Updated: Jul 8, 2019
Recently, I picked up The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho, a book that I first “read” nineteen years ago, as a young 23 year-old. I remember sitting on a felucca, sailing along the Nile River in Egypt with some friends that I lived with overseas immediately after college. As I sat at the front of the boat “reading” the end of this book that was supposed to help me realize my life’s purpose, my mind was nowhere near the words reflecting off of my eyes. Nonetheless, I finished looking at the last word on page 177, walked back over to my friend, and thanked him for suggesting I read this amazingly insightful book that definitely “changed my life.”
Why do I share this story? It’s pretty embarrassing, right? I mean, here I was, an intelligent college graduate, who was taking a year to volunteer, travel and discover who I really was, and I felt the need to lie about a book I didn’t really read.
It all goes back to the brain...an ADHD brain...my brain!
“Executive functioning” is a term that was coined by Karl Pribram in the 1970’s. When we talk about the executive functions of the brain, we are referring to the different skills we need to plan and execute various tasks effectively. These functions reside in the frontal lobe of our brain, right behind our eyebrows.
Individuals with ADHD have a reduced amount of dopamine getting to their frontal lobes. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter, one of chemicals that our brain needs to function. This particular neurotransmitter helps us with the functioning of the frontal lobe and is very much a part of how we feel motivation and pleasure. Without an accurate amount of dopamine, our executive functions might take a little longer to work together, get a task done, or cooperate, so to speak.
Dr. Thomas Brown and Dr. Russell Barkley are two world-renowned clinicians who have developed clear models of how the executive functions work. Among the numerous functionalities are ideas around emotional regulation, impulsivity, organization and memory (in addition to many others).
Why we sometimes tell white lies…
First of all, I’m not a liar. For the record, I’m also not proud of the fact that I felt like I had to pretend I read this book. In fact, trust and honesty are both such a significant part of who I am and who I’ve always been. So, why did I lie to my friend all those years ago about a book? I don’t know exactly. In fact, I never even really thought about it again until now.
For whatever reason, my telling this particular fib and possibly for other times in my life that I have not been a hundred percent honest about something that was harmless, released a necessary amount of dopamine into my frontal lobe to help me feel a sense of satisfaction. It allowed me to connect (another one of my core values, by the way) to someone who was important to me. It also dissolved any embarrassment I would have had if I had admitted that my brain was “somewhere else” while I was supposedly reading.
Everyone tells a lie once in a while…
Yes, everyone has the ability to “bend the truth” from time to time. Sometimes we do it to spare others from hurt feelings or, as in my case all those years ago, to build up our self-esteem. This does not mean that everyone who has ADHD tells lies; nor does it mean that everyone who lies has ADHD. However, there is a distinct connection between dopamine levels in the brain of someone who has ADHD and someone who doesn’t.
So, what now?
Now, my brain is “fully developed”, so to speak. My needs are different. My understanding of life, relationships and priorities has shifted. I also am aware. I am aware that I have such an active mind that it might take me reading and re-reading something a second (or even third) time before I have fully focused on the text. I am aware that I have the ability to respond or react impulsively to a situation to feel that sense of relief or motivation, or, medically, to release more dopamine into my frontal lobe.
I also have the tools. I have tools I have gained through becoming self aware and taking ownership over my ADHD. I know that I focus best when I can reread something aloud to myself, or when my other needs are met, such as adequate sleep and a full belly. I set timers to help me complete tasks in a timely manner and am not in denial that I constantly underestimate the amount of time I will need to complete a task. I exercise to release dopamine that will help me focus. Most importantly, I have confidence, confidence in my capabilities and in my shortcomings.
I understand that my young, 23 year-old self did not have such a grasp. My younger self was just as capable. My younger self only helped pave the way for where I am now. Oh, and, by the way, had my younger self been able to focus, she too would have loved and appreciated the lessons in Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist.
What would your “younger self” say about you?
Interesting articles on the topic: