My Fellow Distractoids,
Studies show that coaching is very effective in helping people with ADHD minimize the harmful effects of the condition. For instance, a recent ADDitude Magazine study showed that it was the most effective treatment besides exercise: i.e. more effective than medication, therapy, neural feedback, etc. In fact, I consider anyone who has not at least tried medication and received coaching from a trained professional very likely to be seriously under-treated.
So what are some of the biggest benefits of ADHD Coaching?
- Education: A good ADHD coach can look at your life through “an ADHD lens” and help you understand all the ways ADHD is playing out in your life. It’s hard, maybe even impossible, to make positive change if you don’t understand the nature of the problem.
- Accountability: Whether it’s a weekly coaching session or a quick text, coaching provides structure and a place to be accountable. In essence, it is a form of “external motivation” many of us need to get and stay on track.
- ADHD-Friendly Solutions to Common Problems: A coach can help you identify and implement practical systems, habits, behaviors, methods of support etc. designed to help with various symptoms and impairments of ADD.
- Feedback On Your Diagnosis and Medication: Coaching can help you through the often daunting process of getting a proper diagnosis and deciding how to handle issues of medication.
- Making Plans, Pursuing Goals, and Getting Stuff Done: Making smart goals, motivation, procrastination, prioritizing tasks, following through, getting distracted, wasting time, and on and on: these are all issues for ADDers. Coaching provides a framework to pursue and achieve what otherwise might take more time or even never get done.
- Improve Relationships: All too often ADHD is a relationship killer. Mitigating the harmful effects of ADD on relationships is one of the most beneficial functions a coach can perform.
My Fellow Distractoids,
One main attribute of an unreconstructed Distractoid is frequent payment of the “ADHD Tax.” Masters of Distraction (MODS), on the other hand, rarely have to pony up to “The Man.”
At this point you might ask, “What the hell is the ADHD tax?” Answer: it’s the price you pay for costly mistakes due to symptoms of ADHD. Some obvious examples are parking and traffic tickets, late fees, high interest debt (i.e. credit cards), and low credit score (leading to higher interest debt, inability to get loans, problems renting apartments and buying cars, etc.). Sound familiar?
But get this: those are only perhaps the most common examples. The hidden ADHD Tax can be much much higher. In fact the hidden ADHD Tax is not measured in dollars: it’s measured in wasted time, physical well being, mental health, personal freedom (vs. incarceration), and — yes — years on your life.
Here’s a statistic that got my attention: People with ADHD have a lifespan that’s up to thirteen years shorter than people who don’t have ADHD.* Given that perhaps 5% of the population in the US has ADHD, this constitutes a national health crisis.
Why is this the case? Part of the answer is a higher prevalence of accidents, like fatal car crashes and workplace mishaps. But another reason is long-term behavior that people with under-treated and untreated ADHD are prone to: poor diet, poor sleep, lack of exercise, neglect of health and dental care, and so on. This population has higher rates of diabetes, obesity, smoking, use of drugs and alcohol, and so on. I don’t know for sure, but I’m making an educated guess that ADDers also pay consequences for things like neglecting preventive care — timely colonoscopy and Pap smears, for instance — and failure to take important medications to prevent things like heart disease and stroke.
When looked at from this perspective, it’s clear that ADHD is a much, much more profoundly destructive condition than generally understood. Let me say it another way: ADHD is a killer.
So, I say know the price of remaining a Distractoid. Know that the ADHD Tax is no laughing matter. The ADHD Tax is very high indeed.
It’s beyond the scope of this post to go into all the ways of living ADHD Tax-free. For now, take a few steps to avoid the really harsh versions of the ADHD Tax. Be sure you are current with doctor and dental appointments. Address any minor health problems that have the potential of growing into something much worse. Remember, the ADHD brain favors what is interesting and urgent over what is important. And what’s more important than your health?
