Last updated: November 27th, 2019 ~
I’ve made a lot of mistakes in my life.
But, one thing I’m proud of is that I’ve always somehow known that autonomy equals happiness.
For example, I started a freelance copywriting agency straight out of college, because I wanted to have control over my time, rather than do the whole corporate grind.
I would spend 14 hours a day writing for clients. But, it didn’t feel like work at all.
Because, as long as I had the freedom to pick and choose my clients, and decide which projects I would work on, then I was pretty happy with my life.
I’ve had autonomy ever since my college years, and this is mostly what has kept me happy while living with ADHD.
So, I’m going to share with you some actionable advice that you can use to gain more autonomy in your life, and become a happier person with ADHD.
But first, let’s talk about what autonomy is, and the real reason why autonomy has been proven to increase happiness more than anything else in life…
What is autonomy?
Autonomy is the feeling that you’re in control of your life, actions, and habits.
If you have significant freedom of choice in your day-to-day life, then you have autonomy.
Here are some good examples of having autonomy:
- Being able to make decisions at work without having to constantly seek approval from superiors
- Having the freedom to take time off, travel, and visit with loved ones
- Being able to choose the outcomes that you want in life (i.e. buying high-quality food, living somewhere that you like, etc.)
The more freedom of choice that you have in your life, the more autonomy (and happiness) you will have as well.
Why autonomy has been proven to increase happiness more than anything else in life
Various studies have shown that autonomy is the single most important factor that leads to happiness.
Autonomy is more important for your happiness than money, possessions, and popularity.
You can probably imagine why this is the case.
When you feel like you have free will, you’re blazing your own path in life, and you’re headed towards a destiny that you’ve chosen.
Autonomy is essentially being able to live life on your own terms, rather than feeling like you have no control over what happens in your life.
I can say from personal experience that having even a little bit of autonomy is life-changing.
Best of all, I’m convinced that anyone can have more autonomy in their life.
Why people with ADHD are born to live autonomous lives
When you have ADHD, you have a prefrontal cortex that demands extremely high levels of novelty and stimulation.
This is what causes people with ADHD to be impulsive, and live chaotic lives.
In other words, the ADHD brain doesn’t work very well with the current system that we live in.
It’s nearly impossible for people with ADHD to sit still in a classroom or cubicle.
You were born to break free, have autonomy, and be happy.
The 7 ways to increase your autonomy (even with ADHD)
By default, most people with ADHD do not start out with much autonomy in life.
You’ve likely been conditioned to sit still in a classroom for many years, and this behavior transfers over to adult life as well (in the workplace).
Don’t worry. We all have to deal with this societal conditioning. It’s reversible.
But, you do have to “earn” your right to live a life of autonomy. It requires a little bit of work to change your mindset, and break free from societal conditioning.
Luckily, you can start having autonomy in your life regardless of your current position in life. Your age, sex, and location does not matter in the least bit.
So, here are the 7 ways to increase your autonomy, and live a much happier life with ADHD.
Method #1. Prove to your ADHD brain that you can exercise autonomy
This might sound kind of random. But, if you can do just 45 minutes of exercise per day, and limit your caloric intake, then you’ll almost certainly start transforming your body.
And, transforming your body is one of the best ways to “become the boss” of your mind. This will help you prove to yourself that your decisions lead to real-life, tangible results (i.e. an attractive body).
Once you’ve taken control of your mind and body, you’ll have proven to yourself that you can do just about anything in life.
Here’s another easy way to prove to your brain that you have autonomy:
You might try waking up earlier than you normally would, or taking a spontaneous weekend getaway somewhere that you’ve always wanted to visit.
Anything that you can do to prove to your brain that you can exercise autonomy will likely lead you to make even more autonomous decisions in the future. This is a very healthy and addictive habit that you can build over time.
Sometimes, I push myself to endure painful workouts even when my brain is telling me to stop. This is my small way of exerting autonomy over my ADHD brain. I might do 15 extra push-ups or pull-ups at the gym after my brain has told me to stop. You can do the same thing just as easily. The game of life is 90% mental.
Method #2. Ask your employer if you can work remotely
Nowadays, many jobs can be done remotely.
And most importantly, many companies are starting to recognize that employees are happiest when they have extreme autonomy over their career.
Do you work a job that can be done outside of the office?
If so, then it’s probably worth chatting with your boss about remote work.
You can tell your boss that you read about how people are psychologically at their happiest when they have autonomy. You can also tell your boss that working remotely will encourage you to do even better work for your company (this is 100% true).
If your boss allows you to work remotely, then you’ll be able to live in a new city, or possibly even a new country.
Many people who work for U.S. companies decide to live in Central or South America because of the affordable cost of living, and similar time zones. Colorado and Costa Rica are roughly on the same time schedule. If you enjoy tropical paradise rather than cold winter weather, then you might feel more motivated to work in Costa Rica.
There’s even an entire digital nomad community dedicated to working from anywhere in the world. The reason why “digital nomads” are generally excited about life is because they have the freedom to work and live where they want. Digital nomads have a certain level of autonomy that is addictive.
If you could live and work anywhere in the world, wouldn’t you feel happier, more productive, and excited about life?
Pro tip: You can check out Nomad List to see the best cities to live and work remotely. Living and working remotely is surprisingly affordable for most Americans. Also, you obviously don’t have to leave the USA to work remotely. You might choose to work from home in your current city if your company allows you to. This is a very subtle change that can provide you with a massive amount of autonomy and happiness.
Method #3. Take a “mini retirement” for 6 months and assess how you feel
On my resources page, I recommend a book called The 4-Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss.
I loved reading T4HWW because of Ferriss’ view on taking “mini retirements”.
In T4HWW, Ferriss explains that it’s smarter to take frequent “mini retirements” rather than one long “traditional retirement” towards the end of life.
This makes sense, because you’ll enjoy the freedom of “retirement” during your younger years much more than you would as an older adult.
Of course, I realize that most people can’t just quit their job on the spot, and retire for 6 months.
But, could you plan to do something like this within the next 1-3 years?
I bet you could find a way to do it if you really wanted to.
People take sabbaticals all the time. Taking a mini-retirement is the same exact concept.
Imagine having 6 months of free time to do whatever you want. Sounds amazing, right?
With 6 months of free time totally to yourself, you wouldn’t even stop to think about how ADHD is a problem in your life.
Method #4. Strategically enroll in undergraduate or graduate courses
My favorite part about college was the absurd amount of free time that I had.
I started multiple websites in college, did freelance copywriting for clients, attended classes, and still found the time to have a fun college experience.
So, if you can find a way to enroll in university courses without going into student loan debt, this might be one of your best options for acquiring much more autonomy in your life.
Attending school buys you a lot of time to do whatever you want.
You could theoretically enroll in a program that you’re genuinely interested in, attend classes as a full-time or part-time student, and then use your free time to:
- Meet interesting people
- Change careers
- Advance your current career
- Build a small business
- Do literally anything that you want
This is honestly something that I’ve considered doing, because attending university classes is a really enjoyable experience for the most part.
But, I already have a Bachelor’s, and I’m just a writer, so I don’t have a burning desire for more formal education at this time.
(I’ll keep my options open for the future though.)
If there’s an educational program that you’re genuinely interested in, now could be the perfect time for you to go back to school, and get some autonomy in your life.
Method #5. Develop an internal locus of control
Having an internal locus of control means that you perceive that you’re in control of how your life turns out.
Yes, there’s the age-old debate about whether people can truly exercise free will or not (this delves into philosophy).
But, the key is in believing that you are in control of your life.
If you can develop an internal locus of control, and develop a sense of control over your life, I can almost guarantee that you’ll feel happier as a result.
I took a “locus of control test” in college, and found that I have an extremely strong internal locus of control. This means that I take responsibility for nearly everything that happens in my life.
Again, you could argue that this is good or bad.
But, I find that I’m happy because I perceive that I have the power to pick and choose what happens in my life.
Life is all about perception.
And, I truly believe that you’ll feel happiest if you can develop an internal locus of control too (assuming you haven’t done so already).
Method #6. Start a small “side business” in your spare time
Starting a small side business is ultimately what led to my autonomy.
So, this is the method that I know extremely well, and strongly suggest to you.
Anyone can start a small side business. It doesn’t matter how much time or capital you have to start with.
You don’t have to register an LLC to start a side business. This is a huge misconception that prevents people from taking action. You can register an LLC after your side business has generated enough revenue to justify the costs. (Not legal advice, just a personal opinion based on first-hand experience.)
