ADHD, Coaching and Context

Episode 98

Play episode

Shelly and Cam bring forth a topic that is synonymous with coaching and the ADHD lived experience but rarely, if ever, discussed overtly in ADHD circles. Context drives so much of the coaching conversation from discovering big agendas to exploring limiting perspectives, yet we often don’t recognize when context is at work influencing our thoughts and behaviors.

Shelly and Cam define context and how it is of particular interest to those of us with ADHD. Part of the neurodiverse experience is in part because many of us are ‘wired for context’ – that we process by our relative relation to our world in a particular moment. The neurotypical population is wired more for outcome, sequence or process – wired more for time. Our preference for context has us lead with curious ‘Why’ questions rather than conventional ‘What’ and ‘When’ goal-oriented questions. They share numerous examples of how context comes into play in coaching relationships and how context can be a powerful ally or a formidable obstacle.

Episode links + resources:

For more of the Translating ADHD podcast:

Episode Transcript:

Shelly: Hi, I’m Shelly. 

Cam: And I’m Cam. 

Shelly: And this is translating ADHD this week. We’re going to talk about something that shows up in almost every episode of this podcast, if not every episode, but that we’ve never looked at directly. And that is context. Cam. And I talk about context relentlessly on this show and what we’re realizing based on some listener feedback based on what our clients that come to us from the podcast are sharing is concept of context itself and how Cam and I.

Use it in coaching, how it informs, how we’re listening for. How we’re constantly adding context for our clients to grapple with their old dilemmas. We haven’t really discussed that head-on. So this series of episodes is going to look directly at context. And how our brains as ADHD, people that are uniquely wired for context can use context is yet another tool to do this understand own and translate work.

 So Cam you’re nodding furiously over there. I’ve clearly hit the nail on the head. As far as context

Cam: just got chills. 

Shelly: How have we not talked about this before? going to be so awesome. I can’t wait.

Cam: I know. Well, it’s like the three barriers. It’s like, you know, how have we not really addressed this directly? how is it that we have not addressed context directly? we have, as you said, it’s, what’s driving our conversation. What we’re attending to. Context is here and we know the power of it and our clients know the power of it. It’s bringing it into the picture and how it informed behaviors beliefs, motivation. It’s all there. So today we want to lay it out on a larger level, and then we’re going to dive into it in more specific ways, but let’s just go back to last week as we were running through, your recognition and shift around the whole.

 Tasks in the house as the captain of your ship realizing, oh, what I had going on was not working anymore and being able to do that, pause, disrupt and pivot to a new awareness and a new action plan. And as I was listening, I know that probably listeners where listening to your system and how you shifted from an things to date.

You said something really? got my attention and it was like, I wasn’t really thinking about the day, like what happens on this day? That’s a contextual question when you went from, okay. I’m going through my week and I got things to do versus, oh, it’s Thursday. So what happens on Thursday? That’s contextual.

It’s in the context of a given day that certain things happen like the trash guy comes. So starting to look at that in the sense of what do we anticipate to start to look at events and days your tasks in a context, and to actively show.

Shelly: How Cam, but for today, I want to take it even bigger than that. We’ll come back to my examples, your examples, client examples in a future episode. But what I think is really interesting is that context starts the moment the coaching relationship starts.

 I’ve talked before on this podcast about how I spend my first one to four sessions on average with a client doing big agenda, work

that work doesn’t just inform the beacon that we’re lighting, where this client is heading it also because we’re talking big picture high level. Guess what else? I’m getting this client’s context, I’m getting a sense of who they are in the world of what matters to them, of what being in integrity looks like for them.

I’m asking after things like their primary relationship, what’s the context they’re digging into their current work or business situation. And what’s the context there. Particularly checking for some pitfalls. We’ve talked before about how urgency and coaching don’t mix. So checking in for context and also checking in for potential crisis is checking in on who in their sphere is a potential supportive person who’s coming up over and over again, as we’re talking about their life from this 10,000-foot view who matters to them,

And that work is foundational to everything else that we do because by the time we start really digging in on a more discrete, actionable topic, I have a pretty good picture of who this client is, where they’re at. And. What I can listen for is their coach that might be getting in the way that they may not be noticed because I have their context.