And as always …
My Fellow Distractoids,
Are you living in a state of Chronic Overwhelm? That’s when the tasks of normal life — not some acute, temporary situation like losing your keys, phone, and wallet all on the same day — are too much to manage. It’s when our executive functions don’t have the bandwidth to deal day-to-day. The result: high levels of anxiety and frustration, the constant feeling of always playing defense, the constant fear of something falling through the cracks, loss of confidence, and the sense of being ground down and defeated by life.
Often, Distractoids have been experiencing Chronic Overwhelm for years, without recognizing the seriousness of the situation or figuring out how to get a grip on life. Masters of Distraction recognize Overwhelm and know how to get relief.
Think of Overwhelm as like a juggler keeping a number of balls in the air. Say this juggler can keep seven balls going. But what happens when the the eighth ball is added? The juggler doesn’t just juggle a little worse: no, the juggler is suddenly overwhelmed, and all the balls go everywhere. Being in Chronic Overwhelm is like living with balls going in every direction.
So, what can we do about Chronic Overwhelm? Here are eight things to consider:
1. Reduce commitments and responsibilities by cutting out non-essential actions unless they are joyful and fun. Until you get a handle, things like coaching little league baseball or volunteering to be treasurer of the local Girl Scouts are probably not good ideas.
2. Become very mindful of any time you are making an agreement that commits you to future actions. Until life settles, answer any claims on your time by either saying “no” or “let me check my schedule and think about that.” Banish the word “yes” as an auto-response to all agreements.
3. Recognize when you are letting perfectionism slow you down. Do you need to spend thirty minutes making a routine email sound “just right” when doing an adequate job only takes five?
4. Reduce procrastination. Are you procrastinating a lot? Recognize that ADD people procrastinate for different reasons: for example, not knowing where to begin, lack of interest in routine tasks, perfectionism, and waiting for pieces of the puzzle to line up exactly are examples. Figure out how you procrastinate and take steps to get more efficiently into action.
5. Put more focus on the nuts and bolts of time management and planning — making sure essential tasks are accounted for and put on your calendar; and, looking at your calendar frequently to help ground you in time. If planning and making a schedule is too difficult or boring to do on your own, get help from family, a friend, an organizer, or coach.
6. Consider the big picture and be realistic. Are there stress factors in your life that are not going away and not sustainable for you to cope with? Are you in a job that overtaxes your executive functions and depletes your energy? Is a toxic relationship at home or work putting constant strain on you? Are there things in your life that you definitely don’t want to be doing for another year?
7. Seek support and broaden your support system. Would hiring a tutor, cleaning lady, professional organizer, assistant, financial manager, or coach make a difference? Too often, ADDers act like the Lone Ranger. Why suffer alone when you can get help?
8. Don’t forget about the importance of fun and relaxation. Chronic overwhelm tends to crowd out fun and leisure. Life is reduced to frustration, anxiety, and soldiering on. And that only makes ADHD symptoms worse. It might be counter-intuitive, but if you feel chronically overwhelmed, life might be telling you that what you really need is an occasional break or even a vacation.
Sometimes, getting out of Chronic Overwhelm is in itself overwhelming. I hope these tools make the process easier. If you try these techniques but still feel like life is out of control, it’s probably a good time to hire a coach. Let’s face it. The stress of being chronically overwhelmed is miserable and debilitating. It’s one of the worst things about out-of-control ADHD.
Taming Chronic Overwhelm is one of the biggest steps a Distractoid can make on the road to becoming a Master of Distraction. It’s not always easy, but you can do it! Good luck!
My Fellow Distractoids,
What do you notice about the content of the thoughts in your head? Are they nice, serene, calming, compassionate, balanced, good-natured, kind, forgiving, wise, and full of gratitude? Didn’t think so!
Distractoids don’t see the thoughts in their heads for what they are — repetitive, judgmental, ego-driven noise that lead to anxiety and icky emotions. Masters of Distraction have learned to see their thoughts in proper perspective — mental stuff that has no real “meaning.”
What do you notice about the thoughts in your head? One thing many people find is that they are incessant and repetitive and mostly seem to serve no purpose. But there’s something deeper and darker going on…
Notice how frequently the thoughts in your head are negative judgments and self-judgments. Notice how the voice always wants to make itself right and others wrong. Does the voice in your head win every argument and vanquish every enemy? Mine does.
