When Expectations Meet Your ADHD Reality: Finding Success in School and Life with Aron Croft
Aron Croft was set up for success: Great college, high expectations from an education-centered family. Then ADHD stepped in. This week, we’re talking about the conflict that exists between desire and expectation for success, and the reality of running into the brick wall of shame with a coach who has seen it from both sides.
Aron Croft was set up for success: Great college, high expectations from an education-centered family. Then ADHD stepped in. Aron lives with inattentive ADHD once the structures of his early education were left behind on his journey to college, the struggles set it.
In fact, he struggled non-stop for 15 years before he discovered his relationship with ADHD. In spite of years of struggle, he’s since built a career of his own, from finding success in major corporations to starting his own coaching practice for students with ADHD.
This is a story about the conflict that exists between desire and expectation for success, and the reality of running into the brick wall of shame with a coach who has seen it from both sides.
You can learn more about Aron and his work at Hidden ADHD, and make sure to check out Aron’s Masterclass: "Get Sh*t Done With ADHD — Without Constant Stress and Self-Criticism (A Proven 3-Step Process)" while you’re there!
Brought to you by The ADHD Podcast Community on Patreon
Aron Croft: Those of us who have any level of "success" that have ADHD, it’s not because we’re just gritting through and making ourselves miserable, doing something for some pot of gold at the end of the rainbow five years from now. We do it because it doesn’t feel too much like work. We enjoy the process. This is fun for us to talk about, this is energizing. We’re not putting on interest. We’re not putting on excitement. It naturally has come. And so all a lot of successful ADHD’ers do is just figure out where that natural wellspring of motivation is, where that natural fuel is, and just find a way to leverage it rather than try to fit their motivation into some pre-described goal.
Pete Wright: Hello everybody. And welcome to Taking Control, the ADHD podcast on True Story FM. I’m Pete Wright, and look right over there, it’s Nikki Kinzer.
Nikki Kinzer: Hello everyone. Hello, Pete Wright.
Pete Wright: Hi, Nikki. Can I just make one comment about your appearance today?
Nikki Kinzer: Okay.
Pete Wright: I don’t think you’re sick anymore.
Nikki Kinzer: I’m not. Yay.
Pete Wright: You look great. Your eyes are bright and shining.
Nikki Kinzer: I know.
Pete Wright: You sound like yourself. I’m so happy for you.
Nikki Kinzer: Thank you. Yeah, I kicked COVID to the curb.
Pete Wright: Is your family, their home… You did. You kicked it right to the curb. Everybody can be around you now?
Nikki Kinzer: Yes. Yes.
Pete Wright: Delightful. Delightful. Welcome.
Nikki Kinzer: Done. Sickness is done.
Pete Wright: Welcome back to the land of the living.
Nikki Kinzer: Thank you.
Pete Wright: So glad you’re here. We have a great show today. Aron Croft is joining us. He is the brain behind HiddenADHD.com. And Aron’s going to talk to us about so much, so much. What you don’t know as you’re listening to this is we’ve already had the conversation, so we know what Aron is going to talk to us about. And it’s so much, y’all, so much.
Nikki Kinzer: And it’s great. It’s fabulous. And you have to stay to the end because there is so many different topics that we touch on, and all the way to the end.
Pete Wright: Yeah. All the way to the end. And it is really we’re talking about education, and shame, and the systems, and coping mechanisms that we put into place to find our way towards success from high school to higher education, to post-graduate education, he has done it all. And I think he’s done a lot of podcasts. And it was important to me that we lean in on some things that were important to me that I hadn’t heard him talk about in other shows. And I think we did that. I think we did that. So if you live with, inattentive in particular, this is going to be a great conversation for you. And I hope you see some of yourself in some of our conversation with Aron Croft. Before we dig in, head over to TakeControlADHD.com, you can get to know us a little bit better. You can listen to the show right there on the website, or subscribe to the mailing list right there on the homepage. We will send you an email each time a new episode is released. You can connect with us on Twitter or Facebook at TakeControlADHD, and maybe TikTok, because Nikki’s doing a whole thing. Now she’s got the ADHD dance.
Nikki Kinzer: That is not true. This is fake news.
Pete Wright: Then you belong on TikTok. No.
Nikki Kinzer: I’m sorry, I’m interrupting your thing and it’s all fake.
Pete Wright: Fake news broadcast. Well, the really important part, the part that is not fake is if you love this community, if you love the show, if you’ve been a part of the show for any amount of time, head over to patreon.com/theADHDpodcast, and become a supporting member. And you will learn all about the different levels, the tiers that we have, you can join us for happy hours. You can join us for coffee with Pete, where we talk about technology and systems once a month live in discord, you can join coaching with Nikki, where she gives you real life ADHD coaching. Once a month, you get live Nikki, like alive, Nikki coaching you, and not even a sick Nikki, a Snikky. It all comes, learn about all about our tears and know that becoming a member supports this show and what we do here and what we’ve been doing here for over a decade. We couldn’t do it without you. So thank you everybody for being a patron, for supporting the show. And now head over to patreon.com/theADHDpodcast. That’s what you should do or pause the show, go over there right now, and then come back and we’ll talk to Aron Croft. Aron Croft is here with us today. Aron is an ADHD coach and the originator of his very own smash productivity system. Very excited to hear a little bit more about that, but mostly I just want to say this, and see if it sounds familiar. As we talk about N2 Aron, one, dropped out of college twice before eventually graduating. Failed out of his first seven jobs, and was broke, divorced, and earning minimum wage at 33. Auspicious beginnings to our guest, Aron Croft. Welcome to the show.
