Last updated: November 27th, 2019
Are you ready to leave your old existence behind, and live a life that’s full of energy, happiness, and excitement?
Just follow these 10 rules for living well with ADHD, and genuinely commit to living by these rules.
I promise you that these rules will serve you well in all aspects of life (health, success, spirituality, relationships, etc.)
Rule #1. You must create a positive reward system for your life
The ADHD brain doesn’t produce enough dopamine by default. This is one of the distinct characteristics of having ADHD.
This means that you must become conscious of the rewards that perpetuate your life.
There are positive rewards, and there are negative rewards in life.
Are you aware of how you currently get your “rewards”?
Examples of negative rewards:
- Binging on potato chips
- Drinking liquor in excess
- Saying bad things about someone behind their back
- Writing an angry rant in the comments section of an online article
Many people with ADHD subconsciously seek out negative rewards, because modern society has programmed us to seek out quick hits of dopamine. For example, it’s extremely common for people nowadays to habitually check their e-mail, watch TV for multiple hours, eat fast food, and binge on social media. These are all negative sources of dopamine (when abused). We constantly look for these low-hanging sources of stimulation and pleasure, because this is the path of least resistance.
To be fair, negative rewards do a good job of providing stimulation in the short-term. So, it isn’t your fault for being attracted to the “low-hanging fruit” that is negative rewards. Your ADHD brain craves this type of stimulation.
However, in the long-term, negative rewards typically cause lasting damage to your health, personal relationships, happiness, and success.
This is why it’s so much better to focus on creating a positive reward system for your life, so that you can acquire dopamine in a healthy way.
Examples of positive rewards:
- Going for a walk in the neighborhood
- Being intimate with your partner or lover
- Splitting a bottle of red wine with a good friend on a Saturday night
- Monitoring the growth of your business, artistic skill, or some other measurement of value
Positive rewards serve a dualistic purpose.
Positive rewards provide your ADHD brain with the stimulation that it craves, and positive rewards also improve your life over the long-term, too.
Pursuing positive rewards is a lot like killing two birds with one stone.
You’ll satisfy your brain’s intense craving for stimulation, while also becoming a better person at the same time.
My favorite positive reward is monitoring the growth of a business or artistic skill, because there’s nothing quite like bringing a personal project to life.
I encourage you to start doing something that you care about as soon as possible (which brings us to our next rule.)
Rule #2. You must always pursue your strengths, so that you can create a major edge for your life
You have to pursue your strengths if you want to gain a significant “edge” for your life while living with ADHD.
I constantly tell people with ADHD that you need to seize every advantage that you can get in life, because life with ADHD is challenging enough as it is.
There’s no need to make things hard on yourself.
You will help yourself the most by figuring out what you’re good at, and then actually doing that thing for your career, “side hustle,” or hobby.
Think about it.
Everyone LOVES doing the things that they’re good at.
We all enjoy having a “special skill” that sets us apart in some way.
This is an extremely normal and healthy human need.
So, what are you good at?
Don’t worry if you’re having a hard time answering this question.
You can find out what you’re good at by taking a few minutes to answer some follow-up questions:
- What’s something that people regularly compliment you on?
- What are some things that you do in your free time?
- Which subjects or activities did you excel at in school?
Notice how I’m not telling you to “follow your passion” here?
It’s way more effective to simply do what you’re good at, because your strengths almost always become your passion.
- If you have a fun personality, then you should start a YouTube channel (which you will probably come to love)
- If you’re an effective communicator, then you should enter the public speaking circuit (public speaking becomes addictive once you’re good at it)
- If you’re a homebody, then you should try your hand at e-commerce (selling high-quality products is both helpful and fun)
See how leading with your strengths almost always sets you up for fun, success, and happiness?
Always follow your strengths. This works like magic every single time.
Rule #3. Be mindful of who you tell about your ADHD
Knowing that you have ADHD is powerful.
But, there are plenty of people out there who would be happy to use your ADHD against you.
It’s unfortunate that this is the kind of hypercompetitive environment that we live in today.
But, you have to be especially careful about revealing your ADHD to unsuspecting bosses, co-workers, and strangers.