Why? Because the voice in my head is my ego talking. Unchecked, the ego is very, well, egotistical. It wants to be adored. It wants to win and everyone else to lose. It makes itself right and others wrong. It’s desperate for power and terribly afraid of being diminished or extinguished. The ego wants us to identify with it, which it does by hooking into our emotions, desires, and fears. The ego would like us to act impulsively and emotionally. The ego loves drama.The ego wants to stay in control by keeping us unconscious.
Mindfulness is our way of self-regulating our attachment to and identification with the ego voice. It’s our way of disrupting the connection to the voice in our head. It’s also our way of observing and learning about our judgments of other people and negative judgments about ourselves …
What are your negative self-judgments? What stories do you tell yourself about you? Are these judgments and stories true and accurate or are they false? Do you ever observe the ego voice saying positive things about yourself or others?
What does this have to do with ADHD? Many of us have internalized judgments heard from others that we have turned into harsh judgments of ourselves. A lot of times these unexamined judgments keep us feeling depressed and anxious even though they are not true.
A lot of us have deep shame, which is a particular kind of negative judgment — the belief that there is something wrong with me. Not something I did, but rather who and what I am. If there is something fundamentally wrong with me, that does not leave much hope for positive change. Conversely, a lot of times we totally lose sight of all the good things about us. And we don’t give ourselves credit for the things we achieve.
Observing and recognizing what the voice is saying is the first step in letting go of negative self judgments and shame. It’s like taking a huge weight off your back. Take the weight off, and forward movement becomes a whole lot easier.
My Fellow Distractoids,
Are you scattered, overwhelmed, prone to losing things, forgetful, frequently late, and impulsive? Are the voices in your head a confusing jumble of intrusive thoughts that drive you nuts?
Distractoids are plagued by by all of these ADHD symptoms. They sometimes feel like they are going to have a mental meltdown or their head is going to explode.
Masters of Distraction, on the other hand, enjoy a calmer, more peaceful existence. They’ve learned to modulate their impulsive thoughts and emotions by cultivating mindfulness in their daily lives.
But what does being mindful really mean, and how does it relate to ADHD?
Some people find the idea of mindfulness a little daunting, as if it’s only for spiritual masters to practice. Don’t be intimidated. You don’t have to be an ascetic camped in the wilderness to live mindfully. In fact, it’s pretty simple.
Mindfulness is being aware of your own consciousness, observing your thoughts, mental images, and feelings in a neutral, non-judgmental way. It’s paying attention to what your mind is paying attention to. When you pay attention to your mind, you are being mindful.
So what’s the difference between you and your mind? That’s the crucial insight of mindfulness. If you stop and pay attention to your mind, you will see that your mind produces an endless stream of thoughts and images that seem to never end. The thoughts come in the form of words and images that are like mental movies.
But you — and I mean the essence of you — are not your thoughts. You are the Consciousness that is witnessing and observing what the mind produces — all those thoughts that come and go.
Practice what it feels like to “watch” your thoughts objectively and without judgment. Let them come and go and simply observe. If you have the intention of letting the stream of thoughts go quiet, you are practicing a form of mindful meditation.
You might also let your consciousness be aware of the sensations of your body. The physical sensations and emotions. The inner “space” of the body. What does your consciousness detect: pleasure, restlessness, anxiety, calm, etc.? Mindfully taking an inventory of the “space” in your body is another kind of meditation.
Being “lost in our thoughts” or daydreaming mental movies is being distracted and lacking conscious awareness. Being identified with the content of our thoughts, in other words thinking that you are the voice in your head, is to lack conscious awareness. It is to be unconscious.
So mindfulness is awakening to our consciousness. Awakening to who we really are. Not the voice in our head, but the awareness that observes the mind — sometimes called the Self or the Higher Self.
So what’s the point of mindfulness? We will be looking at the many benefits of mindfulness in the next topics. For now, let’s say that one benefit of mindfulness is improving the ability to pause — to stop and consciously think what we are doing. Improving our ability to stop long enough to self-regulate. That matters when you consider that all the symptoms of ADHD — impulsive actions, not being able to focus or hyper-focusing attention on unimportant things, and moving our bodies in a non-controlled way — are deficits in self-regulation.