Aron Croft: Wow. Thank you for that glowing introduction.
Nikki Kinzer: Right? I know. I can’t wait to hear how that came to where you are today. So that’s fantastic.
Pete Wright: We’re building drama, y’all.
Nikki Kinzer: We are building drama.
Pete Wright: We’re building drama. This is the narrative arc that we’re leading you through here. It’s very exciting, because I think it actually reflects the experience of a lot of folks who live in our community online. I think it really does. It certainly reflects my own.
Aron Croft: In Pete and Nikki’s metaverse.
Pete Wright: Yeah, it’s right. That’s the metaverse. Yeah. Yeah. That’s where we are. I’m really excited about it, because I’ve been listening to a bunch of your other guest appearances on different podcasts and on our ADHD community circle websites. And I love your story, because it just is so relatable to me, right? It’s so relatable because I was a diagnosed as an adult. And I remember the confusion that came from my early years. And I think what really jumps out to me in your story is there is this conflict that exists between our own internal desires for success and the reality of slamming into the brick wall of shame that hits us when we try to achieve those things before we really understand our relationships with our own brains. Is that a fair assessment?
Aron Croft: You nailed it in that one sentence, right. And what I find so disheartening and confusing for so many ADHD’ers that go undiagnosed into adulthood like us, is that I remember sitting there as a kid, and I wanted to get my homework done.
Pete Wright: Yeah.
Aron Croft: I wanted to be able to read the book cover to cover, and but I wasn’t doing it, right. I couldn’t get my brain to do it. And so my mom’s sitting there like, "Wow, Aron just thinks he’s better than everyone else and he doesn’t have to play by the rules." And I’m searching for an explanation, but in the absence of an ADHD diagnosis, there wasn’t a good explanation. And so eventually, the explanation just becomes, well, there’s something wrong with me, right? Like I’m the source of these problems. Maybe I must be lazy and I must just be too arrogant to do the work, because I want to, and yet I’m not doing it. So, what makes sense here?
Pete Wright: Talk about your relationship with your parents, though, your family relationship in cementing some of those feelings early on for you.
Aron Croft: My dad was not ADHD in the least, whenever he wanted to do something, he just did it. He was a successful physician. He started his own practice. And so he would just say like, "Well, Aron, just sit down and do it."
Nikki Kinzer: Have some self discipline.
Aron Croft: Yeah. And kind of like, it was just confusing to him. Like, "Well, if you just sit down and tell your brain to do it, you’ll just do it. This isn’t that hard." And obviously, that’s how it worked for him. And so he really couldn’t understand. And also, he was very busy with his career. And so he wasn’t around very much, more of a passive kind of go along in his personal life guy. And so my mom, a loud, Jewish, critical mother with probably undiagnosed ADHD was the primary influence. And she would go with the criticism and shame route or route, however we say these things. And would try to just be like, "Well, you just need to do it. And everyone else is doing it." And all those things. And thinking that enough punishment, and criticism, and pain would get me to do it," but it didn’t, right. It just sort of built my own internal shame.
Nikki Kinzer: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Now, did you have siblings too?
Aron Croft: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah.
Nikki Kinzer: Do they have ADHD or showed any symptoms when they were younger?
Aron Croft: No. No. And they’ve all seen my YouTube channels. And interestingly, their spouses have both since seeing my content have been like, "Huh," actually I realized this for myself, but for them, that was never-
Pete Wright: I love that. You’re contagious in the best way.
Aron Croft: Yeah, exactly. But for them, that was never an issue. So I had two older sisters, they’re the sweetest in the world, they’re incredibly smart and talented, and they were just getting along fine.
Nikki Kinzer: So that had to have been hard, too, to see it in your own household where your sisters and your siblings seemed like they’re doing fine, but inside, you’re struggling.
Aron Croft: Well, you know what’s interesting, Nikki, is that what I’ve noticed with myself and with a number of the inattentive ADHD clients that I’ve worked with is that there tends to be a slightly greater bend towards passivity and to more observation, kind of that quiet, struggling, and going along with things. And so if you’re good at observing, it can be a real big asset to have older siblings who are doing all the same classes you’re going to take and who are achieving and succeeding with them. And so I got really good at just shutting my trap and hiding all of my struggles, and just knowing that between the help from my sisters having gone through the courses, the help from my friends who are really smart, that I would be able to combining sort of my own natural test taking skills to pull off good grades even though I had no system, no study skills, no ability to get myself to do the crap that I wanted to do, and that was causing me so much problems. So it was actually a feature sort of to have that.
Pete Wright: That’s fascinating. Right. And I-
Nikki Kinzer: Yeah, that is. That’s so interesting. Great insight.
Pete Wright: I think that really reflects, particularly reflects a lot of folks who are listening. I’m sure you see yourselves and hear yourselves in this experience, because it is when you’re talking about out high school, middle school and high school, you’re able to like Ramora to a shark, right, you’re able to glide along and take advantage of the systems and the practices in place and leverage your family who has clearly been through the experience before in order appear like a high achiever or a successful academician early, but that’s kind of a veil, right? What happens when you make that transition and you’re faced with a higher education?
