Accessing Nuance and the Subtle Signals with ADHD

Episode 81

Play episode

As ADHD people, we pay most attention to the the things that generate the biggest signals. This week on the Translating ADHD podcast, Cam and Shelly continue our conversation on the ADHD signal-based attention system.

We look at several ADHD coaching client scenarios in this episode. Through these scenarios we examine how big signals can disrupt. We then look at how our work to help our clients access the more subtle signals gave nuance and clarity to the situation. This clarity ultimately leads to positive outcomes as it disrupts the binary all or nothing, black or white thinking and allows us to engage in creative problem solving and to be at choice.

Episode links + resources:

For more of the Translating ADHD podcast:

Episode Transcript:

Shelly: [00:00:00] Hi, I’m Shelly. (And I’m Cam.) And this is the Translating ADHD podcast. Before we get started this week, we want to remind you that we have a new coaching group launching June 23rd. The focus of this group is navigating the lunch counter. This group is for you if you want to do your own understand, own, translate, work in an atmosphere of lightness and support and if you want to better understand your own specific ADHD dilemmas and shed light on your next steps.

We had so much fun with our first coaching group, which is in its last two weeks as of this recording. And we are so excited to bring this next initiative to our listeners. So to inquire about joining the group, visit the website,, click on group coaching at the top of the page, and then fill out the form below.

This week. We’re going to zoom back out on the topic of signals. We’ve talked about big negative signals. We’ve talked about big positive signals and really the theme is big signals, collapsed, distinctions. Big signals don’t allow us to see the more subtle signals, the more nuanced picture of what is happening of what’s important of what matters.

And so today we’re going to talk about getting to those more subtle signals. We’re going to bring in a couple of client scenarios that help paint a picture here of what we mean when we talk about getting to the more subtle signals. So Cam I have a client example I’d like to kick in if that’s all right with you.

Cam: [00:01:48] Yeah, I just want to say one thing about those signals. So I love what you just said about how big signals kind of wipe out that nuance around distinguishing and providing perspective, but big signals also matter. They kind of illuminate the landscape to give us drive, to give us that hunger and desire to go get something.

So it’s not, the big signals are bad it’s that they can kind of wipe out those more subtle signals where we learn these distinctions and these nuances of how we can show up and really add value.

Shelly: [00:02:25] Ah, so I’d like to bring in a client who is a business owner working in a creative field. And when she first came to coaching and I was actually flipping through her coaching notes to make sure that I remember this correctly, her objective, one of her big agenda points was to find the business that fits.

Her current business was producing a massive negative signal. And from her perspective at the time, she just didn’t like doing the work anymore. This is what I know how to do. I’m a designer by trade, but I don’t enjoy doing the work anymore. I’m ready to put this down and pick up something else. Or at least at the time, that’s what she thought.

But then we started to dig in around her existing business. Because she was still working with clients so there was work there for us to do in managing that. And we found some really interesting stuff. Number one, she was very interested in moving in a coaching direction, but we found that that wasn’t necessarily for the sake of coaching the way you and I do at Cam, it was more that she liked doing coaching in her area of expertise.

She liked helping her clients figure out what was going to work for them in the context of the work that they were doing together. Which then led to this conversation of realizing that she prefers working with clients who want to collaborate. So we had a couple of really important realizations here.

And I’ve talked about this one before, was that she was letting her clients dictate her role, which is something we so often do as self-employed people with ADHD. She was letting her clients tell her what her role was.

Cam: [00:04:16] Well, also I think people in organizations too, We’ll let others dictate their role. To have others define who they are and how they show up.

And that’s that externally wired. We’re looking for cues outside of us, and then we’re not really attending to what’s on the inside your great distinction between the facade and building that framework to really lean on and learn from.

Shelly: [00:04:44] Yeah, so when we started re-imagining what client work might look like moving forward, suddenly it wasn’t about finding a business that fits. It was realizing this business could fit. This business could be where I want to be.

And the most interesting part of it all was at the time she had a client who was producing, who was absolutely the source of the big negative signal around her business. And she took that opportunity with that client to apply the work we were doing in coaching. To redefine the client relationship, to manage that client’s expectations to co-create together around what was going to work. And that client went from somebody she dreaded working with and talking to, to somebody she loved collaborating with.

So listeners, the moral of the story here is had we not dug in and listened to some of those more subtle signals. Had we just stayed high level, we would have been working toward the outcome of my client putting this business down to pick something else up. And as it turns out that wasn’t what she needed.

She needed to make her own business work for her, who she is, what her areas of strength are, where she brings value. And we would have never known that had we not gotten to the more subtle distinctions.

Cam: [00:06:21] I love that story, Shelly. Just love that in the sense of there’s that understand own translate process.

