Many of us with ADHD or autism are so used to being criticized and so used to having difficulty that it’s much easier to think that we have more weaknesses than we will ever have strengths. It doesn’t help that those who are looking to support us also have a tendency to emphasize our challenges. They do this by encouraging us to work diligently to overcome our weaknesses instead of living from our strengths. Now before you scream, “I DON’T DO THAT” at your computer screen, please bear with me and I will explain.
The obvious problem with emphasis on reducing or eliminating weaknesses is that you only get to develop the things to which you give your time and attention. So how do you learn to discover and develop your strengths with so little time and attention given to doing so?
What Makes Me Confident?
It is in living from our strengths that we have the greatest likelihood of experiencing a feeling of competence and success more often. It’s the experience of competence that is at the heart of our feeling of self-worth. So by giving so much attention to our weaknesses you’re reinforcing the experience of incompetence and lack of success over and over each and every day of our lives.
We often talk about the need for balance in life, and this is critical in helping someone develop their self-worth while remediating areas of challenge. There must be equal if not greater opportunity for them to experience their strengths and the value of those strengths. Our strengths serve the purpose of solving the problems of our own lives as well as helping solve specific problems in the lives of others.
What Makes Something A Strength?
Words matter, so let’s be clear what is meant when I talk about a weakness, challenge, or strength. I think of a weakness as something I’m simply not good at or am unable to do. My penmanship sucks and the physical act of writing is painful to do, so how much time and effort do I put into improving it before I fire up my Dragon Dictate software? Does it make sense to work on the writing or use my gift of speaking?
A challenge can be thought of as a problem that is difficult to solve but is within your ability to solve once you determine the strategy for doing so. A strength is knowledge or skill in which you are naturally adept and use to solve a problem either for yourself or another person.
In fact, when you get down to it the simplest measure of how independent someone is lies in their ability to solve the everyday problems of their life. The way you measure someones contribution to society as a whole, can be measured by their ability to solve problems for others. For example, when a person is hired to do a job they are hired to solve a specific problem for their employer. I hire an accountant every year to do my taxes because my math skills are mediocre at best. Therefore, I enlist the strengths of an accountant to solve that problem for me.
Can You Read This?
If you are presently saying to yourself, “But I don’t seem to be good at anything. I don’t know what my strengths are,” then let me make one thing very clear to you. If you are able to read this then you are literate and that is a strength. One of the reasons we miss the strengths that are so abundant and right before our eyes, is that once we learn how to solve a problem such as tying our shoes, looking both ways before crossing the street, reading, or something more complicated like preparing a meal, it can become routine and we take it for granted.
My suggestion to you, starting today, is to bring your routine strengths back into your awareness. Ask yourself, “What problems did I solve today? If you’re having a difficult time determining what problems existed today, just make a list of everything you did. If you picked out something to wear then you solved the problem of, “What do I wear today?” In fact, every time you ask a question you are stating a problem and when you answer that question you are offering a solution.
The Strength In The Details
Those with ADHD or autism are constantly reminded of the problems they cause others instead of the solutions they provide. Which is why I make an all-out effort with my sons to emphasize how their actions solve problems in my life. When they help around the house I thank them and I thank them specifically. I don’t simply say thank you or thanks for helping. I say, “Thank you so much for helping me put the dishes in the dishwasher so quickly. That saved me so much time that now I’ll be able to play cards with you.”
I help them discover their strengths by pointing out the specific problems they solved and the specific things they did to help me solve it. The specific skill they used is their strength. Whether it be an ability to organize (not my strength by the way), an ability to stick with the project until it’s done, a tremendous eye for detail or any other specific ability. Letting them know that they had the knowledge or ability needed to solve your problem is HUGE. In doing so you emphasize how they are specifically equipped to solve a problem for another person and you’re expressing gratitude for it.
Did I Miss Something?
How many of your day to day strengths are you becoming more aware of now? Are their strengths that you don’t give yourself credit for? The last question to ask yourself is, “How many of the questions you answered today, and the other problems you solved, were done so to help another person?”
It is important to be aware of the solutions we provide and the contributions we make not only to the quality of our own lives but to the quality of the lives of others. It is in making our contribution to society that we ultimately feel our self-worth. When we feel that our presence in the world each day solves more problems than it causes, then we feel more worthwhile, then we feel like we are important to this world. To feel the opposite is to feel worthless, to feel like a burden. That isn’t a feeling anyone deserves to have, so please be very cognizant of whether or not you are encouraging someone in your life to emphasize their challenges and the problems they cause over their strengths and the problems they solve.
Thanks for being you.
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