Aron Croft: Right. Totally. And I think moving to college and university, a few things happened. So one is I didn’t have the parents breathing down my back, right. So you lose that pressure. And so in the absence of that, I realized that I was just shit tired of doing all this. Like I was done, I was done playing the game, and then college is much less structured. And I wasn’t prepared for it. And I think Pete and Nikki, I want to share one thing, because other people might have experienced this, but a symptom or a second degree symptom of inattentive ADHD or all ADHD is that there were things that I had to do to make my way through school that really impacted my self worth. So let me give you an example. My notes were a complete mess of chicken scratch with major sections missing. And so I always needed to borrow someone’s notes to study for tests. And so, as we all do, we’re going to leverage whatever resources we have at our disposal. I was like, "Oh, I’m charming. I’ll just go and be a little bit fake and charming and get that really smart girl or smart guy to lend me their notes or to study with me." And I had to do that on assignments. I had to ask people like, "Oh, what are you writing in that essay about Macbeth," because I couldn’t figure it out. And people even sent me examples of things. And then I had this strategy where I would make friends with the teachers. This is so bad. I would literally intentionally, this is like a salesperson or something. I would build a relationship with my teachers. And then I would ask really cleverly scripted questions that would give me information without incriminating the teacher. So things like here was my favorite question, right, "So Ms. Teacher, I’ve been studying really hard for this history test and there’s so much on it, there’s all these dates, and like when all the wars started and people were born and died, and then there’s all the people and the key events. Do you think I need to really focus on these dates?" And they would be like, "Oh, I wouldn’t worry too much about the exact numbers." And that would save me hours of studying time. And it would help me figure out that they’re focused more on the high level themes and what happened. And I would literally find out what’s on the test in various ways by asking these sort of leading questions. But while it was "effective" in the short term as an adaptation, it was eating away at my soul, because I just felt like a slimy, manipulative person to find a way to survive these situations. And so that was sort of a hidden cost.
Nikki Kinzer: What is so interesting to me about that situation is, and this was before you were actually diagnosed with ADHD, right? So you didn’t know what was going on.
Aron Croft: Yeah. Because I wasn’t diagnosed until 34, right?
Nikki Kinzer: Yeah. Yeah. So part of the people that I work with are college students. And what you just described is exactly what I tell them to go do, but they also know they have ADHD, right, so it’s an accommodation. So what I want them to do is as part of your accommodations, you go talk to the professor and find out what’s going to be on the exams, how you should study, what you’ve been studying, and get that information, and let them know exactly what you’re saying. You really are trying and you want to figure out how to make this work. And a perfect example is I have a person right now who is in a computer science class and he’s not a computer science person, right. And so the first two midterms he had, he didn’t do as well as he wanted to do. Now, I would say he passed. So I’d be like, "Hey, congratulations. You got a C. At least you’re not failing this class," right. But he wanted a better grade. But what his frustration was is that he studied so hard for these two midterms and he wasn’t getting the results that he wanted. And so now for the final that’s coming up in May, he’s doing that. He’s going in, he’s talking to the professor, he’s saying, "This is how I studied before. I don’t know what to do. I don’t want to waste my time. How can you help me?" So it’s just a really interesting point to see the different feelings when you know you have ADHD and when you don’t know you have ADHD, because you felt like you were doing something wrong, right, or slimy, like you said.
Aron Croft: Yeah. And I think the point is valid, right, which is that they were highly effective strategies, right?
Pete Wright: Yeah.
Nikki Kinzer: Right.
Aron Croft: So the strategies and the advice that you’re giving these clients is phenomenal advice. And I think, as you said, the differential is if you know that it’s because you have ADHD and maybe you’re even open with some people about it and you know your strengths and weaknesses, then it’s one thing. If the only explanation that you have is that I’m lazy, think that the rules don’t apply to me, and have no discipline, then when you’re using your charm or whatever adaptations you have to manipulate people to help you because you’re too lazy to do it yourself, that’s where it really starts to create this sort of wear away at your personality and your soul.
Nikki Kinzer: Yeah. Wow. How interesting.
Pete Wright: It is interesting, the whole pivot between compensation and strategy, right, like, "I’m compensating for something and I don’t understand why my brain works this way, so I’m going to do whatever it takes," feels like an act of desperation, even though knowing all the facts beforehand about your own brain, it becomes an actual strategy. Let’s talk a little bit more about that. Like what is it, what are the elements in that you found, and we can sort of stage this in the first time around, the second time around, even the third time around your undergrad that caused the inattentive of your brain to struggle. Maybe we should start with a conversation about your inattentive ADHD.
Aron Croft: So I’d say four things, and I’ve touched on one or two of them already, right? So the disintegration of your old support structure, and then the needing to establish a new one. I didn’t have a good model for establishing a new one. Mine felt a little bit manipulative. And I have some social anxiety and those sorts of things. And so that was a struggle for me. Two, the lack of structure, right, just it’s much more up to your ability to manage your own time versus go to class from these hours, do your homework, because it’s due tomorrow. And also, there’s, there’s just a lot less structure in the assignments. It’s three assignments due in two months each versus a bunch of multiple choice tests at the end of each week.
Pete Wright: Sure.