There’s that coaching process of looking at this dilemma with your client and digging in with a curiosity of there’s more here. Let’s assume there’s more here than the big signal. As we’re talking about this, what’s coming to mind for me is this.

It’s like a full moon is so intense and it kind of lights up the landscape, but it really dims the stars, the more faint stars around it. You can’t see those constellations. You can’t appreciate that. It’s not bad to have that full moon, but to have the clouds come in just to cover the moon a little bit so that you can start to see the other pieces in the picture that are a little bit more faint. A little more subtle and there’s learning in there.

And in that learning in those distinctions, in this subtle, slight different ways, she found her power there’s power there. There’s choice there’s agency. And in all of that is motivation. This is the executive functioning stuff we’re looking for. Attention, motivation, desire to create the change. I really love that story.

I’ve got one very similar in the sense of where that big negative signal it’s kind of wiping out all the possibility and the nuance that can happen here. So this is about a client who is coming out of a job for four years in not a great environment, a large corporation, and it kind of, they weren’t sure what to do with him.

Highly specialized IT executive. And they kind of put him off in a corner and then slowly kind of by the slow roll of this giant corporation took away his people took away. His funding took away his agenda. He sort of woke up one day and was like, okay, I guess I’m getting the signal here. I really can’t create the change that I want to create.

Why I was hired in the first place. It’s not going to happen here. So great benefits, great package, but the daily toll on him was just too tremendous. We’ve been talking about stress response every day. He was just activating his fight flight center. All those big negative signals.

Well, he swapped one for another when he was like, honey, I’m going to leave this job and I’m going to go find a new job oh, by the way, in the middle of COVID. I’m a, again, specialized executive with super specific IT skills, and I’m going to go find a job.

So as he’s doing that process, that lingering intense signal is I got to get a job. I got to provide for my family. And I got to make sure that every time I meet with somebody, I can’t make any mistakes because there’s limited opportunities out there right now. I can’t blow this. No room for nuance, no room for creativity, no room for choice, using that big signal to kind of come down to one choice of, I can’t blow this.

And then do you think he was actually reaching out and doing what he needed to do to get that job? To network? And the other thing was a sort of like, I hate this. I hate trying to get a job. I just wish I had a job. It goes back years ago, Shelly to when I was like, I don’t want to do any marketing. I just wish I could just coach.

I don’t want to run a business. I just want to coach. And sort of like leaning into there and like, Oh, okay, wait a sec. What are the nuance signals here? How can I differentiate and really focus on what my offering is and do it differently. When I think about your client, I think of myself and my client.

It’s that really embracing your unique brain wiring to get a sense, be aware of that and what your offering is.

Shelly: [00:10:28] Yeah Cam, I want to notice an interesting distinction between my client’s scenario and yours. So your client hopped from big negative signal to big negative signal. So never leaving that place of urgency and the hamster wheel just sort of redirecting where that negative energy propelling that adrenaline response cycle was coming from.

Whereas my client had this duality of negative signal and positive signal, neither one of which was the whole truth, the negative signal of her business, as it existed in that moment versus the imagined positive signal of the business she might have instead.

But in her case it was very black and white. She wanted to put down the business she had and pick up something else. Whereas the reality was the distinction between. So I just thought that was really interesting as I was listening to your scenario and realizing that your client was entirely negative signals in mine was a duality of a negative and a positive where the truth was somewhere in the middle.

Cam: [00:11:40] Right. Exactly. And the best thing that happened with my client was he didn’t get a job. That was the best thing that happened. His learning in this process that he would get that big, positive signal would kind of, Oh, here’s an opportunity. Here’s a meeting, here’s three meetings. They like me. And then nothing.

What happened? So this kind of big pendulum swings. That duality, you just said in the sense of the positive, the opportunity, and I’m going to grab for that ring, got to grab for that ring. Cause I want to end this torture of being out of work and not being able to provide for my family.

Well, he also had resources. He could be out of work. And sort of one day he accessed a resource and fine tuned his approach. Because he was thinking, Oh, I don’t want to bother people. Parasite was his language there. I don’t want to be a pest, you know, bother people, very busy people. Why would they have time for me?

And the shift for him was wait a second. I am knowledgeable, I’m educated. I have a unique offering. And how can I provide that in this process to be a resource to these people? And that subtle shift allowed him to see that being out of work was actually an opportunity. He was like, I just got to get back into a job as quick as possible, but realized, wait a second, I’m going to be out of a job again because of the kind of work I do.

High-level executive with technical skills in a very specific area. It’s like, wait a sec. What’s the opportunity here? And as he was going through that process, he laid down this second track. It wasn’t just about getting a job. It was about getting better at this job of getting a job.