Your ADHD will usually be viewed in a negative light in professional settings, even though this is a totally unfair assumption. Life isn’t fair. I know.
But in some cases, your ADHD might actually be seen as a strength, if you happen to work in a high-level creative role in marketing, design, or branding.
Just make sure to exercise caution before revealing your ADHD in the workplace. ADHD is usually seen as a negative. But sometimes, ADHD is viewed as an asset.
Above all else, there are PLENTY of people who you can safely talk to about your ADHD outside of the workplace.
Doctors, spouses, good friends, therapists, and close relatives are the types of people who will usually be understanding of your ADHD.
Best of all, thanks to the internet, you can also connect with thousands of other people who have ADHD, and enjoy high-quality conversations with people who know exactly what you’re going through.
I find that ordinary people with ADHD are some of the most generous and helpful people you’ll ever come across.
Rule #4. You should eat a great diet 80%~ of the time
There’s nothing wrong with eating a delicious double steak burrito (with sour cream and cheese) every once in a while.
Chipotle is my favorite fast casual restaurant for this very reason…
But, you should still maintain a great diet at least 80% of the time, because you are what you eat.
No, I mean that literally.
Your body is constantly rebuilding and repairing itself. And, the nutrients from the foods that you eat create the foundation for every cell in your body.
The health of your brain, skin, hair, muscles, immune system, and everything else in your body depends on the quality of the foods that you eat.
I promise that I’m not trying to scare you here…
But, next time you order takeout from that greasy Chinese restaurant down the street, just think about how that food will literally become part of you in the form of new cells.
On the flip side, you can also think about how drinking a delicious green smoothie will improve your brain function, fight against aging, and help you regenerate healthy new cells throughout your body.
In the age of smartphones and technology, most people know how to eat healthy. The hard part is actually adapting to eating unprocessed, whole foods 80%~ of the time.
In any case, you’ll want to prioritize eating these healthy foods:
- Mixed green vegetables (making smoothies is the easiest option here)
- High-quality cuts of meat
- Wild caught fish
- Organic eggs
- Fermented foods (think sauerkraut, kimchi, and kombucha)
- Pure olive oil or grass-fed butter (healthy fats)
And you’ll want to avoid consuming these harmful ingredients:
- White flour (there’s a strong link between ADHD and gluten sensitivities)
- Artificial dyes
- Artificial sweeteners
Most importantly, you’ll have to remember to drink plenty of water every day. It’s so easy to forget about drinking water, especially when you have ADHD.
But, your brain is made of approximately 75% water. So, remember to stay hydrated.
Pro tip: If you eat healthy 80%~ of the time, then you’ll be free to indulge in “cheat meals” ~20% of the time. Many people have a rule to where they only eat healthy foods during the week, and then eat anything they want over the weekend (potato chips, ice cream, McDonalds, you get the idea). I think this type of system works great for people with ADHD, because it helps you stay motivated by using a little bit of junk food as a reward. I don’t see anything wrong with this, as long as you’re eating healthy 80%~ of the time.
Rule #5. People who take ADHD medication get good results (most of the time, but not always)
The truth is that people who take ADHD medication generally get good results.
If taking ADHD medication motivates you to do meaningful work, enjoy good relationships with people, and live a functional lifestyle, then so be it.
There are MUCH worse things that you could be doing besides taking ADHD medication.
So, you shouldn’t be too concerned about the naysayers who will inevitably try to guilt trip you for taking helpful medicine.
While other people are putting you down, you’ll be blasting through your work, working a “side hustle” after your day job, and still find the time to socialize, eat healthy foods, and exercise.
This is how life should be.
Of course, if ADHD medication doesn’t work well for your system, then that’s perfectly fine too. There are side effects to be aware of. Although, in my experience, most of the side effects are manageable.
In my opinion, ADHD medication is ultimately a tool to keep in your “tool box.”
Take ADHD medication if you feel like it improves your quality of life. Or, just save your ADHD medication for those frustrating workdays (these days will happen).
Rule #6. High-quality sleep must be a priority for your life
If you’ve ever been through a period of life where you only slept for four, five, or six hours per night – then you know just how important sleep is.
For me, it was during college when I was lucky to sleep for six hours on most nights.
I lived in a huge fraternity house during college, which was great for my social life, but not for getting good sleep.
I regret skipping so much sleep during college, because I’m now aware of the health risks involved with missing sleep.
Getting high-quality sleep improves the quality of your life by a major threshold. So, sleep should always be one of the biggest priorities in your life.
Unfortunately, getting high-quality sleep isn’t much of a priority for most people. This could turn into a huge problem for these people (as it did for me).
But, I hope that you’ll take the time to invest in a good sleep routine, and take your sleep seriously.
Getting good sleep makes a massive difference when you have ADHD. I wrote an entire article about how to sleep well when you have ADHD.
When you prioritize sleep, you’ll be able to think better, feel better, and live a much better life in general.
These days, I make sure to sleep eight or nine hours on most nights, because I know how terrible I’ll feel if I don’t get much sleep. Without getting high-quality sleep, I’m an unproductive mess, and I waste my entire day.
But, when I get high-quality sleep, I’m able to focus on my work, eat healthy foods, make better decisions, and live my life to the fullest.
Rule #7. Good physical fitness is a must
By now, it should be well-known that physical exercise improves cognitive function, boosts blood flow, and enhances feelings of well-being.
But, did you know that working out has also been shown to promote BDNF, which is a brain protein that fights anxiety and depression?
Researchers continue to learn more and more about how beneficial physical fitness is for the brain and body.
There’s no doubt in my mind that exercise is one of the simplest and most effective activities that you can partake in to improve how your ADHD brain functions.
Best of all, it doesn’t even matter whether you go to the gym or not.
If you’re a member of a gym or workout facility, that’s great. You can do some amazing exercises in a fitness facility, and participate in awesome group fitness classes too.
But, if you aren’t a member of a gym, then you can still work out from home. This is what I do most of the time, since I like to save as much time as possible.
There are all kinds of bodyweight exercises and yoga stretches that you can do in your home or apartment.
So, unless you’re physically incapable of exercising, then you literally need to exercise. You can’t afford to miss out on exercising. Fitness will improve your life with ADHD tremendously.
Pro tip: Some of the best ideas for ADHD Boss come to me while running around my neighborhood. I’m a firm believer that exercise improves creativity. What kind of ideas will you come up with when you exercise? You never know what could happen. You might come up with a life-changing idea while going on your next run.
Rule #8. You must always prioritize your personal needs
Take a look at Maslow’s hierarchy of needs for a minute. It’s really interesting to think about.
Because, what I’ve noticed is that many people with ADHD are so willing to help other people before even helping themselves.
This is admirable. But, it’s also foolish in a way. I made this same mistake as well, since I spent a LONG time prioritizing other people’s needs before taking care of my own needs.
But now, I realize that you have to prioritize your own needs before you’re even capable of helping other people.
For example, if there’s a problem with your airplane during a flight, the flight attendant will tell you to put your oxygen mask on before helping other people with their oxygen masks. You can apply this “oxygen mask” metaphor to most aspects of your life.
Of course, I want you to help other people as much as humanly possible. The world is a better place when everyone contributes.
But, the point is that you have to help yourself first before you’re in a position to lift other people up.
To begin prioritizing your own needs, you may have to:
- Study Maslow’s hierarchy of needs
- Figure out where you stand on the pyramid (have you met your basic needs, psychological needs, or self-fulfillment needs?)
- Stop comparing yourself to other people
- Start focusing on you for a little while
Because of the chaotic nature of ADHD, most people with ADHD struggle with basic and psychological needs (these are referred to as deficiency needs).
But, it’s possible for anyone with ADHD to become self-actualized. Self-actualization is where most of the fun happens in life (this is referred to as growth needs).
Here are some characteristics of self-actualization, according to Wikipedia (annotated for clarity):
> Efficient perceptions of reality. Self-actualizers are able to judge situations correctly and honestly.
> Comfortable acceptance of self, others and nature. Self-actualizers accept their own human nature with all its flaws.
> Reliant on own experiences and judgement. Independent, not reliant on culture and environment to form opinions and views.
> Spontaneous and natural. True to oneself, rather than being how others want.
