top of page

Guest blog by, Chris Loper: 8 Keys to Thriving with Adult ADHD

Dear readers,

I’m excited to introduce Chris Loper as a guest author. I met Chris about a year ago when we presented at the Aftermath of Virtual Learning Online Summit. Chris is a brilliant tutor, a habit coach, and a writer. He’s also an adult who is thriving with ADHD, and he’s here to show us all how we can thrive as adults with ADHD too. And for the younger readers, Chris’s lifestyle is an excellent example of how you can be a successful grownup without having the kind of boring, conventional life most adults seem to live. (You can write to Chris here:



8 Keys to Thriving with Adult ADHD
Author: Chris Loper (14 minute read )
Photo by Brook & Bryn Photography

It’s easy to think of ADHD as something that is simply bad. The Ds, after all, stand for “deficit” and “disorder.” Students with ADHD often have a difficult time in school, and many adults with ADHD struggle to thrive personally and professionally.

But, while there are downsides to having ADHD, there are also several important upsides. And it is absolutely possible to have a fulfilling, successful, and joyful life with ADHD.

The Surprising Advantages of Having ADHD

People with ADHD are often more creative than neurotypical individuals (1). They’re often funnier. They have more energy and vitality (1). They’re more open to new experiences and better at spontaneity (2). And although they struggle to stay engaged with routine tasks, they’re capable of hyper-focusing on projects they care deeply about (2).

The long list of famously successful people with ADHD includes Albert Einstein, Thomas Edison, and Salvador Dali (1), athletes like Michael Phelps and Simone Biles (3), actors like Emma Watson (4) and Jim Carrey (5), musicians like Justin Timberlake (3) and Dave Grohl (4), astronaut Scott Kelly (4), and entrepreneurs like Richard Branson (5).

That said, ADHD does come with its share of difficulties.

Human Nature vs. The Modern World

Human nature is a product of evolution by natural selection. As such, our brains are adapted to help us succeed at survival and reproduction in our ancestors’ environment. And that environment was very different from the one we now live in, as James Clear explains in Atomic Habits:

“Similar to other animals on the African savannah, our ancestors spent their days responding to grave threats, securing the next meal, and taking shelter from a storm. It made sense to place a high value on instant gratification. The distant future was less of a concern. And after thousands of generations in an immediate-return environment, our brains evolved to prefer quick payoffs to long-term ones (6).”

In our ancestors’ environment, it might have helped to have a wandering attention. It might have helped to be a little impulsive. It might have helped to have a brain that prioritized immediate returns over long-term plans (7).

But we now live in a very different world – a world that rewards long-term thinking and self-discipline:

“In modern society, many of the choices you make today will not benefit you immediately. If you do a good job at work, you’ll get a paycheck in a few weeks. If you exercise today, perhaps you won’t be overweight next year. If you save money now, maybe you’ll have enough for retirement decades from now. You live in what scientists call a delayed-return environment because you can work for years before your actions deliver the intended payoff (6).”

So today, those of us with ADHD find ourselves at a disadvantage. It’s not helpful to have a brain that’s highly attuned to immediate returns in a delayed-return environment. The modern world asks people to focus for long stretches of time on boring tasks, while simultaneously offering up an endless supply of addictive distractions.

Why Thriving with ADHD is so Challenging

School is, ironically, one of the most delayed-return environments we’ve created for modern humans. You study and do your homework all through elementary school, middle school, high school, and college so that you can finally have a career in your 20s. It is incredibly difficult for anyone to make wise choices on a time scale that long. But we don’t ask just anyone to do it – we ask children to do it.

Long-term planning is a prefrontal cortex activity, and your prefrontal cortex isn’t finished developing until you’re 25 (8) – three years after most people graduate from college. Plus, one of the hallmarks of ADHD is impaired function in the prefrontal cortex (9). So it’s no wonder kids with ADHD have a hard time prioritizing their studies over playing video games and hanging out with friends.

Being a “responsible adult” isn’t much easier. Building a career, maintaining a household, paying bills and taxes – these are all delayed-gratification activities. Adults with ADHD often struggle to find their way because their brains are not well suited for the boring, day-in, day-out grind of conventional adult life.

However, this does not mean we should give up. It means we have to be strategic about how we engage with the modern world. And it means we need to think outside of the box when designing our lives. Luckily, that’s something our highly creative ADHD brains are well prepared to do.

It’s Okay to Be Weird

The answer here is not to force yourself to adapt to what is “normal,” but to embrace an unconventional lifestyle. As we look at the eight keys to thriving with adult ADHD, we’ll use my unusual lifestyle as a concrete example.

