As I mentioned in my last blog entry, I am posting the shortest lists possible- lists of one item (hey, nobody said this couldn't be fun). No problems figuring out what the most important tips on the list are- on a list of one, it's the always the highest priority item!
Here’s the reason that Paying Attention to Yourself is at the top of my list of one- without actually paying attention to our thoughts, reactions, and behaviors in a variety of situations, the rest of what we do to manage our ADHD will be a lot less effective. This is a skill to be learned like any other skill we learn, and it’s the Uber-Skill, the Skill of Skills (The Elvis of Skills?).
ADHD is often referred to by ADHD coaches and others as an “attention difference”, not an “attention deficit”. It rings true because we are always paying attention to SOMETHING, just maybe not what we need to be attending to. The non-ADHD friend, boss, partner or spouse may respond in the predictable manner to this- “But doesn’t that describe anyone? Don’t we all have times when our minds wander off track, we daydream, or our minds are occupied with wide-ranging thoughts?”
The answer is YES, but the ADHD mind is usually not as adept at coming to an awareness of this and adjusting in a reasonable amount of time. Because of our brain wiring, we can get stuck in negative thought patterns, mind-wanderings, a video game, washing the car- something, anything other than what we intended to focus on.
To put it mildly, we ADHD adults are not generally the best self-observers, so we need to learn the skill of paying attention to our thoughts, moods, reactions, and choices in a new and useful way. You may think ” Wait- that sounds tough- a lot tougher than using a calendar or to-do list." But here’s the thing- it's not tougher (and it's a lot more interesting). it’s a learnable skill, like any other. How do we learn it? Like any other- repetition, consistency, and sticking with it long enough for it to become a new behavior. Partnering with an ADHD coach is a great way to learn this skill (shameless self-promotion portion of my blog).
Let’s say you’re cruising along nicely through your day, and there on your desk under a pile of paper (we’ll get to clutter in another Top 1 List) is a bill. Not just any bill, an OVERDUE BILL, with a hefty late fee. Now you’re frustrated, then you’re angry- “AAAHHH why do I always do this, why do I screw everything up? Those jerks and their &^%* late fees.” Your ADHD is raging- it’s like getting slapped in the face, and who’s doing the slapping? You are. It's fight and/or flight time. You had ONE problem, the bill, and now you have TWO problems- the bill and the full-on ADHD episode. You’re now in full-tilt boogie ADHD jam-up . This will take some time to cool down from, and you’re out of commission until your executive functioning returns from its hopefully short vacation from your brain.
The way out of this pattern is learning to pay attention in a way that allows you to observe the reaction you have with less and less judgment as you get better at it. Instead of the usual pattern I described in the previous paragraph, you start asking yourself questions that are less self-critical, and more problem-solving. “Hmm, when I found the overdue bill, it’s interesting how I went ballistic and was stuck that way for 3 hours”.
The more you practice this, the better you get at the skill, like playing the ukulele, cooking, or kicking a soccer ball through the net. Instead of getting stuck in an ADHD cul-de-sac, you’ll have info you can use to make more skillful choices, and increasingly avoid becoming emotionally hijacked (thanks, Daniel Goleman*) and ruled by your ADHD. You learn to see what happens and how you react as info, which is usable data.
As you become more adept at the skill of paying attention at this level, you are be making incremental improvement. Before, it was a three hour tour (thanks, Gilligan) back to your executive functioning operating effectively. If you can lower it to 2 hours, that’s a win- a substantial improvement. As you get even better at paying attention, you’ll lower that time more. You might get good enough to observe yourself flipping into ADHD mode right away- that’s the proverbial brass ring.
When you combine this skill with new and/or improved skills with organization, time management, planning, prioritizing- the executive functioning skills- you are able to move forward more skillfully, and prevent getting yanked back to square one time and again.
Please feel free to comment on my blog on my site or on Twitter, and to contact me with thoughts or questions.
Tom Dooley- ADHD Coach
* From the book Emotional Intelligence, by Daniel Goleman- Part One, Chapter 2, “Anatomy of an Emotional Hijacking” (Bantam Books). Interesting read…