Aron Croft: And then three is the ability without the oversight to do some things that F up your dopamine, right? So I was drinking a ton. Then I started smoking cigarettes, and then I started using pot and all these things to try to cope with my uncomfortable emotions. But one of the things I always work with my students now on is that we need to cut back on the amount of artificial dopamine overstimulation that we give our brains, because our brains can’t appreciate the dopamine from achieving something personally meaningful, right, like that eudemonia, not the hedonic experience when we’re just blasting them with so much overstimulating stuff. So I’d say that was number three. And I can share number four if you want.
Pete Wright: Share number four and then we’ll dig in.
Speaker 1: Okay. Number four was I didn’t do what I was interested in. So I wanted to do psychology because that’s what I’ve always been interested in. My mom, who was a baby boomer and went to college in the 70s, said, "In the 70s, psychology was just something that you did, it had no practical value in the world at the time," at least to her understanding. "And you end up just blaming your parents for everything in your life." So it was a very Freudian based teaching.
Nikki Kinzer: Right.
Speaker 1: So she’s like, "You’re not going to Harvard and studying a useless degree that’s just going to have you blame us for all the problems in your life." And so we need that interest based desire. And without it, it was just like, "Cool. So you want me to work my butt off, manipulate my way into finding out what’s on the test and getting other more disciplined students to help me so that I can get good grades, so that I can go and work an 80 hour week job that I hate. I’m sorry. Count me out."
Nikki Kinzer: Yeah. Doesn’t sound like a lot of fun. Well, and you bring up a really good point. This doesn’t happen very often, but I do see it. I have seen it in my practice with college students where they are really torn between what mom and dad want and what they want. And so I just think it’s really interesting that you bring that up. I’ve seen it where, "Well, they don’t think this would be a good degree." And then going back to that conversation, "But what is it that you really want to do? What do you want to study?" Because we know with the ADHD brain, if they’re not interested in it, they’re not going to do it or they’re going to avoid it and all those procrastination and all of those issues are going to come really hard and then they’re going to fail the class. And the parents are even more like, "What happened?" It’s just a vicious cycle. So I do, I agree with you 100%, you’ve got to find something you’re interested in and that you’re really passionate about. And it may not be college. It may be something else. And that’s okay.
Pete Wright: Everybody has a different relationship with this experience, but I do have to ask, do you remember the day you received your diagnosis?
Aron Croft: Yeah. Very clearly.
Pete Wright: Tell me about it.
Aron Croft: It was liberating. I had a non-traditional path to a diagnosis. I had experienced ADHD meds shortly before I got diagnosed. And it was in some sense, I realized that this was something that might be affecting me backwards, because the meds made such a difference that then I started researching ADHD. And I think that this is something that happens with a lot of us with inattentive ADHD, the popular conception around ADHD is a Tigger, a five year old boy bouncing off the walls, unruly. And if you had asked me even six months or a year earlier to rate on a scale of one to 100 what my likelihood of having ADHD is, I would’ve put it at a zero. It never would’ve occurred to me because it just always represented these hyper overdone stereotypes.
Pete Wright: Yeah.
Nikki Kinzer: Yeah.
Aron Croft: And so for me, I ended up when my job was on the line and this whole thing, I ended up borrowing some ADHD meds from a friend, which no one should do, but I was desperate. And it was literally just to get through a week of having to stay late at my job so I didn’t get fired. And literally, I took the meds, and this was the first time I wasn’t even aware of ADHD meds. I didn’t try them in college or anything. This was the first time at like 34 years old. And like I just fell, and fell, and fell down this rabbit hole. And I emerged in this parallel universe where I could direct my attention on command to something that wasn’t amazingly interesting, but just because I had to work on it was mind blowing.
Pete Wright: It’s pretty powerful.
Aron Croft: And so, yeah. So then I started researching ADHD, and then I went and had a psychiatrist appointment shortly thereafter. And the diagnosis was, I’d say there were two main things. One was a sense of relief, right. Suddenly a lot more of my background made sense, because I never fully jived with the, I think I’m too good to do it, and I’m lazy, and all these things. I wanted to do the work. I wanted to read the book. It would be a lot less stressful if I just read the thing and could do it. And so I finally had an answer that suddenly everything else made sense. And then secondly, I had this experience, this emotion that I hadn’t felt in a while, and that many people might not be feeling at certain times. And that was hope. I was like, "Wow. I actually, if I can direct my attention at will, maybe, just maybe I could start realizing some of the potential that deep down in my heart and my soul I know that I have, but I’ve been unable to tap it until now."
Nikki Kinzer: That changed your life.
Pete Wright: It’s interesting. It makes me think. I was joking with Melissa, a discord mom in the chat room this morning, about the stage of becoming aware of ADHD medication. And I love your story, because it reminds again, if I have any opportunity I have to bring up the South Park underpants gnomes, I’m going to do it, because these gnomes, they have this business.
Nikki Kinzer: Aron’s like, "I don’t know what you’re talking about," but is ahead with your story.
Pete Wright: This is great. It is. This is exactly why it’s so important to me, underpants gnomes are stealing all of the town’s underpants, and they have this giant mine underground that’s full of mountains of underpants. And they’re asked at one point, "What is your plan with these underpants?" And they put up a chart, like a flow chart, and it says, "Number one, collect underpants. Number two, ?. Number three, profit." Now I adore this story, especially because I think it actually tells a hidden story about ADHD, and specifically meds. My life is falling apart. I don’t know how to do the things that other people know how to do. Step two, I find this magical pill. Step three, profit. Step three is unleashing the skills that I feel like I did know all along. I knew how to direct my attention. I was gated from being able to do it before I had this tiny little accommodation in my brain. And that is a joyous reason to celebrate, because I think it really defines neuro diversity, right. It really defines the thing that is making this brain slightly different from that brain and how slight that difference can unleash massive potential.