I decided a long time ago that the rat race was not for me. I do work that I enjoy, work that utilizes my signature strengths, work that allows me to laugh and be creative. And most days, I’m free to go hiking or skiing before I have to “clock in.”

I get the best parts of ADHD – creativity and humor, energy and spontaneity – while almost completely eliminating the downsides.

I don’t take medication (10). Instead, I work to optimize my brain’s health, deliberately train my ability to focus, and use a slew of strategies to enhance my willpower and executive function.

It’s important to note that I stumbled into many of the elements of my lifestyle on accident, through trial and error. I hope my example can help you shortcut this process. In addition, I had a great deal of support and encouragement: mentors and role models whose guidance and examples were immensely helpful.

I’ve designed a life of meaningful contribution and financial success that looks nothing like a conventional adult life. You can too. Here’s how.

1. Do work that you care about.

One thing all students with ADHD have noticed is just how difficult it is to focus on work you don’t care about. As you get older, this “problem” naturally gets a little better, but it never fully goes away. And I’ve referred to it as a “problem” because it’s actually a blessing in disguise.

It means you have to choose a career that’s meaningful to you. I could not be an accountant. (Too boring.) I could not be a receptionist. (I tried … I got fired.) People with ADHD rarely end up with boring jobs because can’t do them well.

So don’t pursue a career you have no interest in. And don’t choose your career based on the salary. Do work that you care about. Choose a career that you’ll actually enjoy doing.

Now, the predictable thing to say here is, “Follow your passion,” but that’s actually bad advice. As a young person, your passion might be skateboarding or Fortnite or some other fun activity that’s very unlikely to work out as a career. Furthermore, you don’t know today what you will be passionate about in the future. You will discover and cultivate new passions throughout your life by trying new things.

2. Cultivate ikigais.

A better approach is to use the ikigai diagram as your guide to life and career satisfaction:

In short, it says that a satisfying career will be one that you can get paid for, that the world needs, that you’re good at, and that you enjoy doing. However, while this sounds nice in theory, it’s not realistic for most people, at least in the short run. But the ikigai diagram does offer several useful insights, especially for adults with ADHD.

First, it shows that we should make sure that at least some of our time is spent in each of the four circles. If any are neglected, we’ll feel that something is missing. For most people, this requires multiple activities: a job, hobbies, volunteer work, etc.

Second, it shows that we should aim for the intersections. Activities are more satisfying when they fulfill multiple circles.

And third, it shows that we can work our way toward the center. For example, I used to love teaching and writing, and I thought that I had a valuable message to share with the world. But I was not skilled enough to get paid to teach or write, and my work wasn’t good enough for the wider world to pay any attention.

So, for a few years, I wrote and taught free classes for a group of friends. Through this practice, I became skilled enough to get hired as a tutor and blog writer for Northwest Educational Services. I didn’t choose my ikigais; I cultivated them.

Also, notice how I said “ikigais, plural. You’re not limited to just one.

3. Don’t do one thing. Do many things.

Many adults with ADHD struggle to stay engaged with a full-time job, even if it’s a career they care about. Their job demands they spend too much of their time on one kind of task, so they get bored, lose focus, or burn out. To avoid this, design a lifestyle with more variety.

Mostly, I work as a tutor. This is great for me because it changes every hour: new student, new academic content, new challenges. And I don’t just tutor one or two subjects – I cover nearly all subjects, along with study skills and executive function. This keeps the work interesting and varied.

Tutoring, however, is not the only activity I do for work. Since I run my own business, I also have scheduling emails, marketing, and bookkeeping to do. I write an education blog and a self-improvement blog. I maintain a few different websites. I do habit coaching with adults. In the summers, I coteach a class called “Parenting for Academic Success.”

I also work on less serious projects for fun, like this website about different ways to play Jenga. I make art. I do puzzles. I play board games. I read both fiction and nonfiction. I hike and ski. I cook curries. I go birdwatching. As I noted in my humorous memoir, you don’t have to be (or do) just one thing – you get to be (and do) many things.

Okay, now let’s look at how I mitigate the downsides of ADHD without medication.

4. Improve your brain health.

Exercise is helpful for ADHD because it improves a wide variety of brain functions, including executive function (11) and focus (12). For this reason, exercise is one of the first things I do each day. I don’t work out to lose weight or look sexy – I do it to boost my brainpower.

Eating well also reduces the downsides of ADHD, while eating poorly makes them worse, so good nutrition is an essential part of ADHD management (13). In general, fast food and highly processed foods like potato chips and packaged desserts should be avoided. Instead, eat a varied diet of whole foods with plenty of vegetables, fruit, and healthy fats (14).