> Task centering. Most of Maslow’s subjects had a mission to fulfill in life or some task or problem ‘beyond’ themselves (instead of outside themselves) to pursue.
> Autonomy. Self-actualizers are free from reliance on external authorities or other people. They tend to be resourceful and independent.
> Continued freshness of appreciation. The self-actualizer seems to constantly renew appreciation of life’s basic goods. There is an “innocence of vision”, like that of an artist or child.
> Profound interpersonal relationships. The interpersonal relationships of self-actualizers are marked by deep loving bonds.
> Comfort with solitude. Despite their satisfying relationships with others, self-actualizing people value solitude and are comfortable being alone.
> Non-hostile sense of humor. This refers to the ability to laugh at oneself.
> Peak experiences. All of Maslow’s subjects reported the frequent occurrence of peak experiences (temporary moments of self-actualization). These occasions were marked by feelings of ecstasy, harmony, and deep meaning. Self-actualizers reported feeling at one with the universe, stronger and calmer than ever before, filled with light, beauty, goodness, and so forth.
> Socially compassionate. Possessing humanity.
> Few friends. Few close intimate friends rather than many superficial relationships.
Much of this blog is about helping people with ADHD achieve self-actualization.
But, I want you to take care of yourself according to where you currently are in your life.
It’s hard to skip around on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. You have to take things one step at a time.
Plus, you will eventually come to a place where you’re able to achieve your full potential in life (i.e. become self-actualized). Just have patience, and remain persistent. It will happen.
Rule #9. You must do at least one thing that’s fun and adventurous every single month
People with ADHD require higher levels of stimulation and novelty than the average person.
Your prefrontal cortex actually demands this.
So, you have to do at least one thing that’s fun and adventurous every single month.
Having fun is not a luxury when you have ADHD.
Having fun is a crucial aspect of maintaining great mental health, and living a fulfilling life.
Yes, you will have months where you work non-stop around-the-clock. And, you might even try to convince yourself that you don’t have the time to go out and have fun.
But, this is a mistake, because your ADHD brain requires great amounts of new stimulation.
You need to set aside time every month to:
- Immerse yourself in nature
- Go on a road trip
- Visit a new city
- Swim in the ocean
- Attend meet-ups (meetup.com is great for this)
You have so many opportunities to try fun new things, meet new people, and visit new places.
Plus, going on just one adventure every month isn’t too hard.
If you aren’t regularly creating fun new memories for your life, then you’ll probably come to regret it.
So please don’t make this mistake. Take the time to enjoy yourself. Every month. You’ll be happy you did so.
Rule #10. ADHD comes with gifts
There’s still a lot of negativity surrounding ADHD in the media and on the internet.
I understand that ADHD has some serious, life-altering downsides. I write a lot about the honest pros and cons of having ADHD.
But, life is so much better when you focus on the strange gifts that come with having ADHD.
I encourage you to start focusing on the gifts that come with ADHD, because self-fulfilling prophecies are real, and the way that you interpret your ADHD will have a lasting effect on your personal success and happiness.
There’s a reason why every successful person with ADHD focuses on the strengths that come with the disorder.
Successful people with ADHD focus on the strengths that come with ADHD, because thoughts have a strange way of manifesting into reality.
“What you focus on expands.”
If you continue to focus on the failures, embarrassing moments, and problems that your ADHD has caused you, then you’ll perpetuate a feedback loop of negativity that won’t do you much good at all.
But, if you focus on the risk-taking ability, boldness, and spontaneous spirit that your ADHD provides you with, then you’ll set yourself up for a lifetime of achievement.
ADHD comes with gifts. ADHD is not a curse. Unless you convince yourself otherwise.
These are the 10 rules that I genuinely live my life by.
If you follow these rules, then I think you’ll do very well for yourself.
But of course, people with ADHD are always welcome to break the rules. So, you should feel free to mix-and-match these rules, take what works best for your lifestyle, and ignore what doesn’t work.
At the end of the day, you have to do what’s best for your life. And, you probably know what works best for you and your ADHD.
So it’s up to you to take action, implement positive habits, and start living a more successful life with ADHD today.
Just make sure to enjoy the journey.