Cam: So I’m going to even go bigger than.

Shelly: Oh boy. Oh boy. do I need to hold the string? Are you going to float

Cam: Oh boy, here we go. Like, oh, man.

here we go. 

Going bigger in the sense of what is informing you, right? As you approach this, there’s certain coaching tenants or principles at work here. This assumption that we can do great work with each other and we can create. Positive outcomes. So idea of a strength-based coaching approach and just listening to what you’re saying, your listening for their context, but it’s not necessarily what they are saying in this moment, because if they come in that one down place or a limiting perspective, which is informed by a distorted context, they might be living down in the valley. I’m not worthy or it’s their fault, or I feel so behind, To take it all in with this assumption of we can do great work and we don’t know everything. That’s one of the biggest, ah, growlers that I have around this whole prescriptive approach, Where people are like, I know exactly what you need versus curiosity.

We are modeling curiosity. We are showing up with it, assuming there’s more to be revealed. And so you’re holding this picture or frame bigger than their frame and trust. The coaching process and trusting them that they will show up as a partner at some point, maybe not today, but they will. And we’re going to do great work with each other. 

Shelly: Okay. I’m not too. Go even bigger still

Cam: We’re just going, to keep going out now, but we’re built for this listeners because we’re wired for context, we can handle this. 

Shelly: that coaching work is informed by context to know you said something really cool to me the last time you saw me coaching, which was, wow. You’re really developing your own stuff. And I am, and I have been for a couple of years now. And even though I have learned everything I know about coaching from you or most things I know about coaching from you, as far as the textbook side of coaching and models and how to work with clients and being mentored in doing my own work with my own clients.

I’m also bringing my own context and the more work I do with more clients, the more context I have to show up in a way that works for me and who I am. And so while you and I are working from almost identical coaching philosophies, you know, we very much see ADHD coaching in the same way. We show up a little differently from one another because your context is different from my context and that’s okay too. And even more interesting thing is the more you have this context of a body of client work and what works universally for your clients, what works situationally for your client? Learning to know how and where a client is showing up, even if they haven’t articulated it yet, just based on prior experience in prior context, the easier it gets to lean into that process and to detach from outcome, which is the most important reason.

You and I have, as coaches is detaching from outcome and listeners. That sounds insane. I know it does here. People are coming through our door and hiring us because they want to create change. Why is it cam and my job to detach from outcome? Because oftentimes a client brings a topic and it turns out what they think is behind that topic. And what is actually going on behind that topic are two very different things. My client, several episodes ago, and Loki is a great example of that. He came, this is all time blindness and failure of time management. And that’s what I want to address. And if I would have forced the coaching in that direction, we would have missed what he actually needed to know, which was this trickster voice showing you.

 And what does that look like and feel like for him now in his brain itself, is that tied into his executive dysfunction around time management, probably, but it’s not my job to know neurologically what’s going on for my client. It’s my job to help him figure out what he’s experiencing and how to change that experience.

And so the way he was experiencing that was through this trickster’s voice, stepping in and saying, oh, you can do it like. It’ll be great. And his buying into that in the moment, even though the evidence unequivocally said, you will not be happy that you put this off until later, you will, once again, be upset at yourself, and this will be harder to do later than it would have been.

If you had just done it in the moment, that’s the thing we needed to disrupt. And so that’s. So much of the disconnect in ADHD land isn’t it. As we talk about the behaviors and we talk about what neurologically is going on in the brain, but we’re not talking about lived experience and context and lived experience and context is entirely where our coaching work lives and where those pivotal moments of, oh, I have a new understanding. Come from.

