do, it’s out of your control! But when you have all the requisite skills and knowledge in place and fail to make things happen, you’re left thinking you could have done better and wondering what went wrong.

Image: Flickr/Aditi Rao

ADHD, Can’t Execute

Neil Petersen

Neil Petersen writes regularly on education, learning disabilities and technology. He received his B.A. in 2014 and was diagnosed with ADHD at the beginning of his college studies. Neil also works for a music education non-profit and hopes to help create an education system that can better serve students with ADHD.

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APA Reference
Petersen, N. (2017). ADHD, Can’t Execute. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 13, 2019, from


Last updated: 15 Nov 2017
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