The Disorganized Mind, Book Summary

The Disorganized Mind, a guide to self-coaching for adults with ADHD, is, as the author states, a book about the possibility of “taking control, maintaining control, and loving the way you live.” It is more than theory and promise, however, for Nancy Ratey provides anecdotal evidence of the power of coaching and the implementation of specific strategies to change both her own life and the lives of her clients.

“One of the most powerful gifts my father gave to me,” Ms. Ratey writes, “was the ability to analyze…my own actions and behaviors, the ones I was always repeating and that simultaneously got me into trouble…so that I could answer the questions he continually posed: ‘What can you do to prevent this in the future? What strategies can you use? What can you anticipate will get in your way? How will you know when you are getting off track?’ ”

It was those questions, the author believes, that provided the framework for coping with the ADHD that “once might have devastated” her, but that has “translated into [her] life’s passion and work: Helping others with ADHD cope.”

Part 1, a testament to the life-changing effects of outcome-based strategies to compensate for ADHD, details the struggles and eventual triumphs in Ms. Ratey’s journey from child to coach. At the heart of the book, indeed at the heart of the author’s life, are the lessons she has carried with her from her earliest years. “The demands my father made on me,” she states, “and the questions he had me asking myself are now the hallmark of my coaching style.”

And according to her clients, it’s a style that reaps rewards. “The coach’s questions are always designed to get me moving,” one says. “I sometimes ask myself, ‘Who in their right mind would pay for this torture?’… But in the very next thought, I am always grateful that I have found someone to get me from point A to point B without judgment.” Readers encounter questions designed to get them moving, too, as they complete coaching goals and abilities worksheets based on their specific needs, and map out strategies for “attaining the control that seems so elusive now.”

Although Ms. Ratey’s A-N-S-W-E-R to discovering how to compensate for ADHD symptoms is outlined in Part 1, it is in Part 2 that readers discover just how effective it can be. To illustrate how the A-N-S-W-E-R works for specific ADHD symptoms, the author presents in this section five client stories, each highlighting a different ADHD problem and specific strategies to address it. “I want you to see, in depth, how real strategies are applied to real problems,” she writes. “I hope that by recognizing yourself in any of the descriptions that follow, you’ll learn something about changing your own life.”

But there’s no magic, she’s quick to point out. “We who have ADHD struggle to keep our symptoms from controlling us. It’s all about the structures we build. It’s all about the strategies we create.” And in response to the many requests she’s received from former clients to “give us as many new strategies as you can,” Ms. Ratey devotes Part 3 of the book to “strategies for aspects of balanced living that were not covered earlier…a guide not only to getting through mundane details of daily living but also to enriching the spiritual side of who you are.”

Because families and co-workers also “have a stake in learning how to compensate for the ADHD symptoms that threaten to tear relationships apart,” the author has wisely ended the book with words to and from those “true experts in the nitty-gritty details of being on the other end of the stick. Granted, I have experience and training and expertise in coaching individuals with ADHD,” she admits, “and I live each day as a woman with ADHD, so there’s much I know about the subject. But what I have learned from all those to whom I have spoken – spouses, partners, children, assistants – also deserves to be shared.”

As the book demonstrates, ADHD can exaggerate or exacerbate issues that exist in any personal or professional relationship, but as one client’s spouse said, “It doesn’t have to spell the end of things.”

The Disorganized Mind makes a compelling case that readers can work with their strengths, not against them, to live a fulfilling life. “My sincere hope is that this book can become for you a way to start over,” the author concludes, “to leave behind the cycle of pain and discouragement your ADHD symptoms have caused, so that you can take control of your time, your tasks, and your talents.”

In other words, she says, “May coaching, or self-coaching, enable you to begin again, now, a new habit of living a life you love.”