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If Only

If only I didn’t have ADHD.

Think of what I could accomplish! Think of how much easier my life would be!

HypotheticalIt’s tempting to fall into this line of thought. Even more so if you’ve just been diagnosed, it’s natural to think about how things might be different if you didn’t have ADHD.

And I’m not going to say it’s wrong. Maybe you would accomplish great things and have an easier life if you didn’t have ADHD. Who knows, really – it’s a little like saying “if only I were a different person.”

All of us with ADHD go through these hypotheticals. We go through them after we’re diagnosed, and often we go through them before we’re diagnosed, even if we don’t have a name for what we’re experiencing yet: if only I could focus, if only I had more control over my own brain.

I think it’s even good to reflect on these possibilities, as long as it’s with the understanding that this line of thinking is nothing more than an interesting thought experiment. It’s certainly not a plan for managing your symptoms or building a fulfilling life with ADHD.

In fact, living well with ADHD requires exactly the opposite type of thinking. It requires saying “what environments and situations work best for the brain I’ve got, and how do I seek out those environments and situations in order to have a life that’s in tune with my brain?”

In other words, it’s about saying “how do I take advantage of the brain I have?” rather than “I wish I had a different brain.”

That doesn’t mean you can’t also pose the question: “what would my life look like if I did have a different brain?” Exploring that negative question can even be helpful in answering the positive question “how do I optimize my life for the brain I have?”

But when it comes to actually making decisions about how you structure your life, you always have to put yourself in the frame of mind of making the most of your unique strengths and weaknesses rather than wishing you had different strengths. At least, that’s the approach that works best for me.

Sometimes it can be informative to explore two contradictory ideas simultaneously: the “what if?” and the “play the hand you’re dealt.” It’s just that when it comes to building a positive life that harmonizes your brain and your external environment, it’s important to recognize that the “what ifs?” no longer have a role to play. Capitalizing on the brain you have is a real strategy for a good life with ADHD while contemplating what life would be like with a different brain is mostly useful for entertainment value.

Image: Flickr/Lew (tomsmith) Holzman

If Only

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. (2018). If Only. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 17, 2019, from


Last updated: 20 Feb 2018
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