Don’t Let What You Can’t Do, Stop You From Doing What You Can

ADHD Education

Don’t Let What You Can’t Do, Stop you From Doing What You Can - Identify Your Strengths and Make Them Stronger

by David Giwerc, MCC, Founder and President, ADD Coach Academy

We live in a performance-oriented world. It’s also a world in which, too often, emphasis is placed on identifying a person’s areas of challenge and then focusing on those areas in order to improve performance. This negative focus can take its toll on the person’s innate strengths, which may be downplayed or overlooked in the quest for “improvement.”

For adults with ADHD, however, the effort involved in focusing our attention on our weaker areas of performance only exacerbates the challenges of ADHD. If we’re constantly expected to focus on our performance challenges, then we’re simply setting ourselves up for frustration, anxiety, and even immobilization – all of which inevitably lead to poor self-esteem. Although this preposterous “weakness” philosophy dominates our world, it does not serve adults with ADHD well.

In fact, based on coaching professionals, executives, entrepreneurs, small business owners, filmmakers and parents with ADHD over the past decade, I’ve consistently observed just the opposite:

People with ADHD improve their chances for success, as they define it, by
focusing on their natural talents – the ones that consistently yield excellent performance – and then by developing a plan to make those talents even stronger.

Our brains work by means of electrical stimulation. Whatever we choose to pay attention to, at any given moment, is one way in which we can either catalyze or immobilize our brains. It is within our power to choose what we focus on in any given moment. I don’t know about you, but starting off my day by having to pay attention to what I don’t do well definitely doesn’t stimulate my brain. Asking me to focus on a project that relates to my areas of weakness does not generate enough interest or stimulation for me, as an adult with ADHD, to sustain my attention and stay on task with that project.

Unfortunately, this is where false perceptions about ADHD can arise. For example, when I was a child, teachers would wonder, “Why is it that David can do his math assignment so well and so enthusiastically, but when he has to do a simple English reading and writing assignment, he won’t even take the first step toward action? He finds every reason in the book not to make any attempt; and the more we ask him, the more he resists. He’s just being lazy and doesn’t want to do it.”

The labeling as “being lazy,” unwilling, spoiled” that accompanies this type of misperceived performance is simply the result of a lack of understanding of the way in which the ADHD brain works. What those teachers didn’t understand then, and many still don’t understand today, was that I wanted to do the reading assignment. Unfortunately, the harder I tried to make myself do it, the more I shut down and eventually became immobilized. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to do it; it was that I couldn’t make myself do it.

My own personal experience, and that of the hundred’s of clients I’ve coached, over the last ten years, has taught me how difficult it is for someone with ADHD to will him- or herself to focus on a boring task, subject or project or one that is associated with improving an area of weakness. Today, I know that, when I choose to start my day with a task that incorporates my strengths, in an area of interest, it has historically resulted in a positive outcome for me. It also creates a sense of forward momentum that makes me feel more fulfilled, energized and empowered afterwards. As a result, I take on more assignments, including ones that are less desirable, to me, that I know need to be completed.

In most academic, family and business situations, well-intentioned efforts to improve an ADHD person’s ability in an area of challenge or weakness may instead lead to unsuccessful experiences that create a negative pattern of thinking. A constant focus on areas of difficulty may actually block the person with ADHD from being able to take any action related to tasks that involve those areas.

This pervasive philosophy of focusing on individual weakness, as a global phenomenon, was strikingly evident with the results of a 2004 Gallup Poll that measured parents’ focus on best grades vs. worst grades across multiple countries and cultures. 1 The following question was presented to parents: “Your child shows you the following grades-English-A; Social Studies-A; Biology-C; Algebra-F. Which grade deserves the most attention? As you can see below in all countries the majority of parents focused on the child’s F’s. Their weakest performance became the object of their focus.

Gallup Poll measurement of Parent Performance Focus 1

Country Focused on A’s Focused on F’s

UK 22% 52%

Japan 18 43

China 8 56

France 7 87

U.S. 7 77

Canada 6 83

We all know it is still important to pay attention to the F’s but wouldn’t it be better to empower our children by starting off the conversation with the A’s they have achieved, before discussing ways to improve the F’s? What is the message we are sending? That paying attention to what you don’t do well is more important than what you already do well.

Unfortunately, this trend of focusing on weakness is carried into the adult workplace. In the landmark national bestseller “Now Discover Your Strengths,” the authors Marcus Buckingham and Donald Clifton, PhD, present data collected from over 1.7 million employees in 101 companies from 63 countires. 2 from research they conducted to determine what percentage of these employees truly felt that their strengths were in play at work? The response was only 20 percent of employees in these larger organizations felt they utilize their strengths daily. In other words 8 out of 10 employees don’t get to use what they do best.