Cam: That’s great. So let’s get into just this definition of context for our listeners to, so they understand what we’re talking about specifically. And when we say we’re wired for context, what we mean is we’re not wired for process. We’re not wired for sequence. We’re not wired for rules and authority. 

 again, so what do we mean by context? It’s that we tether very easily. Two things by how we relate to them. It’s what’s relatable. So if you imagine we’ve talked about making meaning, right? So this client here is making meaning around, oh, here’s my dilemma.

And the reason for this dilemma is because I have time blindness. So that’s the context that’s provided. information to him in that moment And as we do this work to look at that, and is it really time blindness or what else is going on? So what we’re doing is we’re kind of swapping out the frame where enlarging it, where reshaping it, we’re pointing a different direction, right?

What’s the frame that is informing this situation. here’s the fascinating thing with ADHD is we will lock into a context and then with cognitive inflexibility, not give that up because guess what? There’s a big signal there, right? If you are coming in and you feel like you’ve been, done wrong by someone else. That sense of victim or rejection, that context, that frame is creating a picture or a scene. If you will, on a stage set, you’ve built out all the furniture and all the hangings, and it has a certain tone or mood. And that’s our reality. And we dive into that. When you used to go to hot, there was a context that informed your Haas experience.

That was not necessarily based in reality. It was more in, based in how you were feeling at that moment. And so context is it work? It’s at work. And today what we want to do is just bring your awareness to it and start to do our process of understand, own and translate around this concept of context. 

Shelly: Cam we talk so much about the one-down perspective. On this podcast that too is informed by context, ADHD people by the age of 12 or received 20,000 more negative messages than their neuro-typical peers. Often from well-meaning people in our lives, parents, teachers, you, and I both told stories about our school days and how for me how my parents were showing up. Right. You’re so smart, but you’re so lazy how that informs and over a lifetime, honestly, it’s no wonder that when a client comes through our door, they’ve got that one down perspective on board that I consider universal. I’ve never had a client that doesn’t have it in some way.

And that’s a part of our work because. We have all of this context from other people and all of our struggles along the way. And then when we get into the emotional brain and we’re going to talk more about this in future episodes and we discount certain things like our strength and our value, and we up play other things.

And so that’s kind of the confounding conundrum of having this contextual brain is on the one hand. It can absolutely be a strength. This show almost a hundred episodes strong is that way because two contextual brains coming together to look at these big threads and big concepts and pawn them together.

Has endless amounts of content Cam and I are not struggling to come up with what to talk about next. If anything, we’re trying to figure out how to have some cohesiveness in what we talk about 

Cam: I got my pruners right here. Like we’re, pruning.

Shelly: Yeah. So that we don’t take a hard left somewhere and leave all of you behind, right. and we bring different contexts. So we might’ve been working with the same model for a number of years, but when we come together and talk about it, talk about each of our understanding of it, how it plays out in our client, work together.

Guess what our experiences, aren’t a hundred percent the same. There’s some interesting divergences to pay attention to and what we’re really doing and having those conversations as we’re broadening our understanding, is also why. ADHD clients in corporate environments struggle so mightily because as contextual processors, we want to know the why.

 Why do we do it this way? Why is this policy written this way? And not just that, because we see things based on context, we often see a better way to do things. aren’t we trying it this way? It seems like this would be a lot less effort for the same results. And we’re so confused when the people around us don’t readily and easily see what we’re seeing.

 Do unique dilemma of walking the world with a contextual brain and it can be a real asset in the right roles. And it can be a real detriment either in the wrong roles where we’re not able to impact and affect change, or when we’re doing contextual processing from an emotional place. And we’re sort of cherry-picking unknowingly. Negative context to continue building up whatever story it is we’re telling ourselves. So again, we say ADHD is either both a gift and a curse or neither, and the same is true here for the contextual brain. It can be amazing. It can also be highly detrimental at times, and we’re going to keep digging into both sides of this over the next several episodes because context is everything. For brains like ours.

Cam: I really love that. Bit there, Shelly. And they’re just thinking about the clients that I work with. the way they see the world and perceive the world through this really why approach and how can we make it better? I work with people who are positive disruptors and influencers, but they often don’t see.