Just start something small, and see how it works for you.
For example, ADHD Boss reader Chanel is learning silversmithing at the young age of 39:
I’ve spent my whole life thinking I’m not good at anything but now I know it’s because the ADHD made me start 10,000 projects and hobbies but stick to none.
Now I have the diagnosis (Unfortunately late age of 39 – but better late than never, right?) and I’m learning about hyperfocus.
I’m only just starting my journey so let’s see how it goes. I’m hoping to discover new things about myself and change my life for the better! I’ve just started a night class in silversmithing and those 3 hours once a week literally flash by!
It sounds like Chanel has found something that she’s genuinely interested in (since she enters a state of hyperfocus during her silversmithing class). Silversmithing is an awesome skill to learn.
If you’re looking for business ideas, I always tell people to start a consulting service, because it’s a low-cost, high-profit, and extremely simple business model to follow.
I ran a digital copywriting agency (essentially a consulting service) for a number of years. The goal with a consulting service is always to help people achieve some kind of result that they want.
If you can help people achieve a specific result that they want, then you’ll be well on your way to having your very own side business.
You can launch a consulting service in an area like:
- Social media marketing
- Graphic design
- Public relations
- Health and fitness
If you don’t want to start a consulting service, then feel free to try e-commerce, real estate, photography, or literally anything else that will lead you to a life of autonomy.
Method #7. Make small decisions that increase your autonomy over time
By now, you should understand that having autonomy is #1 the key to happiness in life.
Knowing this, you can start making small decisions that increase your autonomy over time.
It’s the small decisions that add up and eventually provide you with true autonomy.
For example, here are some small decisions that will increase your autonomy over time:
Exercise – Choosing to exercise will keep your ADHD brain sharp, and make it easier for you to think clearly, and exercise free will
Eat healthy – Eating healthy will provide you with a healthy brain and body, so that you can spend more time doing what you want, and avoid having to go to the doctor’s office or hospital
Educate yourself – Educating yourself consists of reading books, attending workshops, listening to podcasts, and connecting with people in real-life (you have access to a wealth of knowledge)
Surround yourself with people who have autonomy – If you spend your time around people who have autonomy / true happiness, this will motivate you to acquire more autonomy and happiness in your life
Think critically – If you want true autonomy, then you have to get used to thinking critically, making your own decisions, and having confidence in your decision-making ability (this is uncomfortable at first, but it becomes much easier over time)
The cost of having more autonomy (and happiness) in life
It’s worth reiterating that you generally have to earn your autonomy.
In other words, it can take you a number of months or even years to live a fully autonomous life.
For example, when I was running a copywriting agency, I had to work with a lot of bad clients before I was able to pick and choose which clients I wanted to work with.
That’s just how life works.
Here’s another example:
Today, I have the luxury of waking up whenever I want, without having to set an alarm clock. This is obviously a really nice luxury that I’m incredibly thankful for.
But at the same time, this also means that I have a responsibility to constantly force myself to get to work.
I work even when I don’t feel like working, because this is the “cost” that comes with having autonomy in the workplace.
Unless you happen to win the lottery, then you’ll probably have to earn your autonomy in one way or another.
Whether it’s bugging your boss until he allows you to work remotely, or starting a business and having to motivate yourself every day. You typically have to work hard to acquire and maintain your autonomy.
The good news is that it’s almost always worth “paying the price” for your autonomy.
Autonomy is happiness. You have to do whatever it takes to get more autonomy in your life.
It will be worth it. I promise you. You will thank me later.
Autonomy has been proven to increase your long-term health and happiness.
So, the only question is how are you going to live a life of autonomy?
When you have ADHD, you need every single advantage that you can get.
And, acquiring autonomy is going to be one of the greatest gifts that you can give yourself.
Luckily, you already know what to do.
If you have a boss, chat with him about your options for working remotely, or taking some extended time off.
If you’re interested in starting your own “side business,” or enrolling in school (without going into student loan debt), these are two great options for having more autonomy in your life as well.
At the end of the day, you really do have the opportunity to gain more autonomy in your life, and become a happier person with ADHD.
You might have to fight to make this happen. But, it will be worth it. Autonomy is priceless. It’s worth whatever you must do to get it.
I wish you the best of luck on your journey.