Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a disorder that is often associated with childhood. However, many adults continue to show attention deficit-related signs and symptoms that greatly interfere with activities of everyday life and even deteriorate their self-esteem and psychological health. In this article we will look at what ADHD is and discuss how to mitigate its impact on daily life.

Our brain only has limited resources to perceive and process the world around us, and nowadays we live in environments that are overloaded with stimulation and information. We have to cope with an infinite number of demands: work, leisure, social life, personal life, partners, children… in addition to a myriad of self-imposed rules that can sometimes overload our cognitive capacities. We also have a significant social pressure towards productivity, in which it seems that if you don’t do anything with your free time you are wasting it or not taking advantage of your life to a 100%.

I don’t know about you, but personally I find it more and more difficult to get myself to carry out complicated tasks or tasks that require concentration for long periods of time. There always seems to be something better to do, something more urgent, or distractions that prevent me from doing that deep work that brings me closer to achieving my goals.

In this context of information overload, there are more and more communication channels and entertainment media based on immediate gratification. In almost all media and platforms, the consumption of ever shorter and faster content is encouraged, and our attentional capacities are progressively being reduced: it is increasingly difficult to focus on a task, to stay organized, and to avoid the distractions that are bombarding us from all sides.

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A study conducted in Canada showed that people’s average attentional span went from 12 seconds in 2000 to 8 seconds in 2015. The concept of the «goldfish effect» appeared, comparing our attentional span to that of a goldfish. We live in an increasingly distracted world, in which the most precious resource, your attention, becomes the most important currency.

It is not surprising that, more and more frequently, people with a poor self-concept related to their «lack of motivation», «lack of concentration», «lack of organization», «lack of productivity» or similar concepts come for counseling.

What is ADHD?

Like any diagnosis, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a label that is applied to people who meet a certain set of signs and symptoms. In general, we consider certain subtypes within ADHD: the inattentive, the hyperactive/impulsive, and the combined.

Although it tends to be associated with childhood, partly due to the prevalence of hyperactivity in the younger ones, many adults experience difficulties related to inattention, organization and planning, which entail great difficulties in their daily lives. These are just some of the symptoms that can occur in people with a diagnosis of ADHD.


  • They are very easily distracted
  • Difficulty sustaining attention during an activity
  • They frequently misplace important objects
  • Problems with time perception and organization
  • Difficulty in both planning the necessary steps to a goal, and following through on that plan.
  • Procrastination .
  • They often do not pay attention to detail, and thus make frequent errors or omissions due to inattention.
  • Difficulty in completing projects/activities in which they are involved (even in their personal life).
  • They lose the thread of conversation or appear not to listen
  • They avoid tasks that require cognitive effort
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Related to impulsivity/hyperactivity:

  • They reply or complete sentences before others finish. They interrupt conversations
  • Difficulty waiting for turns, or standing in lines.
  • Impulsive decision making
  • They feel like a "running engine" that is difficult to stop
  • Difficulty sitting still or remaining seated in situations that require them to do so
TDAH en el adulto- qué es, cómo trabajarlo, y cómo me puede ayudar la psicología 4

In sum, a person diagnosed with ADHD usually faces problems related to inattention that make it difficult for them to sustain a continuous level of effort, to know when to start and stop their actions, problems with procrastination, with the management of their tasks or personal life, a tendency to be impulsive (among others), which generate great difficulties in almost any area of their life.

And these problems do not only affect their work or their projects: They eventually find it difficult making friends and maintaining friendships, keeping a job, finding a long-term partner, and even regulating their emotions, all of which ends up creating a sort of vicious circle that is difficult to escape from.

Certainly, such difficulties end up being perceived as a personal failure and a lack of motivation or the well-known «willpower» that creates an immense distress. Many adults who are diagnosed with ADHD have grown up with comments such as «he/she is very lazy», «he/she is daydreaming”, «he/she is in his/her own world», «he/she is absent-minded» which, after being repeated over time, are internalised and become part of the self-concept.

But what if I told you that the root of all these difficulties lies more in your environment than in your brain?

How to Improve Attention and ADHD Symptoms

Very often people who are diagnosed with ADHD think that because their brain works differently, they will not be able to improve their attention/motivation/memory in any way, or that there is nothing to do but use prescription drugs. While medication can be a great help (always consult your psychiatrist), we have a lot of room to improve our quality of life, our productivity, and ultimately our self-esteem, through the environments in which we live.

Just think about it: We live in environments (virtual and non-virtual) that are carefully designed to facilitate some behaviors and prevent or reduce many other behaviors.

  • When you go to a supermarket, and you see that the bread and ready meals are at the back, is it perhaps to encourage you to buy other products on the way, even if you only need a loaf of bread?
  • When you use social media and the algorithms display more and more content that is tailored to your preferences, could it be to keep you in the app longer, and display more ads?
  • When you drive and see traffic signs, aren't they to favor or reduce certain behaviors?
  • Casinos that have no windows or clocks, is it perhaps to reduce time perception and make players spend more money?

