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Knowledge, Action and ADHD

They say that knowledge is power, and they’re probably right. The more knowledge you have about a situation, the better you understand that situation and the more likely you are to take appropriate actions.

Knowledge also has its limitations, though. In many cases, for knowledge to be useful, you have to turn it into action.

This step of converting knowledge to action is where ADHD can rear its head with surprising determination. Deficits in planning, motivation, concentration and self-regulation can all stop you from directing theoretical knowledge into practical action.

Stress management bookThere are plenty of things I know.

I know not to interrupt people when they’re talking. I know nothing good comes from starting complicated projects at the last possible minute. I know how to draw up a schedule and deliberately plan out how to divide up my time. I know how to clean my desk. I know to put the milk back in the fridge after preparing cereal. I know how to read and understand what the words are saying. I know that sometimes it’s important to prioritize activities that are tedious but necessary over ones that are immediately rewarding.

But at any given moment, I may or may not be able to put those different types of knowledge into action. Just because I’m theoretically able to do something doesn’t mean I’ll be able to summon the cognitive resources to actually do it.

Sometimes not being able to turn knowledge into action can make other people think you’re lacking the knowledge in the first place. I’m remembering when I was in school. Now, I do know how to take two numbers and add them together, but thanks to inattentive mistakes, you could sometimes look at my homework and reasonably doubt whether I did in fact have that knowledge.

Problems with converting knowledge to action can follow ADHDers into the workplace. Knowing how to do a job doesn’t mean you’ll do it effectively, especially in a work environment where understimulation starts to kick in. Knowledge is necessary, but it’s not sufficient.

That’s not to say knowledge isn’t important. In fact, there’s one kind of knowledge that’s crucial for people with ADHD: knowledge about ADHD.

Knowledge about ADHD lets us put our struggles into context. It helps us understand why certain situations don’t fit well with our brain, and why we sometimes have trouble with things that other people seem to take for granted. Knowledge about ADHD also helps us take action by implementing coping strategies although, as always, the correlation between knowledge and action isn’t perfect here.

Maybe more than anything, knowledge about ADHD leads to acceptance. For example, recognizing that ADHDers sometimes struggle to practically apply the skills they have is a type of knowledge itself. Having that knowledge allows us to realize that not being able to do something at one point in time doesn’t mean we don’t know how to do it at all, and helps us accept that some degree of gap between what we know and what we do is expected and just part of the ADHD deal.

Image: Flickr/The Crystal Fairy

Knowledge, Action and ADHD

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. (2020). Knowledge, Action and ADHD. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 21, 2020, from


Last updated: 29 Apr 2020
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