The way they see the world as a strength because here they are in the midst of, people around them who aren’t appreciating it. Number one, number two, often different thinking is perceived as a threat, The thing about context, it’s much like many of the other things that we’ve talked about on this show, in the sense of supportive people, emotions If you turn your attention or is it, you can learn about it, appreciate it and leverage it. And that’s what we’re going to be doing in the next couple episodes is to look at first of all, How has context showing up for you? How might it be a limiter? How has it been a detriment, as you said, the great thing about context is we can change it just like we can change it perspective, as you said, it’s the story that informs who we think we are, why we’re here, what we’re doing. And as we start to challenge. And pay attention to and anticipate context as a resource. We can develop some cognitive flexibility here going forward. 

Shelly: And the cool thing is that’s what we’re doing with our clients every day. That’s what we’re doing here on the show. We are helping you add context. We’re adding context for you, not in terms of, Hey listener, this is universally true about ADHD people. You’ve never heard cam, and I say that, but Hey, here’s a dilemma I’ve experienced or a client story or a metaphor to articulate this point that a client came up with that I just thought was so powerful.

And the goal there is not for you to take that and say, okay, this is what’s true. It’s to add that context to your own understanding of your dilemma and grapple with it. 

I tell my private clients all the time, you know if I interject something a story or a metaphor from another client or a model from the podcast or anything else, and it doesn’t land that’s okay.

Because if you have a strong reaction of no, that’s not it at all. Guess what? That’s just as informative as if you have a reaction of yes. That hits the nail on the head. No, that doesn’t make sense for my context at all. Great. Okay. Let’s start breaking that down. What doesn’t resonate here, how can we retool or rework this so that it does?

Better represent your context and your dilemma. And guess what? Now we have a broader understanding of what’s going on. As coaches. We are constantly adding context for our clients and helping our clients pull out context. They didn’t know was there my client who came to a coaching session, overwhelmed by her to-do lists.

And with her stated goal for the session, being something along the lines of, I just want some clarity here so that I can get some traction. And then when we got into the coaching session and she said, my brain is not assessable in a useful way right now. And that’s what I need. And I asked her what that meant, who went back to a period in her time.

of life. Many years prior for her brain was accessible in a useful way because she was hiking and she was spending time in nature and she was meditating. She was meeting nature’s needs, and her spirituality need. And as it turned out in that session, that’s what she needed.

And it was. Open questioning on my part and leaning into curiosity on my client’s part, that we were able to find that. So back to detaching from outcome had I stayed on well, we shouldn’t go there. Let’s not go 15 years ago when you lived on a ranch, because that’s not relevant to your task list today, my client would have gotten what she actually needed.

Instead, we stayed curious and we saw what context came in. Naturally, we added context and played around with it to see how it could inform. And this is where I just love the metaphor of pulling on threads. Cam. I use that phrase all the time now because you know, sometimes you add some context and the client pulls on the thread and there’s not much there and that’s okay.

It doesn’t mean it was the wrong thing to do. It just means that we’ve got to keep pulling on more threads until we find the thread that we’re looking for around this question or this dilemma.

Cam: I’ll often say that experiencing. I’m trying to live with ADHD is like trying to pin the tail on the donkey in a hurricane. So what we’re trying to do is we’re looking to pin down certain things. And one thing we try to pin down is a frame of success, So you’re talking about detaching from outcome as a coach and modeling it for our clients. Listeners. Do you ever notice this where you think, okay, here’s my picture of success and this is it? And only it. So we’ve talked about journey thinking and destination thinking, destination thinking is pinning down a certain frame of success or a specific context. And so Shelly is really articulating here. And what we do for our clients is to model maybe success might be something different and that’s okay. To embrace this journey, thinking approach back to the coaching process, back to a reflective practice. Back to the coaching work, we do to help our clients move through these three barriers to new awareness, to new action to new. It’s iterative. And as we go along, we’re paying attention to what is informing us, our values, our principles, and the mental pictures we’re creating all the time. So right now, are you creating a picture of one day? Are you creating a picture of behind You may be behind, you may have that report that was due last Wednesday and you haven’t turned it in that’s real data.