People with ADHD often have difficulty sleeping, and, at the same time, poor sleep makes their ADHD worse (15). In other words, ADHD and sleep problems are interconnected in a feedback loop that, for many people, is a downward spiral. It is therefore very important to take steps to optimize your sleep. For me, that means not eating near bedtime, using blue-light-blocking software on my devices and avoiding screen time as much as possible, dimming the lights, and taping my mouth shut at night to ensure I breathe through my nose.

(Like I said, it’s okay to be weird.)

5. Take care of your mental health.

People with ADHD often have mental health challenges, such as anxiety, depression (16), or addiction (17). As with sleep problems, these mental health problems can be both a cause and an effect of ADHD.

I was an alcohol and marijuana addict for all of my 20s. But much earlier than that, I was hooked on sugar and video games, which are two of the most common gateway addictions for young people. For any young person reading this, please know that your ADHD makes you prone to addiction (because we’re highly attuned to instant gratification) so you should be wary about experimenting with drugs. It’s far easier to prevent addiction by avoiding drugs entirely than it is to get sober after you’ve been hooked.

And for anyone reading this who is already addicted, know this: You can get clean, it won’t be as hard as you think as long as you fully commit, and being sober will make just about everything in your life easier.

Depression is also common in people with ADHD, and because depression makes everything harder, it makes ADHD more difficult to manage. In addition to getting help when you’re feeling depressed, you can take steps to prevent depression when you’re feeling good. Personally, I find it very helpful to spend time in nature, keep a gratitude journal, listen to short stories (shout out to Levar Burton), spend time with close friends and family, and hang out with my cat (who is just as weird as me).

Anxiety is probably the most common mental health challenge for people with ADHD. When you know you have trouble focusing, you’ll worry about not performing well, and this anxiety will make it even harder to focus.

In other words, anxiety and ADHD are connected in a feedback loop that can easily become a downward spiral. Luckily, everything that improves brain health helps with both ADHD and anxiety.

And one of the very best practices for managing anxiety – mindfulness meditation – also strengthens your brain’s ability to focus.

6. Strengthen your focus muscle.

Your brain is like a bunch of muscles, so each of your mental abilities gets stronger with use. One of those “brain muscles” is your ability to focus. And you can deliberately train your focus muscle in the same way that you might lift weights to grow your biceps.

Most of the downsides of ADHD are associated with difficulty focusing, and this is the primary issue ADHD medications try to address. Therefore, training your ability to focus is the ultimate, long-term treatment for ADHD.

So how do you do that?

One of the most well-studied is mindfulness meditation, a practice in which you try to keep your mind focused on a single thing, such as the feeling of breathing in and out. Each time you catch your mind wandering and bring it back to your breath, you’re strengthening your ability to choose what you pay attention to. In fact, monks who have meditated for many years show increased neural density in the prefrontal cortex – the part of the brain in charge of focusing your attention (18).

There are, however, many other ways to strengthen your focus muscle: yoga, rock climbing, reading, puzzles, art, even Jenga. Anything that requires concentration will do.

7. Use executive function strategies.

Another hallmark of ADHD is struggling with executive function (19). This means we have difficulty with things like staying organized, managing multi-step projects, overcoming procrastination, and being on time – all essential skills for success in the modern world. So to thrive with adult ADHD, you need to have a toolkit of executive function strategies at your disposal.

The most important principle is to not rely on your memory. Instead, rely on reminders. If necessary (and it will probably be necessary), use a variety of overlapping reminders to ensure that nothing important is forgotten. I use Google Calendar to keep track of my schedule, but I also write out my schedule in a daily planner each night, and I have phone alarms for all of my appointments.

Also, like many people with ADHD, my mind buzzes with ideas: things I want to do, things I know I should do, things I have to do, ideas for creative projects, random thoughts that have no discernable purpose, etc. To make room for new ideas, I deposit any potentially useful ideas into actionable locations.

Blog ideas go into one Word document; business ideas go into another. Tasks that need to be done today go on today’s to-do list, tasks that need to get done this week go on a different to-do list, and ideas for the future go onto one of three to-do lists: “Soon,” “Eventually,” and “Maybe.” Often, these lists have categories, such as “Projects,” “Chores,” and “Self-Care.”

Multi-step projects are broken down into sub-tasks. Tasks that require multiple rounds of effort are given checkboxes, so I can track my progress.

8. Don’t rely on brute-force willpower.

Many people with ADHD feel chronically unmotivated and undisciplined. I should know – I used to be one of those people. I saw myself as lazy and lacking self-control. And when I saw people who seemed to have great reserves of willpower, I thought to myself, “Well, that would be nice, but it’ll never be me.”