Aron Croft: Yeah. I agree. Your description makes me feel like a little bit of a dweeb, because, so I get these meds, right. And I’m like, "Whoa, I can focus on command." And so I was so impressed with myself for being able to not get fired from a job. My family, my mom, literally, you should hear the excitement in her voice when I’ve passed the 12 month mark at a job. You’d think that I just won the state championship or something. She’s like, "Oh, my goodness. I’m so proud of you." It’s a big deal for her and me. So, meanwhile, I’m just like, "Wow, I’m not getting fired. I’m actually getting my work done." And so I thought I was at the pinnacle of my potential. So I was just literally getting home from work every day and smoking weed, eating candy, playing video games. And I did that for well over a year.
Pete Wright: Okay. Okay. Well, I don’t mean to imply that you were in any way a dweeb, but the weed, and the candy, and the video games might have played a part.
Aron Croft: Well, yeah.
Pete Wright: Right, in your ability to really make use of this newfound unlocking of your brain’s potential.
Aron Croft: Well, I think I just had no idea about my own potential. And so I just really thought that holding down a job was the pinnacle of my-
Nikki Kinzer: It was it, right.
Pete Wright: Yeah.
Aron Croft: And I was so impressed with myself, and I was making money, and I could afford the weed and all this stuff, right. And I could afford my own apartment, like wow. And because before that, I was living with my aunt as a single divorcee. And the funny part is, side note, that it’s hilarious in our culture that living with your aunt only sounds about 50% as bad as living with your mom as a man in his 30s. And yet it’s like 99.9% the same exact thing, but I get it.
Nikki Kinzer: Right.
Pete Wright: Right.
Aron Croft: But yeah, I just thought that was the peak of my potential, and I was just so impressed. And then it kind of took over a year for me to be like, "Huh, maybe I can do more than just hold down a job and get blasted every night."
Pete Wright: I want to lean in just a little bit on that, because there are two pieces that strike me. One is that just unlocking your brain’s potential with medication isn’t the whole story, right? The rest of the story is something we’ve talked about many times on this show, which is the ADHD chronological age is different. Like there’s a time warp. We don’t age like other neuro typicals. And so it is possible that what I’m hearing of you, and I don’t want to inappropriately reflect on that, but there was a year of you growing up some more, even as a "stereotype" adult, that there was still room left to grow. Is that fair?
Aron Croft: That’s a really great summation, Pete. Yeah. You’re 100% right. It was very much, it was my first time living on my own without someone else.
Pete Wright: Yeah.
Aron Croft: Because I think a continuation of my strategy was I met a woman in my last year at Harvard, and she was great at getting stuff done and she was great at all the things I was terrible at. And so we formed a fast friendship, right. But I brought some of the emotional support and some of the things that she needed. And so we had this immediate connection, and got married and this whole thing, and it didn’t work out after nine and a half years of marriage, a lot doing to ADHD troubles. And I think what happened there is that not being able to do stuff on my own, as you said, for the first time, I was living on my own, I was having my own apartment. I had to adult, I had to take care of myself. I had to do the grocery shopping. I had to decide what to get up on the week, what time to get up on the weekends. And I really did grow up. And it was a big deal.
Nikki Kinzer: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Pete Wright: Yeah. And some of that might have been cultural. Some of that might have been just contextual, for you’re thrust into a situation where you just, as you say, have to learn to adult. And some of it might have been, your brain was still working on catching up to the rest of your body, and your context, and the world, who knows. But at some point, you woke up. And this is why as we’re talking about education, I’d love i. If you would reflect a little bit on the difference that you experienced in grad school, how do you sort of recontextualize education as now an adult with inattentive ADHD?
Aron Croft: Yeah. So there was three things. So firstly, I went back to grad school before I was diagnosed with ADHD and before I knew that. But three things were there that made it a difference. So one is, I went for coaching psychology. So I went to what I was interested in. And so I’ve always been reading psychology books, self help, neuroscience, anything to try to figure out mostly just how to help myself, right. Because I didn’t understand why I couldn’t do things that I wanted to do. That just doesn’t make sense to me. How can you want to do something and not be able to get yourself to do it? Like how many people are involved here, right? So that confused me. And so one, I was doing something that I was already super interested in. Two, I was looking to rewrite the story a little bit in my head, almost have a bit of a redemption after the sugar show that was Harvard, and dropping out twice and all that. And so that was number two. And then number three was because it’s basically like a master’s degree, it’s going to basically life coaching school, but it’s under an academic banner. And because of that topic matter, there was a lot more doing in the coursework. It wasn’t just about book knowledge, because what I’ve discovered with myself, and with clients, and with a lot of those ADHD’ers is our gap isn’t knowing what to do. We have been ingesting information, listening to podcasts, watching YouTube videos, reading books, listening to audio books. We are flooded with all sorts of great strategies, tips, things that we should do. Where we fall down is in the doing. And because it was a much more doing oriented program, I got a chance to overcome that gap.
