As a therapist for people with anxiety and ADHD, I see a lot of clients who are focused solely on their challenges. And this makes sense. After all, if you have ADHD, you’ve probably been told (whether subtly or overtly) throughout your whole life that you’re not good enough, you need to pay closer attention, you need to stop fidgeting, you need to be better organized, you need to focus more, you need to do better in school. The list goes on. It’s not uncommon for ADHD clients to come to me feeling completely devastated by a lifetime of “you’re not good enough” messaging from parents, teachers, partners, bosses, and strangers.
One thing I also see all the time in my sessions is an abundance of creativity in my clients. They often don’t see themselves as creative because they’re so focused on all the parts of themselves they’ve been told are bad or wrong. But ADHD brain chemistry lends itself to out-of-the-box thinking. Their creativity, which my clients usually take for granted or brush aside, is often their superpower.
Creativity is defined as the use of the imagination to generate new ideas or objects. Humans are inherently creative. This trait has enabled humans to develop and progress throughout history, and it’s been key to our evolution as a species. But when many of us think about creativity, we think of famous sculptors or painters who produced incredible works of art. Or maybe we think of classic authors whose works shaped our culture. Unless we possess some unusual artistic capability, we don’t usually think of ourselves as being creative.
People with ADHD tend to be impulsive, novelty-seeking, curious, and sensitive. These traits tend to get demonized because they often lead to challenges in environments that require conventional productivity. But these very same traits tend to foster imagination and creativity in ADHD brains.
Two elements of creativity include divergent thinking and convergent thinking. Divergent thinking is the ability to come up with multiple solutions to a single problem. For example, coming up with as many uses as possible for a stick (dig a hole, scratch your back, reach something, etc.) would be a measure of divergent thinking. Convergent thinking, on the other hand, is the ability to form associations between separate objects. An example would be coming up with a common denominator of three seemingly disparate concepts (such as spigot, salt, and white) and generating a fourth that relates to each of the other three concepts (such as water).
Holly White, a psychology research scientist at the University of Michigan, studies neurodiversity and creativity. Her research has found that people with ADHD are more likely to utilize divergent thinking when completing a task. Compared to their non-ADHD peers, they’re better at divergent thinking and worse at convergent thinking.
One theory for this is that divergent thinking requires an uninhibited flow of ideas and concepts. Executive dysfunction, a primary factor in inhibiting certain aspects of cognition, is a key component of ADHD. One way this presents itself is a constant stream of thoughts and ideas bouncing around in an ADHD brain. It can be overwhelming and disruptive when you’re trying to accomplish a single task or focus on something you don’t find particularly interesting. However, this flow of concepts and ideas actually helps facilitate divergent thinking.
So, what does all this mean for you? Essentially, it means that you’re creative – even if you don’t think you are. People with ADHD are good at generating new ideas and creating novel concepts using existing tools.
Here are some ways ADHD brains may be creative that don’t “seem” creative:
These are just a few unusual ways you might be creative. Take some time to think about ways you may incorporate creativity into your daily life without even realizing it. And if you can’t think of anything, how might you engage in more creativity at work, in your personal life, or in your hobbies?
Some people write off creativity as childlike, wasteful, and even stupid. If you hold such an attitude toward creativity, take a second to consider why. Maybe you associate creative with frivolous activity and laziness. Maybe you’ve been taught that spending all your time creating something is a waste of time and unproductive. After all, aren’t there better things to spend your time on?
Fostering creativity is not bad, selfish, or a waste of time. In fact, it’s one of the healthiest things you can do. Engaging in creativity as a regular part of your life – whether through an artistic endeavor, your job, or a hobby – decreases anxiety and boosts confidence, self-worth and overall mental health. It can also help you:
Ultimately, creativity is enjoyable. Even if it has no other purpose other than to bring some happiness into your life, I’d say that’s still a big win.
Creativity is great, but it can be difficult to figure out its role in your life. If you want help understanding how to balance creativity in your daily life, consider therapy.
I’m here to help you rethink what creativity means and how you can access it. Together, we’ll work to figure out what your creative strengths are, how to maximize those strengths, and set goals to feel more creative in important areas of your life.
I’m ready if you are. Reach out today to schedule a complimentary consultation.
Danielle is an anxiety therapist. She specializes in helping busy millennials dial down their anxiety and ADHD, so they can perform at their best. Danielle has been featured on Apartment Therapy, SparkPeople, Lifewire, and Now Art World. When Danielle isn't helping her clients, she's playing video games or spending time with her partner and step children.