And he started to develop a competency and a skillset around searching for a job. So now he feels like if this doesn’t work out at the new job that he actually just got hired for, and he’s starting today, he can leave on his own terms because he has a skillset. And in that is these nuanced approaches.

Here is the similarity between our clients. Is this defining what my offering is versus letting others define. And that can be hard with ADHD cause that’s about creating. That’s about defining and it’s tough to do, sometimes.

Shelly: [00:14:26] Cam, I heard yet another layer in your client’s story, as it started to unfold where his opportunity for nuanced signals created a whole nother set of work and set of skills.

And that would not be possible if he continued to follow the biggest signal of, I need a job. I’ve had that experience with clients before, as well. We’ve talked before how urgency and coaching do not mix. They are like oil and water.

 So if a prospective client comes to coaching and they’re fixated on an outcome. And it’s an urgent outcome, meaning something like I’m about to get fired and all I want out of this coaching process is to not get fired. There’s not a lot as coaches that we can do with that. But that doesn’t mean the person is not coachable in scenarios. Like the one you just described. I have a client who came to coaching in exactly that situation.

And we stepped back and when we stepped back, we realized he didn’t want to be in the field he was in anymore. It was such a terrible fit for him. And the career aspirations that he once had were just not the right fit for him anymore. It wasn’t who he was anymore. He ultimately got fired from that job still, but he got fired after we came to that conclusion. And that created an opening for us to seize the opportunity before us of what’s next.

And by the way, speaking of starting new jobs, he just started a new job in a field that he is super excited to be working in. But that was a process of, since COVID started, he got let go, right when COVID hit in March of 2020.

Cam: [00:16:23] You know, what I’m appreciating is I think that listeners are out there like what’s, what’s wrong with that positive signal? It’s not about the positive aspect. It’s more about the intensity. And what Shelly and I are talking about is remember context matters, the bigger context. And that, that operative move there of stepping back to appreciate the positive context that your intense moon, whether it’s positive or negative, is shining over the land. To go ahead and put a shade over that and see what else is available.

And this is pool work. We’ve been talking about pool work in the sense that if you plunge into these signals, elicit emotional responses people, and so starting to do, Oh, guess what? Lunch counter work here in the sense of seeing the signal that’s above and your emotional response below the lunch counter.

Just pay attention to that. It’s the response we have to the signal that matters. And if you’re dropped into the pool, what’s the first thing you want to do. You don’t want to step back. You want to press through, right. It’s I got to get that job. I got to get out of this very uncomfortable situation, or I have to very much pursue this very positive thing and let go of everything else.

And so starting to sort of see this connection between your emotions. And just your emotional responses to these signals, what happens there? It’s great cause and effect work.

Shelly: [00:17:58] Cam, I think it might be helpful to actually talk about a client who wasn’t so successful in terms of being able to let go of the big positive signal. Because you’re right the positive signal and sort of the nuances there I think it’s a little harder to understand than the negative signal. We all know what those feel like.

So this client, another business owner. That’s kind of my wheelhouse. And like the client I was just talking about, had a vision of putting down the business he was currently in and picking up something else. However, he had some financial realities as well, and his business was making good money.

So again, stepping back, looking at the whole picture of if you transition out of this business, what would that look like? And also what’s the reality right now? What are the financial realities right now? So if you’re looking to pick up something else, how do we balance that with the work that you’re doing now? In this case, the client’s idea generator, we just couldn’t short circuit it. He would often come to coaching calls with the next idea. You know, this is the thing I’m going to pick up.

And I would do my job of reigning him in and noticing, you know, we talked about doing this work first. We talked about this being where you need to be in order to make a transition. But in the moment that was just so compelling for him. It was like a trance. I almost, you know, I couldn’t snap him out of it. And that happens in coaching by the way, not every client is a home run.

And so in this case, that client was never able to get any real traction because he was too far into the future. He was focused on whatever the next big idea was. That was more exciting than what he was doing now was more who he was and what he was doing now. And some of them were really great ideas, and things he could have been successful at.

But he couldn’t get any real movement toward that thing. Very much like you got stuck in working, but not completing Cam. That’s where this client got stuck as well. And he couldn’t recognize that pattern. He cognitively knew it because we’d talked about it so many times. But we couldn’t disrupt that pattern because he still would come to coaching with that next big thing. And this is what I want to talk about today, and this is where we’re going and I’m sure of it. I’m sure that this is the path forward. This is what I’m meant to be doing. So I just pour everything into this idea. It’s all gonna work out.

Cam: [00:20:32] This is this idea that sort of just sheer effort and will, will deliver this vision that I have. The power of the vision and that big signal, this big positive signal. I think I said this last week is we will build a belief system around that signal. Almost like a religion.