Nikki Kinzer: It’s interesting with inattentive ADHD, too, something that I’ve noticed, and I don’t know if you, I’m getting the sense that maybe you did notice this, part of the thing I think is so confusing about getting diagnosed with ADHD when you’re inattentive is I know with my own experience with my daughter, teachers didn’t believe it because she’s so smart. So there’s this academic piece that’s really confusing because you can have, like you even mentioned this earlier about you can really take tests really well, so you could get the information, get the test done, and you would be done. So can you expand just a little bit more about the inattentive part, not just so much on education, but just in life in general, like even now as a coach, like inattentive ADHD, what makes that different?
Aron Croft: Yeah. It’s a great question, Nikki, and I appreciate the opportunity. So firstly, to your first point around your daughter, I think that’s actually one of the biggest hurdles to proper diagnosis today that there was time when they taught physicians and other mental health professionals that can diagnose that there needs to be a significant impairment in life in the sense that if they’ve been able to pull off good grades, then they can’t have ADHD. And I’ve seen that with a lot of people in my audience. They’ll post that sort of thing. Like, "Well, I went to get a diagnosis, but so and so said because I have a master’s degree, I couldn’t have ADHD.
Pete Wright: Oh, my goodness.
Aron Croft: Yeah, and it’s so it’s so troubling and so saddening. And so I definitely had that experience. The psychiatrist who diagnosed me was like, "I’m sorry, how did you survive until 34 years old given all these things?" And I just said, "Right, adaptations compensation, workarounds."
Pete Wright: Yeah.
Nikki Kinzer: You coped.
Aron Croft: I coped. And so that was one. But then in terms of the inattentive, so I think what’s really interesting, and part of me kind of hopes that over time, we’ll move more towards a split model around ADHD, back to before the DSM3R and the DSM4 when they lumped it all under ADHD. Because if you imagine at the one end of the spectrum with hyperactive impulsive, right, you’ve got all this energy, you’ve got this impulsiveness, possibly more this extroversion gregariousness, whatever it is, this energy. And so my clients that I’ve worked with that have hyperactive impulsive side, getting stuff done is not really a challenge for them. It’s reigning in their brain and stopping just the cycling. But if they’ve got 10 things to do on their to do list, like man, they can move through a lot of these things. And so what happens when we hear descriptions of ADHD in the media or people that are focused on combined or just the hyperactive side is that a lot of us inattentive can feel like, "Is that really me? Do I really have ADHD? Are they talking about me?" And so one of the main differences that I’ve noticed is that for a lot of us inattentive type or the combined that have the inattentive presentations there is just the ability to get stuff done, the ability to take an intention and follow through to the completion of it, right. And that is one of the absolute biggest things, while that certainly comes up with the other presentations, it’s not nearly as pronounced.
Nikki Kinzer: So how do you deal with that now? Because you have a coaching business.
Aron Croft: Yep.
Nikki Kinzer: You have a YouTube channel, you’re doing a lot of stuff in the ADHD community. How do you manage your inattentive ADHD yourself?
Aron Croft: This was really life changing for me. So the short answer is that I made productivity on tough tasks a habit. And so let me expand on that a little bit.
Nikki Kinzer: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Aron Croft: What holds all of our goals back is what I call tough tasks. Those are the tasks that we want to procrastinate on that are difficult for our brains. And when we don’t differentiate tough tasks from the minutia, we then spend our energy pell-mell. And the email you need to follow up on or this thing or that thing, that’s not what’s keeping you from getting promoted. That’s not what’s keeping you from starting a side hustle or growing your business. It’s those tough tasks that people avoid that really stand in the way. And so one was I minimized my ask for myself to productivity for just 8% of my day, because I am so stubborn and oppositional that I refuse to stick to any program that puts me in a box and asks me to be super disciplined all the time. So I said, "Okay, great." These tough tasks are kind of that 80/20. These are the ones that are really going to push the needle forward. And so I said, "Okay, I’m going to focus on those. And I’m going to put all my energy and mind on that. Then I’m going to build a habit around it." And that for me was life changing. But what I’ve noticed is that the traditional productivity programs that are out there in the mass market aren’t made for ADHD’ers.
Nikki Kinzer: So true.
Aron Croft: So I have started, tried, and dropped Steven Covey’s productivity time management system, David Allen’s Getting Things Done, Brendon Burchard’s, Tony Robbins, Cal Newport’s and Time Boxing. And yeah. And so it’s just we end up with these productivity systems that don’t work for us. And what I’ve started teaching people is that we were taught this neuro typical productivity system, which I summarize with three slogans, right. Just do it, no pain, no gain, and it’s not that hard.
Nikki Kinzer: Yeah. Oh, boy.
Aron Croft: And we’ve all heard those things, right. And the reality is that if you don’t have ADHD at some level, those kind of work, and you’re like, "Okay, cool. I’m just going to just do it," right. And you just get your stuff done. But obviously with ADHD’ers, that doesn’t work. And so I’ve looked at those three slogans and built a three step framework that kind of counteracts those for what tends to work with ADHD brains.
Nikki Kinzer: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Pete Wright: Are you going to share the steps?
Aron Croft: Sure. Yeah. Happy to. So I’m the just do it piece, right, a lot of us think like, "If I’m just motivated enough, if I just have enough motivation, if I just have enough desire, that should translate to action," right. And the reality is, though, that lack of motivation or the ability to follow through with a ADHD is not caused by a lack of desire, willpower, and discipline, right. It’s just a neurochemical thing, right. And so instead of that, right, all of us kick into gear when? When someone expects something from us soon.