These are only a few common examples. Most definitely, the whole world around us is generally designed by other people, and there are certain cues that indicate that if we do «x» thing, it might have more or less pleasant consequences, and therefore we tend to do it more often or less often.

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And this is how ( in a very simplified way) we can try to improve how our attention and disorganization problems affects our daily life: by learning about your specific challenges, and taking control over the design of your environment, creating systems that make some things easier for you, and others more complicated. In this way, along with some training that allows you to build better planning skills, better time management skills, and a better understanding of how the habits we want to build arise and are maintained, you start gradually gaining control and decision-making power over the things you do.

The first effect of doing this, and perhaps the most important one, is the realization that in general it is not «us» who «have a lack of motivation» or «willpower». To become aware that psychological problems in general are not like a disease we have inside that makes it impossible for us to do certain things, but that it is rather the system in which we are immersed that makes things more difficult (or easier) for us. We are individuals in constant interaction with different environments (physical, social, cultural, etc.), and it is in that interaction that we can take action.

This first step is tremendously important, as it can help us alleviate some of the guilt and discomfort related to our self-esteem: we change the focus from «I am good for nothing», «I can’t finish anything», «I am lazy» to «What can I improve in my system so that I have less trouble doing this?» «What specific actions can I implement in my daily life to try and improve this situation»… And this is a major step forward.

The second step is putting our hands to work: becoming increasingly aware of how, when, and where are those «stimuli» that trigger our behaviors, and how the consequences of our actions either favor or decrease the likelihood of us doing the things we want to do.

Once we have made this thorough analysis of our habits, our routines, the systems we use to manage our time and our projects (work, family, personal, etc.) we will have much more information on how to try and modify them. Thus, we become the «designers» of our own environments (both virtual and non-virtual) and we will have many more tools to get closer to the type of person we want to be, and act in a way that is more in line with our values.

How can a psychologist help you reduce the symptoms of ADHD?

Psychology is the science of behavior: psychology professionals are therefore experts in the study of how certain psychological problems arise, how they are maintained over time, and the necessary techniques to modify them and reduce your discomfort.

Together with you, your psychologist will make a thorough analysis of your current situation (which goes far beyond the ADHD label), in order to create a «tailor-made study» of the difficulties you are experiencing in your daily life.

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After that first assessment stage, again together with you, you will set some goals and get down to work to make the necessary changes that will get you where you want to be. The benefit of working with a psychologist is that in general they will guide you throughout the process, prioritizing the changes that will have the most impact on the rest of your problems, and designing a progressive and organized intervention program so that it does not seem like an impossible task from the beginning. Step by step, always taking into account your preferences and priorities, to generate and consolidate the habits you want to change.

These are the benefits:

  • You will understand much better what ADHD or attention deficit is, beyond the diagnostic label.
  • You will discover many of the things that keep you from improving your lack of organization, procrastination, attention deficit (and therefore you will feel more in control, and less "guilty").
  • You will have a much clearer vision of how the problems persist and how you could improve them.
  • You will work hand in hand to design a program and a system that suits you and your circumstances (usually on the internet we find "Tips" or advice that tries to apply to the greatest number of people, but is not adapted to each specific individual).
  • You will reduce the discomfort, stress and stigma that are generally associated with ADHD ("laziness", "lack of desire/motivation/willpower" etc.).
  • You will improve your productivity and your own analytical ability to modify your behaviors in the future.
  • You will have someone who can solve all your doubts and offer you an external view of what is happening to you.

In short, attention is the first gateway for all the important information that our body processes. Only the information to which we pay full attention ends up being consolidated and stored. Furthermore, knowing that we live in a world with more and more distractions, adults with ADHD experience great difficulties in all areas of life (work, personal, social, couple, etc.) that end up generating great frustration and deteriorating their self-esteem.

Consulting with a psychology professional can help you better understand why the problems you experience originate and are maintained, and will allow you to implement specific strategies to improve them.

About the author

Alejandro Sancha is a General Health Psychologist and Clinical Neuropsychologist. He also has a postgraduate degree in child and adolescent psychology. He has experience with various psychological problems (anxiety, mood disorders, stress, ADHD, rehabilitation in acquired brain injury, among others) and works from an evidence-based perspective. His passion for understanding human behavior led him to dedicate himself to the clinic, being very important for him that his clients feel comfortable from the beginning, understanding how their discomfort originates and how it is maintained today, in order to generate the necessary tools that allow them to achieve the greatest possible well-being in their lives.

Alejandro Sancha Moreno
Division of Psychology, Psychotherapy and Coaching
Alejandro Sancha Moreno
Children, adolescents and adults
Languages: English, French and Spanish
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