That’s not just emotion, but as humans, we’re always making meaning around that stuff. So is your context helping you there or is it hurting? Is it a detriment? Or is there some context we can manipulate and adjust to access these positive neural networks cobbling together, attention motivation to create?

the change you need to create. 

Shelly: There is a point in my coaching with my clients where they’re in a new place. It’s the coolest thing. I love it when it happens. And it’s something that I can’t give to a client. They have to do the work. I can articulate it to them, but to actually be in that place is something different. And it’s really a place where they’ve become masters of context.

They know how to use their keen observer, how to get out of the limbic brain and into curiosity, and to evaluate the context while staying rooted in reality. And from that place, we can see strength and value and what we bring to the table. We can also see challenge and the things we need help with and the areas that we need to resource, but we’re letting go of all of that emotional context when it comes to resources.

Because we’re no longer in the one-down place. it just is. Here’s what I’m good at. Here’s where I shine. Here’s where I need help. Now. I told a client the other day that I pay my assistant to fill out my tax organizer every year. And she just laughed. But with that, laughter was also like, okay, it’s not just me.

No, it’s not just you. The difference is I don’t feel any kind of way about it. My assistant is really good at data entry. She thinks that’s fun. So not only am I getting something terrible for me and my brain off of my plate, I am paying someone else to work in their area of strength. I don’t need to feel bad about that.

There’s a time that I would have. But I don’t need to. And so again, over these next several episodes, we’re just scratching the surface here. We’re going to keep digging it context and how to start to leverage context, to inform in a way that’s helpful, which includes distinguishing it from your valley place.

Cam: So something that listeners can do this week, right? The other 167. Start to notice what you tether to. I use that term all the time of tethering. We are natural tethers. That is in part because of the way we are wired for context. And so notice what you’re tethered to, or you notice are you tethering to a certain, perspective, a story, right?

That sort of convenient. Often we get into a way of thinking of what’s the point. So we don’t even try, but then we’re not exercising, trying to get through that second barrier into action. Right. So our informs our behavior. So what are you tethering to? What would you like to tell them? This is exercise around gathering up the resources right before, this episode, Shelly was just talking about how her supportive people are just sort of stepping into their spots and places and roles. And she sees that so clearly now clearer than. So are there people that you need to get a little distance from? Who are the doubters, the naysayer’s toxic move away from them, tethering to more of the supportive individuals who have your back? What are the environments that work for you? What are the messages? What are the Affirmations that help you get up and get going every day? Can you tether to that again?

Remember, it’s not going to be something you’re just going to flip a switch on because it takes time to form a new habit, but this is a place to begin. 

Shelly: Well Said, Cam, and I think a nice place for us to wrap for today, really stoked to continue pulling on this particular thread. Looking at context head-on is really interesting as is every time we find something that we talk about regularly, but we’ve never talked about directly because talking about it directly adds new context for us, which is so cool.

If you like what we’re doing here on the show, three big ways you can help us out. The first is don’t keep us a secret, share us on social, share us with other ADHD peers. You know, If you think they would find our content helpful. If you have a neurodivergent group at work, share us there. Number two is to leave a rating or review wherever you listen.

This helps other people find the show and lets other people know that our content is different and worth diving into. And number three is to become a show Patreon. For $5 a month, not only are you supporting the running of the show and helping us cover all of those costs, which our patrons are currently doing.

Thank you very much for that. You also gain access to our discord community, where our listeners are working together to do their own understand, own, and translate work. To join. You can visit the website, translating Click on the Patreon link in the upper right-hand corner and subscribe for $5.

So until next week, I’m Shelly

Cam: I’m Cam. 

Shelly: and this was translating ADHD. Thanks for listening.

More from this show


Episode 98