Nikki Kinzer: Yeah. Right, external motivators.
Pete Wright: Yeah.
Aron Croft: Exactly. And so the first step of the framework is just people power, that we perform when there is short term accountability, right. And you guys have your accountability anchors. And so I think anyone that’s running successful ADHD programs understands the need for this, right?
Pete Wright: Yeah.
Nikki Kinzer: Yeah.
Aron Croft: And, but a lot of us don’t do it, right. And why don’t we do it? Because growing up, accountability sucked.
Nikki Kinzer: Yeah.
Aron Croft: But accountability sucked because it wasn’t our goal. We had ineffective tools like just do it, and we were shamed and criticized for not doing it.
Nikki Kinzer: Right.
Aron Croft: And so that made us think that short term accountability to other people was bad. The accountability wasn’t the problem, those variables were. And as adults, we can flip those variables and really leverage the idea of motivating accountability. So the first step is just people power.
Nikki Kinzer: Love that.
Aron Croft: So step two, around the no pain, no gain is that there’s so much talk about this, no pain, no gain. And that if you really want something, you just need to put your nose to the grindstone and grit it out and do this whole thing, right. And there’s this whole hustle culture and this whole thing that really-
Nikki Kinzer: If you really care, you’ll make time for it. Right. I hate that.
Pete Wright: Oh, my God. Whoever said that has no idea that living with ADHD and wanting to do something hurts all the time anyway.
Nikki Kinzer: Yeah.
Aron Croft: Yeah, exactly. And so the second part of the framework is just easy prevails. So what happens is that the law of least effort, right.
Pete Wright: Yeah, I love it.
Aron Croft: It was first created by Deepak Chopra and then popularized again in Atomic Habits, by James Clear. But the reality is that we are drawn to do the things that take the least amount of effort. And what happens is in this no pain, no gain brainwashing, we think that it’s cheating to make things easier for us. We think it’s cheating to do something that comes naturally to us and that we enjoy doing. We think it’s cheating to use some of the strategies that you’re talking about, Nikki, and that I used, where you don’t have to be great at everything. You’re allowed to leverage other people. You’re allowed to do the things you’re really good at and delegate or outsource or otherwise partner to fill in your weaknesses. And so that step two is just to start using a lot of tactics to make getting tough tasks done way easier. And that, that’s okay to do.
Nikki Kinzer: I love that. I love that, because I know we see this in our clients is they do sometimes, I say this very nicely, make things harder than they need to and over complicate. And I think that there is this need, what you just said really resonates with almost this guilt that if it’s not hard, I’m not doing it right, so I got to make it harder. And I love that you’re saying, "Wait, no, no, it’s okay to make it easier. That’s what we’re trying to do." So that’s a really great message. I hope people hear that.
Pete Wright: Well, and it goes right in with something we’ve been talking about elsewhere. If it’s really that hard and it’s something that’s really hard to do, there is a class of tasks that are really hard and maybe you don’t need to do them. At least it gives you an opportunity to gut check, "Should this be something that I do or do I really need to rethink how this gets done? And maybe that means it’s not me."
Nikki Kinzer: Okay. So what’s the third one? I’m really excited.
Aron Croft: So the third one, and this one I particularly like, right. So I argue that productivity’s a skill, right. And the way that I define it is just that what you intend to do, you can get yourself to do it, right. If you want to do something, you can get yourself to do it. Cool. So that’s the skill of productivity or the muscle of productivity as you want to call it, right. So here’s the thing, growing up, we were all given these neuro typical slogans, right. That are as good as a can of beans for us, just don’t work, right. And so we suck at the skill of productivity. The skill of, I intend to do this, now I’m going to follow through, especially on the inattentive side, right. So now how do we get better at any skill? How do you improve a skill?
Nikki Kinzer: Practice.
Aron Croft: Perfect. All right. Nikki, gold star points.
Nikki Kinzer: Yay.
Aron Croft: There you go. Right. So we practice, right? There’s only one problem. We are not supposed to be practicing this at our age. We’re supposed to already know how to do stuff.
Pete Wright: There’s heavy air quotes around every word that you just said in my head. "We’re supposed to know how to do stuff." It makes my-
Nikki Kinzer: It’s so true.
Pete Wright: Yeah. It’s so hard to hear that from an outside voice.
Aron Croft: Yeah, exactly, right. And so what most of us attempt to do to resolve this, and I’m speaking from personal experience, right, is we’re given something to do with a date that it’s due. We then suck at going through the process, right. And so we’re behind. And except we know secretly from experience that we can pull it off when panic mode strikes and we can pull off a last minute save. And so what we end up doing is our solution to the fact that we’re not supposed to be practicing this skill as an adult is to basically hide and hope that we’re not found out and hope that we can pull off a last minute save. Here’s the problem with this. It doesn’t give you practice. It’s like trying to drive with a blindfold. You actually have no idea what’s working and not, what turning the wheel a few degrees works. And so you can’t actually get better at the skill of productivity. So you stay stuck at that level. And so the third part in the framework is we need a special kind of practice, and that’s pressure free practice. The reality is that it’s a very pressure-full skill to learn, right. If you’re going to commit to do something publicly, like you tell your spouse, or you tell your boss that you’re going to do something, and you don’t follow through, there is a big reputational consequence. There’s other consequences that can come along. And so it’s not fair to ask somebody to get good at a skill by throwing them into a live game, throwing them into the Super Bowl. And so what we need, but we need to find an environment, right, like your accountability anchors, other environments where we can practice the skill of productivity in a pressure free environment with other ADHD’ers who understand our challenges and who appreciate our wins. Because that’s the only way that you can learn. Back to the driving analogy, the driving blindfolded, driving is a complex skill with a lot of pressure, right? If you do it wrong, you’re going to get in an accident. You’re going to die, whatever. And so there’s a whole process to provide pressure free practice, which is driving permits, supervised learning. Even those funny triangles that go on the top of driving school cars, if you have that experience, you don’t have to learn it on your own. You don’t have to do it on your own. You have support, you have someone there that’s guiding you. And in the absence of that as my 15 years of trying and starting and failing every different productivity system that I could find showed me, it’s really hard to do on our own without that pressure free practice environment to hone our skill and our muscle.
