Like every else who has ever lived, I have difficulty focusing and controlling my behavior. These conditions make schoolwork challenging.
When I learned about a medication that would alleviate my symptoms of humanity, I became intrigued. Borrowing a few pills from a friend with a prescription, I discovered that Adderall does help you finish your schoolwork. I had to get my own prescription.
After taking a battery of psychological tests to confirm that I do not have the prodigious ability to remain unremitting focus for long periods of time, I soon had a prescription of my own.
Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive, but to be on Adderall was very heaven! For several happy years I lived in ADHD medication nirvana. No matter how egregious my procrastination nor late my bedtime, I needed only to exercise a whimper of will sufficient to roll over, pop a pill in my mouth, and swallow. Then the chemicals took over. Within minutes I would feel that delicious energy, familiar to all my fellow users of amphetamines, coursing through my body.
Pop! Pop! Pop! One to-do item after another would leap into my mind.
Pop! Write essay outline!
Pop! Organize desk drawer!
Pop! Do class reading!
Pop! But first do essay outline!
Essay outline done! What next… Pop! Opening paragraph! Go!
It seemed like a bargain. 8 hours of will at $2 a pill… that’s only 25¢ an hour!
Over time, I came to recognize that using Adderall costs more than the price of a prescription. It exacts a toll in foregone maturity.
As I have alluded to in my somewhat cheeky references above, problems focusing and controlling one’s behavior rank among the most pervasive and enduring of human struggles. Everyone faces this challenge, and a large part of growing up involves developing strategies and lifestyle habits that empower you to overcome the resistance that permeates all of our lives.
The development of such a capacity, I believe, separates the men and women who lead lives of consequence from the great mass of those destined to travel in the obscure walk of laborious life. This realization motivated my decision to give up the ADHD meds—to stop applying a chemical Band-Aid to what is in reality a philosophical problem.
When I stopped taking the pills, I could begin to identify real solutions. As you might expect, they are unsexy.
First and foremost, I now get enough sleep—no fewer than eight hours a night. A smart guy once said, “Early to bed and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise.” He was completely right. Try waking up before dawn one day. You will accomplish more than you believed yourself capable of.
Next, I try to eat foods that make me feel energetic and avoid foods that induce lethargy. Good: vegetables, fruits, whole wheat, low-fat meats. Bad: salt, simple carbohydrates, fatty meats, anything with sugar.
Third, I try to avoid excessive drinking. Give two weeks of sobriety a try some time. You might be pleasantly surprised by what you can accomplish when your brain has not been soaked in poison.
Fourth, I do not smoke marijuana. Marijuana wreaks havoc on your ability to concentrate. We have won the culture war on weed. No one says it will turn you into a murderous zombie any more. This means that we can now have a grown up conversation about the drug’s negative effects. Weed shortens your attention span. It makes you feel okay about neglecting your responsibilities. It impairs your focus.
Fifth, I exercise regularly. I lift weights three days a week and I do cardio regularly. Exercising in the morning is an investment that pays dividends in enhanced focus throughout the day.
Sixth, I never stop moving. Inertia applies to humans. If you feel tired, you do not need to take a break, you just need to do something different.
Finally, I have endeavored to take control of my mind. This is both the hardest and also the most important step. In brief, the condition of having an endless stream of random thoughts and impulses coursing through your mind is completely unacceptable. The Buddhists have a lot to say about this, as do Christian monastics. If you will listen, they have good advice to share.
This might all sound like a terrible drag. I would not deny that the path of virtue entails sacrifice. Staying sober and maintaining a regular bedtime require you to forego some social opportunities. However, to the extent that I have made progress, I can assure you that the rewards of virtue vastly surpass what you would have to give up.
Ultimately, we all choose the life we lead. If you will find contentment skating from one assignment to the next on the thin ice of Adderall induced synthetic will, pausing to squander precious mortal moments “reading” some inconsequential listicle on buzzfeed or slurping up the sugary pseudo-literary soda of a Netflix drama, before switching to evening chemicals that get you “wrecked”, “stoned”, or “trashed”, then disregard my advice. On the other hand, if you think or hope there may be something more to life, then I encourage you to consider how you might gain mastery of your will without relying on speed pills.