Michael Phelps, Tiger Woods, Usain Bolt, Larry Bird, Alex Morgan, and Serena Williams are all accomplished athletes who have focused on developing their mental fortitude, self-assurance, determination, and resilience alongside their physical abilities. They also attribute their success to sports psychologists who help them strengthen the mind-body connection. Working together, athletes and their psychologists create personalized programs to push beyond perceived limits primarily rooted in their minds.

What many may not realize is that individuals with ADHD can also derive tremendous benefits from adopting mindset similar to elite athletes, which can profoundly impact their performance and overall well-being. In fact, Marathon runner Molly Siedel, an elite athlete with ADHD, captures this idea when she explains, “I think a lot of people assume that I’m a lot more naturally talented than I actually am at this sport. I’m really not,” she said. “It’s the consistent, day in, day out work that you do — that has translated exactly into my mental health, my realizing that it’s OK that I’m going to have to work at this every day.”

The following suggestions are adapted from the article Sports Psychology Tricks That Work for ADHD Brains, by Dawn K. Brown, M.D., published in ADDitudeMag.com and updated in September 2023. Brown, an ADHDer herself, works as a sports psychiatrist who closely collaborates with athletes. She has witnessed firsthand how the strategies employed in sports psychology can be effectively applied to managing ADHD symptoms.

Brown suggests that by addressing various mental aspects that influence athletic performance, such as focus, motivation, and stress levels, athletes can unlock their true potential. Remarkably, these very same strategies can be adapted by individuals with ADHD to anticipate and overcome the challenges they face daily, enabling them to thrive in all areas of their lives!

1. Know Thyself – Become an Expert on YOU

Athletes are considered experts on their own minds and bodies, and this self-awareness plays a pivotal role in their ability to maximize performance. Similarly, individuals with ADHD must cultivate a strong sense of self-awareness, recognizing their strengths and areas of struggle, and comprehending how their unique brain functions and impacts their performance.

For instance, individuals with ADHD often have lower levels of dopamine, a neurotransmitter vital for motivation and the brain’s reward system. In contrast, athletes’ brains, with elevated dopamine levels, propel them to train intensely and stay motivated to achieve their performance goals. On the other hand, ADHD brains, deficient in dopamine, may encounter difficulties maintaining motivation, especially when rewards seem distant or uncertain.

ADHD medication can help release this crucial neurotransmitter, providing a boost in motivation and focus. Equipped with this knowledge, individuals with ADHD can tackle performance challenges with practical solutions that align with their unique cognitive wiring. By harnessing their strengths and understanding their symptom triggers, they can implement strategies customized to optimize performance and achieve their goals.

2. Develop a Winning Mindset – No Matter What it Takes

Due to the negative experiences associated with their symptoms—such as emotional reactivity, impulsivity, and distractibility—individuals with ADHD may often dwell on their mistakes and be excessively self-critical. Fostering a positive attitude is crucial in these circumstances.

ADHDers can tend to have a knee-jerk “all or nothing” mindset which leads quickly to patterns of self-sabotage. Sustaining consistent effort toward goals can be challenging, and ADHD is often described as a performance disorder due to difficulties in maintaining focus and sustained effort over time. ADHDers do well with beginnings and endings, but the messy middle can be difficult to face. Because this is where the growth happens, it is important to develop a “nothing is wasted” mindset.

Athletes face this challenge by establishing processes, systems, and structures that keep them on track, measuring and motivated by success. Inspired by this approach, individuals with ADHD can devise their own personalized motivation playbook. This may involve setting realistic daily tasks, prioritizing deadlines, utilizing time management techniques, and implementing strategies to overcome common ADHD-related obstacles. Yellow Parachute practices a 3 step process for creating a powerful resource!

Seeking guidance and support from therapists or coaches specializing in ADHD can provide valuable assistance in implementing motivation and productivity strategies. As long as you can reflect authentically on your strengths and weaknesses, you can ask for expert help with the rest.

How to rewire a negative mindset? Techniques like positive self-talk, affirmations, relaxation exercises, and reframing failures as opportunities for growth and resilience can help individuals change the way they talk to themselves and the way they think. Creating a motivation playbook – we can show you how to do this! – is an effective strategy employed by many athletes that can also benefit individuals with ADHD.

3. Fuel for Focus!

In addition to mental strategies, proper nutrition and a healthy lifestyle are fundamental for optimizing brain function. Athletes comprehend the profound impact of nourishing their bodies adequately and staying hydrated on their performance.

Similarly, individuals with ADHD often overlook the importance of fueling their brains and bodies for optimal cognitive functioning. Consuming nutrient-rich foods, staying properly hydrated, and ensuring a balanced diet with essential vitamins and minerals greatly contribute to improved focus, energy levels, and overall mental well-being. Some ADHDers find that their sensitive guts benefit from avoiding processed foods.

Some tips to set you up for success: Drink lots of water. Blood, which is mostly made up of water, carries fuel — oxygen and glucose — to your brain. Make sure you’re sipping on water throughout the day. Set reminders if you need to.

Consume complex carbs. Complex carbs pack more nutrients and digest slower than simple carbs, meaning steadier energy levels throughout your day. And your brain needs carbs to work!

Remember the three Fs: Omega-3 fatty acids (salmon, avocados, walnuts), folate (beans, asparagus, collard greens, broccoli), and fiber (whole grains, fruits, vegetables) must all form part of a balanced diet.

Take your vitamins and other supplements if necessary. As for help to figre out what you need. We don’t always get all of our essential nutrients from the foods we eat.

4. Establish and Maintain Routines

Routines provide structure for athletes and ADHDers and help them perform at their best. However, consistency can be a challenge for ADHD brains, as routines may be perceived as monotonous or overwhelming.

To overcome this, it is important to find ways to make routines exciting and adaptable. This can involve introducing variations or changes periodically, incorporating new elements or challenges, or even experimenting with a hybrid work schedule. Focusing on strategies that reinforce routines and habits—such as utilizing timers or having an accountability partner—can further enhance consistency and motivation.

Planning rewards along the way can also provide immediate motivation and reinforcement for adhering to the routine. In conclusion, adopting a mindset akin to elite athletes can bring about a remarkable transformation for individuals with ADHD. By understanding their strengths, symptoms, and brain function, individuals with ADHD can implement sports psychology strategies to enhance their performance and overall well-being.

Fall off your rhythm? It’s NOT the end of the world. Scrap the all-or-nothing mentality.

Try these strategies to get back on track and stick to your routines:

  1. Spice up your routines. You’ll be more focused and motivated to follow a routine if you’re excited about it. Think of how you can change up your routine to keep you on your toes. Could you do it backwards? Maybe a change of scenery will do (e.g., a hybrid work schedule)?
  2. Focus on the how. From timers to accountability partners, zero in on the strategies you’ll use to reinforce your routines and habits.
  3. Plan your rewards. You don’t have to wait until the end to get your trophy. Reward yourself immediately after you cross off each step of your routine.

Most importantly, take care of yourself. Add something you REALLY enjoy doing to your list each day and carve out time to do it. Practice a healthy relationship with time, discipline, and rewards. And know this: you don’t have to do it alone!

Yours in the journey,