Creating Cognition: Helping Your ADHD Brain Make Sense
Let’s talk about cognition and ADHD by beginning with an example. Think of the first time you got behind the wheel of a car. Although you may have watched people drive before, you’d never done it yourself. Therefore you started from square one. You had to learn how hard to press the accelerator and the brake, which way to turn the wheel, and a whole host of other processes and procedures.
But as you got more comfortable driving, you had to spend less time “thinking” about driving. Things became more automatic. Sure, you still had to pay attention to outside stimuli like pedestrians, other drivers, stoplights, and road hazards, but the main part – the driving part – became second nature.
That’s possible because of cognition.
Cognition – Defined
In the simplest of terms, cognition is what helps us interact with the world. It’s a group of mental processes that include learning, thinking, remembering, perceiving, and paying attention so that we can make high-level decisions and problem-solve more effectively.
In neurotypical people, cognition tends to run pretty smoothly. In adults with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) however, things can get a little muddled. ADHD can mess with nearly every executive functioning system in one’s brain, so creating cognition for yourself can require unique approaches and customized solutions.
Before we talk about how to improve your cognitive abilities with ADHD, we need to better understand what comprises cognition.
5 Main Cognitive Skills and Their Functions
There are five main cognitive skills…
Memory is one of the most important cognitive skills because without it, we’d be (quite literally) lost.
People with ADHD often report having a notoriously bad memory. They may forget to set their alarm for the next morning, need to use GPS to get to places they’ve been to several times before, or constantly fail to recall important dates like birthdays and anniversaries.
But imagine not being able to remember anything at all. Not your name, not your alphabet, not how to get dressed or brush your teeth. This is a reality for many people with Alzheimer’s or dementia – their cognitive abilities have declined so far that it becomes impossible to make new memories and/or recall old ones.
Attention is something that the majority of people with ADHD struggle with. (It’s right there in the name!)
Attention is the ability to focus on something while filtering out all of the distractions around us. Think of it like a spotlight that highlights an actor on stage while casting everything else into shadow.
Without attention, it’s difficult to do even the simplest of things, because distractions are everywhere. Even something as straightforward as sitting on a park bench and texting a friend becomes nearly impossible when you’re constantly interrupted by the cute dog with the frisbee, the kids on the swings, or the conversation of the strangers sitting near you.
Perception is a word that combines using your five senses (taste, touch, sight, smell, and hearing) to capture, process, and make sense of everything around you.
One’s perceptions can be highly subjective, however. The way you interpret certain stimuli may not be the way someone else interprets the exact same thing. For example, while we can all agree on what a hot frying pan full of bacon smells like, we’re not all going to react to it the same way. Some people might think it’s delightful; others might think it’s disgusting.
Logical thinking requires using memory, attention, perception, and known facts to come to a rational conclusion.
For instance, the last time you went on a road trip with your friends, you made the (highly questionable) decision to eat gas station sushi and it…didn’t go well for you. Now you’re on another road trip and you stop at the same gas station, where you do not eat the gas station sushi.
Use your memory (this didn’t go well last time), attention (I see that I’m in the same gas station where I got the bad sushi), perception (I didn’t like the way the sushi made me feel) and know facts (this place sells bad sushi), you have successfully used logical thinking to save you from a bad decision. Therefore, you didn’t order sushi at a gas station, and probably would never again.
Are you a fast brain? Or, do you consider yourself a more methodical or slow processor? Thinking speed is the speed at which you can absorb and assess information and formulate a response to it has a huge impact on everything you do. Generally speaking, the quicker you can react, the better – but only if the reaction is appropriate. And that big “if” is where many neurodivergent people get themselves in trouble.
If you’re being chased by an angry bear or find yourself stuck on a railroad crossing while a runaway train barrels toward you, by all means, go with your gut. Short of emergency situations, however, it’s always better to take a little extra time to process.
6 Ways Adults With ADHD Can Improve Their Cognitive Skills
Now that you know a bit about cognitive skills and how some can be particularly challenging for adults living with ADHD, let’s look at a few ways to improve your cognitive abilities.
Train your brain. If you want to get better at playing the piano, you need to practice playing the piano. The same thing goes for cognitive abilities. “Brain games” designed to improve memory, attention, and thinking speed have been proven to significantly increase cognition.
Minimize distractions when possible. For people with impaired executive function abilities, even the smallest distractions can cause big problems. Creating a distraction-free environment can help you focus better and improve your ability to pay attention to important tasks.
Improve your organizational system. When there’s a place for everything (and everything always ends up in its place), you’re able to spend less time looking for things you need or becoming overwhelmed with the clutter, which reduces some of the unnecessary cognitive load and frees you up to concentrate on what matters.
Practice mindfulness techniques. With ADHD, it often seems like everything is coming at you at lightning speed, making it difficult to concentrate cognitively. Mindfulness techniques help you slow things down and calm your racing brain.
Try CBT. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) helps you increase your cognitive abilities and executive functioning skills by teaching helpful life strategies that show you how to manage ADHD and set yourself up for success.
Work with an ADHD coach. An ADHD coach will help you identify areas where you struggle cognitively, and tailor a plan to help you build cognitive skills to work and live more powerfully. Through coaching, you’ll clear the fog and discover how to focus and finish!
Creating changes in any of the above strategies can help, because the more you hone your cognitive abilities, the more successful you’ll be. And it all starts with making a commitment to challenge your brain to be better!
Are you ready to discover the path to focus and accountability? Let me show you the way! It all starts with a single step. Book your FREE Discover Call today!