Nikki Kinzer: Wow. That’s great.
Pete Wright: It is. I was reflecting on this not long ago, we were listening to a story of a fantastic pianist who’s a concert level pianist. And she was reflecting on her experience of the piano. And I share an experience because I play the piano, too. And I had a very similar experience where you get to this point in your practice where the demands of practice from parents, from piano teachers, from teachers at school, music teachers at school, the demands on the daily hours long exercises, that pressure becomes so great that it becomes too easy to find the way out in my brain, right. It’s way too easy to find the way out, because it damages the thing that I’m practicing toward. It damages my desire for music. And then I was awash for many years, and didn’t practice, and didn’t play until some trigger, some as our friend, Dr. Dodge, continues to remind us, there is a readiness for change. And that was, "Oh, I do remember I love music." And then practice changes. Then practice becomes directed, then practice becomes effortless, right. It becomes pressure free because it’s pulling me in a direction, not pushing me in a direction, which is-
Aron Croft: I feel like… Yeah, sorry, finish your thought.
Pete Wright: No, no, go ahead. I’m listening.
Aron Croft: I was just going to say I feel like I really want you to break out a piano now.
Nikki Kinzer: Right? I do, too. I think the end of the show should be Pete practicing on the piano. Totally. And then we need to get a picture of Aron driving his car.
Pete Wright: Yeah. Right. 100%.
Aron Croft: Exactly.
Pete Wright: Exactly. That’s it.
Nikki Kinzer: Thank you so much for being here and sharing your story and sharing these great ideas, too, about how to think differently about productivity and talking about inattentive ADHD. We covered a lot in this show.
Pete Wright: We covered a lot, yeah. Yeah, we really did.
Nikki Kinzer: And we appreciate you being here so much. Thank you so much for taking the time to share you with our audience. We appreciate it.
Aron Croft: It’s just a dream come true. And I’m so grateful and appreciate you and Pete and the whole team, right. And so the other thing, too, is can we just in the audience take a moment to acknowledge you guys have been running this podcast since what, 2010?
Pete Wright: Yeah. Something right around there.
Nikki Kinzer: Yeah.
Aron Croft: Can we just all take a moment to appreciate how amazing that is? The stick to it-iveness, and the consistency, and the commitment, that is hard for anyone’s brains, let alone an ADHD brain. And I just want to acknowledge both of you and the team, because that really is remarkable.
Nikki Kinzer: Thank you.
Pete Wright: It was very kind.
Nikki Kinzer: Thank you so much.
Pete Wright: Yeah, thank you very much.
Nikki Kinzer: It’s very, very kind.
Pete Wright: That’s really great.
Nikki Kinzer: Really appreciate that. Yeah.
Pete Wright: I’m so glad we had this conversation. I’m so glad that you agreed to join us. And I hope this is not the last time we talk. I’m sure we will be able to manufacture some other things to talk about on this show.
Nikki Kinzer: Oh, yeah.
Pete Wright: Thank you everyone for downloading and listening to this show. We sure appreciate you, and your time, and your attention. I’m going to go ahead and put links to everything Aron does in the show notes. Make sure you check those out, but I will go ahead and pitch if this is the right place, check me Aron, HiddenADHD.com.
Aron Croft: Yeah. And you can just search HiddenADHD on Google and you can come up with our TikTok, which has over 100,000 people. And the whole point it’s hidden, just because you have inattentive, it goes under the radar. And you can check out our website. I’ve got a half hour long master class where I kind of walk through that three step framework in more detail. So would welcome you to check it out.
Pete Wright: We love spreading the word of great communities that are beyond our own. Please check out Aaron’s communities, especially TikTok because we don’t trek there at all, really.
Nikki Kinzer: Especially TikTok. We’re never going to be on TikTok.
Pete Wright: No, we’re not a TikTok community. So definitely check out Aron’s TikTok.
Aron Croft: I can definitely see Nikki doing some dances
Nikki Kinzer: Oh, gosh.
Pete Wright: So can I. I’m just saying it’s out there.
Nikki Kinzer: I know.
Pete Wright: A pressure free practice. Thank you for your time and attention, everybody.
Nikki Kinzer: Pressure free practice on TikTok.
Pete Wright: Don’t forget, if you have something to contribute to this conversation, we’re heading over to the show talk channel on our Discord server. And you can join us right there by becoming a supporting member at the deluxe level. On behalf of Nikki Kinzer and Aron Croft, I’m Pete Wright, and we’ll see you right back here next week on Taking Control, the ADHD podcast.