Are you a person with ADHD who is creative? There might be quite a bit of overlap between ADHD and creativity.
People with ADHD are naturally curious, impulsive, chaotic, sensitive and playful. Two core symptoms of ADHD, inattention and impulsiveness, suggest a connection between ADHD and creativity. Mind wandering and drifting can lead to new, useful, and creative ideas. Dr. Ned Hallowell, a world authority on ADHD, likes to say: “What is creativity but impulsivity gone right?”
What Characterizes a Creative Person?
Create people are always finding new ways to do things. They are the innovative problem solvers. Creativity might show up in obvious ways, such as painting or playing the piano: the big C. You may also be creative in lesser-known ways, such as driving home from work a new way every time: the little C. Creative personalities thrive on growth, change and novelty. They tend to get bored with anything that is boring or repetitive or that stays the same way for too long.
In the book, “Wired to Create,” authors Scott Barry Kaufman and Carolyn Gregoire suggest that three hallmarks of creativity are plasticity, divergence, and convergence. Plasticity involves exploring the novel with openness to new experience. Divergence calls for independent and non-conformist thinking. Convergence is the ability to conform with precision in a practical sense to make your ideas fly.
The authors go on to say that creative people have messy minds and messy processes. They also engage in rapidly switching thought processes, generating new ideas and expanding on existing ones.
Common threads in all creative fields are having a good read on one’s inner and outer life, heightened sensitivity, a high tolerance for disorder and disarray, unconventionality, a willingness to take risks and the ability to exact order from chaos, according to the late Frank Barron, a psychologist and researcher who studied the personalities of highly creative people in the 1950s and 1960s.
The challenge for all creative people is to be able to switch between the imagination network and rational ways of thinking.
Are People with ADHD more Creative?
It’s quite possible that people with ADHD are more creative, although there are some who say that there is no established link between ADHD and creativity. There are a number of ADHD characteristics that overlap with those of creative people.
People with ADHD tend to be divergent thinkers. Divergent means the tendency to be different or to develop in different directions. People with ADHD have been recognized for out-of-the-box thinking. This might also be called lateral thinking, as we have had to come up with alternative ways to do things in order to be successful.
Divergent thinking is not the same thing as creativity, but people with the ability to think divergently have a larger capacity to be creative, according to the late Sir Ken Robinson, a British educator who explored the problems created by the lack of creativity in education.
“It’s the ability to see lots of possible answers to a question, lots of possible ways of interpreting a question,” Robinson says in the article, “ADHD: Pioneers of Divergent Thinking?” “To see multiple answers, not just one.”
A 2018 study showed that adults with ADHD had higher and more frequent episodes of hyperfocus when it came to hobbies, school and screen time. Similar to mind wandering, this ability is also extremely beneficial for creative and artistic tasks.
A Wide Lens of Attention
People with ADHD have a wide lens of attention, the ability to hyperfocus, take risks and make unobvious connections, writes Diane O’Reilly in Stifled Creativity and Its Impact on the ADHD Brain. “These are the essential traits that make up the ‘neurology’ of the creative mind,” she says, “and we have them in abundance.”
Creative people tend to be highly sensitive, Kaufman and Gregoire write in Wired to Create, processing more sensory input in order to pick up more of what is going on in their internal and external environment.
Unconventional and Rejection Sensitive
The very traits that distinguish highly creative people, such as unconventionality makes them easy targets of rejection. Kaufman and Gregoire state that there is a high price to pay for being creative: tireless work, solitude, isolation, failure, and risk, as well as ridicule and rejection.
Challenges to Unleashing Creativity when You Have ADHD
Even though people with ADHD tend to be divergent thinkers naturally, there is also the need for convergence to bring any creative project across the finish line. Creative processes draw on the whole brain, both the imagination network and the executive function network. Insightful problem solving requires the ability to harness a mix of intuitive processes as well as analytical processes and the flexibility to switch between the two.
People with ADHD struggle with the prefrontal cortex, that part of the brain that is like the CEO of a company. Issues with the prefrontal cortex affect planning, prioritizing, time management, and task initiation. They also impair the ability to estimate time, sustain attention and pace oneself.
What Happens in the Brain When we are Creative?
Art enhances brain function by affecting brain-wave patterns, emotions and the nervous system, writes Merriam Sarcia Saunders. A marriage and family therapist, Saunders notes that art can raise serotonin levels, just by experiencing it. Actually creating art affects learning, motor skills, and attention, she writes in an article subtitled “How Art Builds Confidence.” Plus, there’s its meditative impact and the confidence that follows by solving problems in a unique way.
Music strengthens learning and impacts every area of the brain. Music builds auditory, visual/spatial strengths, the motor cortex. Like art, music has a calming effect on the nervous system. Music is linked to areas of speech and language, reading comprehension, problem solving, brain organization, focus, concentration and attention. For more on this subject, read “How Music Unlocked my Son’s ADHD Brain,” by Sharlene Habermeyer.
What Helps or Hurts Creativity?
In addition to art and music, creativity is enhanced by settings that are open and informal. The opposite is also true. Creativity can be shut down when there is pressure to get something done, when someone is breathing down your neck, when people around you are closed, rigid or judgmental. People with ADHD can have so many projects started and unfinished that it leads to shut down and overwhelm.
How Boost Your Creativity
Consider trying one of the following ideas, which appear in Jenny Garrett’s article: “23 Ways to Spark Your Creativity.”
- Set aside a few minutes a day to be creative.
- Find a unique way to accomplish a task.
- Find time for reflection and downtime.
- Expose yourself to art, music or nature in a greater way.
- Find a creative community of kindred spirits and connect with it often.
- Hire a coach to support you, both in starting and finishing your project.
- Hire an assistant for the tedious tasks related to your art to free you up to do what you do best.
- Take a retreat day.
“The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.”--
“Thinking outside the box might be facilitated by having a somewhat less intact box.” –
“Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The square pegs in round holes. The ones who see things differently.”--
Apple Ad, 1997
(“Are People with ADHD More Creative?”- Gawrilow and Gondarzi, sientificamerican.com)