Why Your ADD/ADHD May Be a Gift and Not a Disorder

The American Psychiatric Association (APA) says that approximately 5% of American children have ADD/ADHD, while the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) more than double that number and say the reality is about 11%.

But what if, for a select number of these individuals, there is something else there? What if there is something beyond the diagnosis?

In Doug Brackmann and Randy Kelley’s new book, Driven: Understanding and Harnessing the Genetic Gifts Shared by Entrepreneurs, Navy SEALs, Pro Athletes… and Maybe You! the two authors delve into how specific genetic traits are often categorized as a disorder but may be biological hardwiring that, if given the right environment, can set one up for immense success.

In a world where more and more children are being coined with a “disorder,” this genetic variance may be anything but. Have you ever wondered how some people are able to become CEOs, pro athletes, and incredibly successful people? How their brain works and why everyone that puts in the effort can’t just rise to the top? Brackmann and Kelley explore the concept of “Highly Driven” individuals— those who are the entrepreneurs, inventors, elite athletes, and big thinkers. Those who, though only 10% of the population, make up most of the world’s wealth. However, Brackmann, a PhD Psychologist, and Kelley, a former Navy SEAL sniper and martial artist, have been working with Highly Driven individuals for years and have seen incredible results from working with honing these skills that are biologically present in only a few.

Driven: Understanding and Harnessing the Genetic Gifts Shared by Entrepreneurs, Navy SEALs, Pro Athletes… and Maybe You! explains that the research done on patients with ADD/ADHD simply tells differences between groups with and without ADD/ADHD rather than why there are differences or any evolutionary benefits for these differences. Because of this, it is easy to differentiate people with ADD/ADHD and characterize it as a defect. However, there are actually benefits to these traits and many of them are considered maladaptive, meaning they are beneficial to survive in a dangerous world.

In their book, Brackmann and Kelley explain that the difference that some people are experiencing, that everyone tells them is bad, is actually good. That they possess an evolutionary advantage that challenges survival. An advantage that can result in a remarkable set of gifts and talents that, if understood and nurtured, can result in the most successful and creative individuals— the Highly Driven.

Driven explores psychotherapist and entrepreneur Thom Hartmann’s theory for understanding ADD/ADHD and his book The Edison Gene. While Harmann’s theory was initially met with skepticism from drug companies, scientists, and mental health professionals, he has since received an apology from the psychiatric community for their initial reaction to his model. A global study compared genes across the human species and compared the genomes of traditional hunting culture and traditional farming tribes. The study found 23 statistically significant differences in the DNA between the two groups. Historically, the hunter’s skills were paramount for survival. When the agricultural revolution came about, society shifted towards a much safer world, where food was far more predictable and the hunter’s skills and abilities were not as crucial anymore. While for the most part humans adapted to their new environment and evolutionary change occurred, for some, it did not.

The book goes on further to explain the difference between the Driven brain’s use of the frontal lobe and how that affects their abilities. Non Driven people have frontal lobe dominance, whereas the Driven brain have hypo-frontality, with an underactive frontal lobe but greater occipital dominance. This means that the Driven use the occipital lobe more to navigate the world, depending mainly on visual stimuli to make sense of the world around them. As Brackmann and Kelley state in Driven, the Highly Driven, “see first, and think second.” While split second decisions used to be necessary to survival in the pre-agrarian times of the predator vs. its prey, this dominance of the occipital lobe opens up the frontal lobe in the Driven so that they have the ability to consider multiple variables simultaneously.

Imagine a computer, able to simultaneously run multiple browser tabs and applications. While one program is running in the background, you are still able to focus on another, neither ceasing their work. The Driven are able to see connections between multiple concepts and come up with innovative solutions to problems and see how something could work in ways that others cannot. This example is a gift that the Driven possess that is often associated with ADD/ADHD and is thought of negatively. However, neither is wrong and the differences between different types of people are good; they are what make us who we are. But in a world where individuals who possess these rare and wonderful skills are often looked down upon, it is crucial to properly understand the wiring of the Driven and why these skills are nothing to be ashamed of. In fact, what makes the Driven unique, what is often thought of as a disorder, is what also enables them to change the world.

But what causes these changes? Why can some people be satisfied with a typical nine to five job while others cannot seem to stay focused long enough? Why for some, does a normal job sound like their version of hell? Why have some people held on to these traits that are needed to survive in a much more dangerous world while others have adjusted to our newer, safer environment.

Brackmann and Kelley found that neurobiological research shows that the Driven differ genetically in the way their reward systems function. A genetic mutation possessed by the Driven changes the number of receptors on D2/D4 receptor sites and the way that dopamine is transported between the cells to the reward centers in the brain. This change impacts the feeling of being rewards in the Driven and leads to deficiencies in feeling rewarded. This results in the Driven constantly seeking dopamine and searching to activate the reward system.

“If we believe that the dopamine we crave will eventually come, we may drive ourselves into the ground trying for it, persevering well beyond what any normal person would tolerate.” – Driven: Understanding and Harnessing the Genetic Gifts Shared by Entrepreneurs, Navy SEALs, Pro Athletes… and Maybe You!

The Driven constantly seek success that entices them with promises of fulfillment, and the Driven never quit. This quest is both a strength and a downfall, a way of working hard towards success but a way that may ultimately leave us drained and feeling unsatisfied.

While there are many aspects that Brackmann and Kelley have discovered regarding the Highly Driven, remember that each topic is important to understand properly in order to fully unlock the potential of the Driven brain. As we dive into these topics further in the future, I encourage you to all read through the upcoming novel Driven: Understanding the Mastery of the Genetic Gifts Shared by Entrepreneurs, Navy SEALs, Pro Athletes… and Maybe You and ask yourselves if you may indeed be one of the few— a Highly Driven person.

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