You said the word right there that got my attention. A trance. It’s like, no, no, no. It’s this. A belief system, you know, a weekly different belief system built immediately around an opportunity. And then there’s a lack of structure.

What are the resources this whole time that we’re talking here I’m thinking about essential structures. And how essential structures when we look at that, how that really fits into this sort of nuanced approach. So essential structure is clients is it’s yes, it’s the activity and the action and the completion and the vision. Communicating that vision.

But then it’s the supports. What are the supports that are going to make that happen? What is the practice? Last week in Project X, we were talking about your practice. And that the practice is not just about the thing. It’s everything else you’re doing to support that dream. There’s a certain framework and scaffolding you have to build around this idea.

And I love that. It’s like, again, challenging your client to come back to some semblance of reality.

Shelly: [00:22:12] Essential structures is also about self knowledge. So, if we go back to my first client example or your client example for my client, self knowledge played a role in realizing I don’t need to put this down.

I need to make it work for what works for me and how I best bring value and how I want to do my craft. And for your client, recognizing that there was a big skill gap there and a lot of limiting beliefs as well. So stepping back and seeing the bigger opportunity. Letting go of the, I needed a job right now, big negative signal and recognizing this is going to continue to be a challenge and a pattern for me. If I don’t have some growth here, if I don’t develop some skills, have some learning so that I can do this part of the process.

Cam: [00:23:14] Yeah. You know, I just realized, as I’m listening to you, that second client you were talking about that was clean slate.

That was the clean slate and the power of that of, I can just throw everything away. I’m just gonna bring in the bulldozer and move all of this stuff out and build fresh. That’s what I was doing in 2003. Every, you know, a series of seven days, 10 days, 12 days, it would get too complicated and it would just, let’s just go ahead and throw it off the table and start to build fresh.

What am appreciating about what you just said earlier about your first client is seeing themselves in the picture. Of how they’re being and not being. What they’re doing and not doing. That was the same thing for my client. This is sort of see himself and how he was showing up and not showing up. So that self knowledge that self-awareness, and I think that in the big signal arena, it’s so blinding, we don’t even see ourselves.

Listeners you’re, you’re the big signal here, meaning your, the thing that matters most. So starting to look at the big signal and not to reject them, but is there nuance signals around that? Can you pull a shade down on that big signal and dim it a little bit, just to see what’s around it? The possibility what you might be able to build. And to step back and to look at that more positive context, what is possible? What really matters here?

Shelly: [00:24:58] Cam you blew my mind a little bit with the clean slate, because I think it applies not just to my client examples, but to yours as well. Your client’s belief that if I get another job, I will be free from the pain of this current job.

And I think that’s the lie of big signals be them positive or negative is they create this very black and white view of the situation with absolutely no nuance. And it feels like that’s the only way through the pain portal is to have this sweeping change. And we completely miss the subtleties in your client’s case would have completely missed the opportunity, would have perhaps gotten another job and then wondered why he’s in the same old pattern that doesn’t serve him.

So really interesting stuff there.

Cam: [00:25:57] Yeah. And I’ll say one more thing before we finish up. So listeners might be thinking like, uh, again, our fast brain people out there it’s like subtlety? Nuance? Oh, how boring. Boring, boring, boring. Well, you know what? I work with fast brainers. And when we dig in, we light up other parts of the brain.

When you say boring, you’re coming from your fight flight hunter mode. Getting up and literally looking at what’s the bigger opportunity and digging in. It’s really fascinating when you start to do that process. There’s more there. When you say boring, boring, boring that in part is your black and white thinking.

They know it’s this. It’s this picture I’ve been here before. No, take a step back. Do it with a friend. A lot of you fast brainers are high talkers. Talk it out with somebody, dig into that process. Get a sense of what those nuances might be, because that’s where success lies in those slightly subtle offering differences is to slightly, again, that add value that you have.

It’s not about the big thing. It’s about the small tweaks. When I tweaked my offering, I completely changed the way I show up as a business owner.

Shelly: [00:27:36] So I think that’s a good place for us to wrap for today. If you’d like what we’re doing here on the show, you can help us out in a few ways. The first is to leave a review wherever you listen. That helps other people find the show. It helps other people know that we are worth listening to.

The second is don’t keep us a secret. Share us on social media. Share us with a friend, share us with colleagues if your workplace has a neurodiversity group.

Number three is you can financially support the show by becoming a patron. Visit the website, Click on the Patreon link in the upper right-hand corner. And for $5 a month, not only are you supporting the cost of running the show, you also gain access to our Discord community, where our listeners are working together to do their own understand, own and translate work. So until next week, I’m Shelly. (And I’m Cam.) And this was the Translating ADHD podcast. Thanks for listening.

More from this show


Episode 81