On an even more basic level, being mindful tunes us into who we really are and how we happen to be feeling. With an awakened consciousness, we will make — I hope! — more enlightened choices on things big and small. We will exercise our free will in making decisions, instead of ADHD deciding for us.
My Fellow Distractoids,
Do you have a “Big Picture” of life?
Distractoids live almost solely in the moment, their chaotic, disjointed lives shaped by passivity, reactivity, and impulsivity. Masters of Distraction have learned to see what they want the Big Picture of their future to look like, which they proactively pursue and create through conscious decisions.
Remember when you were a kid and some adult would ask you some version of, “So, where do you see yourself in ten years?” or “What do you want to do with your life.” When confronted with such a query, I would stammer some kind of made-up BS answer. But my “thought bubble” was more like, “What the hell are you talking about? That question does not compute.” Sound familiar?
The ADHD brain is great at locking onto areas of immediate interest and making connections between seemingly unrelated things. It seems to “see” or consider everything all at once, without hierarchy or categorization. These attributes help explain why the ADHD brain is supremely creative and why ADDers are unique individualists. But there is a cost.
“I don’t even know who I am. I can’t figure out what to do with my life. How do I know where to start? Why does nothing I do ever add up? I’ve wasted so much time. I’ve wasted my potential.” These laments testify to the monumentally frustrating condition of living life without workable and consistent guiding principles, direction, and purpose: being at a loss to explain how I got where I am today, and having no insight into where I am going tomorrow.
By contrast, non-ADHD brains range over past and future with stronger powers of hindsight and foresight and a more natural ability to learn from past mistakes, develop a life-plan, and prioritize actions by importance in the pursuit of future goals. The ability to pursue goals and priorities over time is one of the hallmarks of a brain with solid Executive Function.
But here’s the good news. ADDers are not doomed to flounder around or sink in the quicksand of existence. We can consciously do what the brains of others seem to do with much less effort or intention. Here are some techniques for discovering a Big Picture and exercising your free will to decide more consciously who you would like to become and what you want your life to be.
I understand that doing these exercises thoughtfully and fully is no small task. For now, just read through to get a broad sense of what I am talking about. I will address some of these in more detail in subsequent posts …
— Examine your life to come to the best current understanding possible of your most intense interests and greatest strengths and talents. Ask family and friends what they think.
— Look at the environments you thrive in and the kind of people you most like to live and work with. How would you describe your “tribe?”
— Make a list of things that you find are the most fun to do.
— Make a list of times in the past when you did something — large or small — that gave you a sense of personal fulfillment and satisfaction. If you won the National Spelling Bee but hated every second of it, that does not go on the list. Inner fulfillment is the focus, not outward achievement, though many fulfilling events have both attributes.
— Look at Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, or something similar. Which of your needs are being fulfilled? Which are not? How will they be in the future?
— Make a list of the standards of behavior you believe in and that you would like to embrace to help guide you in life. An example: to treat others as I want to be treated.
— Ask your Future Self what you need to know now in order to create your ideal life.
— Imagine you are dying or dead. How do you want to be remembered? What would you want people to say about you as a family member, friend, member of the community, and citizen?
— Write out what you would do if you had the power to change the world any way you desired.
— Use all this information to write a personal mission statement or statement of purpose.
— Finally, pick a point in the future and write about your ideal life in the present tense — as if you are already living it. Visualize it in detail. If you like, make it ideal in the extreme. Be bold. Go ahead and exaggerate. Now, working back to the present, consider what it will take to “live into” or live towards your ideal reality in the future. What are the milestones along the way, and where do they fall in time? What’s the most important step you can make today and tomorrow?
One of the hardest things about ADHD is the way it interferes with how our best intentions translate into sustained actions that add up to a coherent life. Having a vision of an ideal life to shoot for helps us out of the trap — the quicksand — of incoherent, easily frustrated actions.