Why do organizations create environments where employees don’t use their strengths? Buckingham and Clifton also conducted research focused on finding answers to this issue. They made their findings available in another one of their groundbreaking books, “First Break the Rules.” They interviewed eighty thousand managers in hundred’s of organizations around the world. The most important finding was the discovery of a misguided assumption that most organizations are built on and is also a pervasive belief that dominates our society. The assumption is that “Each person’s greatest room for growth is in his or her area of weakness.” 3

This misguided “weakness” philosophy is rampant. It follows us from school into the workplace. It is the same focus that begins every day for most individuals with ADHD. It simply does not work nor will it ever work. Yet it persists everywhere.

I don’t know of anyone that has gotten ahead, or climbed up their defined ladder of success, by attempting to make his or her weaknesses stronger. I only know clients, friends, relatives and colleagues that have grown and moved forward by making their strengths stronger.

Further, when you have ADHD and repeatedly receive the “weakness” message that your work and your efforts are not “good enough” in certain areas, those bad feelings tend to spill over. You begin to generalize your negative perception of your performance in certain areas to other areas as well.

So if you have ADHD and want to maximize both your energy and your focus, then it’s essential that you 1) identify both your strengths, your consistent patterns of successful completion that give you increased energy and satisfaction and 2) your passions, those experiences, events, tasks, projects that ignite your heart and provide a strong sense of fulfillment and 3) prioritize and integrate more of both into your life

Why? Because identifying the areas that are of high interest to you are where you will consistently do well. They are also the key to your ability to successfully pay attention. And the greater your ability to pay attention, the greater your chances of creating a foundation of success that you can then replicate in other areas of your life. Your strengths are already hardwired in your brain and are available to you whenever you choose to use them. The more you use them the stronger they get.

To determine your strengths and your passions, first identify the tasks, goals, and/or activities that you consistently enjoy doing and are usually able to complete. Remember that ADHD is a challenge of boredom and disinterest. The more that either of these elements is part of a task or goal, the less likely you are to complete it.

Once you’ve identified the things you both do well and enjoy doing, ask yourself:

1.What is it about this topic, goal, or task that’s interesting to me?
2.When I’m focusing on this subject, what are the things I consistently do – the steps I always take – that enable me to complete the task or project?

After answering these questions, jot down a simple bulleted list of the steps. Then take your list and create a reminder for yourself by making a colorful visual map; or make an audio recording of yourself naming the steps. Identify other areas of your life where these steps could be helpful.

When you know what it is that enables you to succeed in one area, you can then follow those “steps to success” in areas of challenge as well. By identifying your strengths and your passions, you’ll uncover the clues to a system for organizing your life. This system will facilitate both sustained focus and consistent action – the keys to success for people with ADHD.

David Giwerc, MCC, David is the Founder/President of the ADD Coach Academy, the world’s largest and leading comprehensive ADHD coach training program, designed to teach the skills necessary to powerfully coach individuals with ADHD. The ADD Coach Academy is an ACTP (Accredited Coach Training) program fully accredited by the ICF, International coach Federation, the governing body for the coaching profession He is a Master Certified Coach, MCC, with the ICF, their highest ranking designation and sits on the Professional Advisory Board of PAAC, Professional Association of ADHD Coaches

David is also the past President (2003-2006) of ADDA, (Attention Deficit Disorder Association), the world’s leading adult ADHD organization. As ADDA’s president, he was instrumental in making National ADHD awareness day an annual reality. The resolution, (identified as resolution 390) was unanimously approved in the U.S. Senate on July 6, 2004. Since its inception, it has been held annually during the month of September. David was also a key committee co-chair involved in the development of ADDA’s current “Guiding Principles for Coaching Individuals with AD/HD” and authored/ directed ADDA’s 2002-2006 strategic plans.

David has been featured in numerous publications, radio and television programs and as a speaker at various conferences with ADDA (Attention Deficit Disorder Association), CHADD (Children and Adults with Attention Deficit Disorder) and the ICF, the International Coach Federation. He is also the author of his new book: Permission to Proceed: Creating a Life of Passion, Purpose and Possibility for Adults with ADHD. 


1:Rath, T. and Clifton, D. “How Full Is Your Bucket? ” New York: Gallup Press, p.48. 2004

2:Buckingham, M. and Clifton D. O. “Now Discover Your Strengths.” New York, The Free Press. p.6. 2001
3.Buckingham, M. and Clifton D. O. “Now Discover Your Strengths.” New York, The Free Press. p.7. 2001

Copyright, ADDCA, 2011