posted on November 05, 2012 14:21
A Tool for Enhancing Executive Function
by Bob Hathcock, ACG
A GOOD ARGUMENT CAN BE MADE THAT ADHD should be renamed
executive function disorder. Mind mapping is a superior tool for not
only filling in for our executive function deficits but also for
enhancing our extraordinary abilities—such as creativity,
out-of-the-box thinking, and being able to "see" the big picture in our
minds. So how does mind mapping help us to overcome the deficits that
are common with the ADHD brain? Let’s start with an introduction
to mind mapping and its evolution, and then discuss common traits that
often hold us back and how they can be mitigated with this practice.
The goal of mind mapping is to get a clear picture of the subject in
question by writing down your ideas in a graphical representation.
Leonardo da Vinci is credited with being a pioneer in using mind maps,
but it was not until the 1960s, when a set of rules was created, that
mind mapping became widely used in high school, college, and business.
Now, with evolving computer software innovations such as TheBrain 7,
mind mapping can be useful for everything from organizing complex
thoughts and collaborating with coworkers to revolutionizing computer
file storage and retrieval. (You can download a free version of TheBrain
7 at thebrain.com.) An Internet search for mind mapping
will yield seemingly endless style examples, software reviews, and
advice on how to get started.
By mapping out your thoughts in the following five-step process, you can
better utilize the capabilities of your brain and some of its
extraordinary but seldom-used capacities.
Choose an interesting topic and draw an image to represent
it. Let your ideas break out freely and write them down without
editing. Some ideas that may seem absurd now could later be the key to
the best solution later.
Now create a new mind map from these ideas by categorizing them
and begin to draw connections between the thoughts.
Take a break. The brain will often make sudden
unexpected realizations when you are at rest, running, meditating, or
With your fresh perspective, add a new burst of ideas.
This time integrate all of the thoughts and try to create the final
comprehensive mind map.
With the comprehensive mind map completed, look for realizations,
clarity, and superior solutions.
So how can this process make significant inroads into problems
associated with a deficit in executive function? Let's look at a few of
the more problematic traits associated with ADHD.
deficits: Some excellent studies have shown that in people with
ADHD, working memory is impaired by an insufficiency of neuroreceptors
and neurotransmitters resulting in what Ari Tuckman, PsyD, MBA, calls
"blinky working memories which leads to a variety of problems in their
daily lives." By downloading all of our "mind’s RAM" onto the mind
map, we assure that ideas are not forgotten, thereby resulting in better
solutions and choices.
Russell A. Barkley, PhD, contends that being able to pause rather than
automatically react to stimuli is the key to making good decisions.
Because people with ADHD have trouble creating that pause and have
trouble filtering out external and internal stimuli, they often react in
unpredictable ways, which can lead to what looks like bad judgment. The
mind mapping process adds the "pause to reflect” back into the
decision, leading to more optimal decisions.
maps can be used to create weekly or daily to-do lists which can be
drawn or printed out and checked off so that things that you wanted to
do don't get pushed aside by distractions. For instance, you could
create a checklist of all the things that keep you healthy and then keep
score each day to chart your progress. By reminding yourself of things
you want to do, it helps establish good habits that create order in your
This process helps maintain focus on the person speaking rather than
feeling the need to interrupt because you fear that you will lose the
thought before you get a chance to speak.
So, how can this boost the positive aspects inherent with the ADHD
Mind mapping can be a boon for kinesthetic learners. By using colored
pencils and doing mind maps on paper or a whiteboard, they create a very
pleasing format that appeals to their tactile sensitivities.
Mind maps that are built to encourage collaboration in the workplace or
at a family meeting can give the person with ADHD an opportunity to
visually explain, in a nonlinear way, how he or she reached a conclusion
and avoid being misunderstood.
Creative thinking is significantly enhanced by the five-step process
delineated above because it engages the entire mind. It encourages the
creative, open-minded perspective of the right side of the frontal
cortex and facilitates pausing in order to allow the rational left side
to consider the consequences of the decision. People with ADHD need
additional time to connect with the various parts of the brain where
memory is stored, so by institutionalizing a time to reflect, the mind
map facilitates the use of the whole brain.
The beauty of adding this tool to your bag of tricks is that you can
ease into it. Start by using it for one purpose, such as facilitating a
meeting or working with an ADHD coach. You can then experiment with it
to find additional ways to enrich your daily life. The step-by-step
process of finding these additional uses could, one day, result in your
realizing what many of the people I interviewed for this article meant
when they said, "I can't imagine how my life would be without mind maps.
I simply couldn't function without them."
Bob Hathcock, ACG, is the founder of ADDventure Coaching (addventurecoaching.com), which
combines ADHD coaching with outdoor adventures for adolescents, college
students, and adults. He is certified by the Edge Foundation as an Edge
Coach and is the ADHD columnist for Examiner.com. Hathcock organizes the Upstate Adult
ADHD Support Group and is active in his local CHADD chapter in South
This article originally appeared in the August 2012 issue of
Attention magazine. Copyright © 2012 by Children and
Adults with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD). All rights
reserved. No portion of this article may be reproduced without written
permission from CHADD.