Willpower, like focus, is a brain muscle that can be strengthened with use. And in my 30s, I have developed a lot more willpower than I ever imagined I could have. But that’s the long game. To see a more immediate boost in your apparent willpower, you need to employ strategies that reduce your dependence on willpower.

The most important technique is environmental design. This means arranging your physical environment – your home and your workspace – to make good choices obvious and easy to access, which dramatically increases the likelihood that you’ll choose them, and at the same time, setting things up so that bad choices are invisible and difficult to access, which makes you far less likely to choose them (6).

My living room has a ready-made exercise space with easy-to-access equipment. My office has a reading chair with a lamp, a book, and a blanket. Instead of fighting against the temptation to check the news, play online chess, and scroll through Facebook, I’ve installed website-blocking software to make these options harder to access. Instead of struggling to resist the distraction of my phone, I keep it out of sight and in airplane mode while I’m working.

The second-most-important willpower strategy is to create routines that allow your healthy habits to run on autopilot. For example, if you’re trying to create a reading habit, decide on a set place and time, set a recurring reminder, and do your best to read in that location, at that time, each day. Track your effort and strive for consistency.

And don’t go from zero to hero; start small and build up gradually. I developed the habit of meditating for 20 minutes each day by starting with three minutes and slowly increasing the amount of time over five years. It took patience, but I never overloaded my willpower by upping the intensity too quickly.


I don’t believe my wandering attention is a disorder. I believe it is a difference – one that comes with both upsides and downsides.

Since I’ve designed my life to maximize the upsides and minimize the downsides, so I’m flourishing in a way that most adults – both neurotypical and otherwise – are not.

And if you adopt these strategies for thriving with adult ADHD, you can too.

About the Author

Chris Loper is the creator of, where he writes about self-improvement and offers habit coaching for busy adults. He also writes a blog for parents and students for Northwest Educational Services. Chris is the author of Wood Floats and Other Brilliant Observations, a humorous memoir about all the stupid, crazy things he did growing up. He lives in Issaquah, WA where he is the owner of South Cove Tutoring.


(1) Zaslow, Jeffrey. “What If Einstein Had Taken Ritalin? ADHD's Impact on Creativity.” The Wall Street Journal. February 3, 2005.

(2) Nall, Rachel, MSN, CRNA. Medically reviewed by Alex Klein, PsyD. “The Benefits of ADHD.” Healthline. January 19, 2021.

(3) Holland, Kimberly. “9 Celebrities with ADHD.” Healthline. March 25, 2020.

(4) ADDitude Editors. “Famous People with ADHD.” ADDitude: Inside the ADHD Mind. July 28, 2021.

(5) Sonny, Julian. “The 10 Most Successful People With ADHD.” EliteDaily. April 1, 2013.

(6) Clear, James. Atomic Habits. Avery, 2018.

(7) This is known as the “hunter versus farmer hypothesis.” Evidence for it is mixed.

(8) “Understanding the Teen Brain.” University of Rochester Medical Center Health Encyclopedia.

(9) Arnsten, Amy F T. “The Emerging Neurobiology of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder: The Key Role of the Prefrontal Association Cortex.” The Journal of pediatrics vol. 154,5 (2009): I-S43. doi:10.1016/j.jpeds.2009.01.018

(10) I’m not anti-medication; it’s just not right for me. But I do believe that it should never be the only thing you do to address ADHD.

(11) Archer, T., Kostrzewa, R.M. “Physical Exercise Alleviates ADHD Symptoms: Regional Deficits and Development Trajectory.” Neurotox Res 21, 195–209 (2012).

(12) Hospital, Craig. “Exercise and Your Brain.” Brainline.

(13) Schnoll, R., Burshteyn, D. & Cea-Aravena, J. “Nutrition in the Treatment of Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder: A Neglected but Important Aspect.” Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback. 28, 63–75 (2003).

(14) Aubele, Teresa, and Susan Reynolds. “Have You Fed Your Brain Today?” Psychology Today. September 7, 2011.

(16) Higuera, Valencia. Medically reviewed by Timothy J. Legg, PhD, PsyD. “Is there a link between ADHD and depression?” Medical News Today. February 27, 2019

(18) Lazar, Sara W., et al. “Meditation experience is associated with increased cortical thickness.NIH Public Access. US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health. February 6, 2006.

(19) Brown, T.E. “ADD/ADHD and impaired executive function in clinical practice.” Curr Atten Disord Rep 1, 37–41 (2009).


bottom of page