Cultivating a Practice of Articulation with ADHD

Episode 118

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Continuing with the theme of cultivating a practice, Shelly and Cam discuss the practice of articulation – giving language to our ADHD experiences, and to our thoughts and feelings. Articulation is a universally beneficial practice, meaning that everyone can benefit from this practice regardless of modality preference. Articulation is a key component of coaching and helps to break down the barriers of awareness and learning (from the Three Barriers of ADHD).

ADHD, with its related verbal working memory/EF challenges, makes it difficult to put words to an experience. In coaching, we create a safe space for a client to explore their ADHD experience with new meaning. Articulation is a part of a reflective practice, to pause and reflect on an experience and extract the learning to take forward. Cam and Shelly describe this practice as a dance and lay out some of the basic dance steps to get started. They introduce a concept of positive accountability and they share examples of how articulation can be beneficial on either side of an action or activity, discussing how this practice can be done outside the realm of a coaching relationship.

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Episode Transcript:

Shelly: Hi, I’m Shelly. 

Cam: And I’m Cam 

Shelly: and this is Translating ADHD. Before we get started this week, a quick reminder that applications are still open for our project X group coaching course, which begins April 13th at 8:30 PM Eastern time. In addition to that, due to demand, we’ve opened up a second class. that class will begin Thursday May 12th at 10 o’clock Eastern time. And that’s 10:00 AM and it will be on resilience. Information and applications for both courses are available on the website,

If you have any questions about the application, go ahead and send it in and include your questions, or what you’re curious about in that application. We look forward to seeing you in class. So Cam, this week we’re going to talk about something that’s at the heart of what we do, and that is the practice of articulating one’s ADHD experience. And how this came up for me – This actually kicked off this whole series on practices, but how this one, in particular, came up for me was the shower thought that I had in that a number of other practices that work or don’t work for my clients really depend on individual context, individual manifestation, modality, strength, and preference, and other highly individual factors.

But that’s not true for articulation. I have a couple of clients who are not strong in the verbal modality. I have one client who has dyslexia. It takes her longer than average to respond to my coaching questions so much so that early on, I offered her an accommodation to make our sessions 15 minutes longer than a typical client session for me, because I was noticing that we just didn’t have enough time to get there in a 45 to 50 minutes session.

 And I have another client who brought articulation as one of his big agenda coaching topics in terms of how he’s showing up at work. He doesn’t feel like he’s able to articulate his ideas when he doesn’t know the answer or he’s unsure, he backs off. He goes to mumbling this happens in our coaching sessions as well. And at work, he is very likely not to speak up at all yet that doesn’t matter in the coaching space. And I thought that was a really interesting thing to notice because let’s contrast that with another primary form of support that I offer my clients, all of my clients are welcomed to communicate with me between our sessions and we have a shared space in which they can do that.

And for my clients who are strong in the written modality, they do a lot of awareness work by way of writing in our shared space and for them and their brains, that is the same type of support or the same type of work as it would be doing it verbally. However, for those clients who are not strong in the written modality, they tend to not use that support in that way. And when they try, they tend to not find it helpful. So I thought it would be interesting today to pick apart. What exactly is it about articulating our experience? That makes it such a powerful and universal practice. Cam, do you have any thoughts to kind of chime in on that question before I share what I’m noticing?

Cam: Yeah I do. I have a lot of thoughts and this is why I think that coaching is such a beautiful vehicle for working with individuals around their ADHD. Right? Is this partnership creating a safe place to share that we as coaches are trained to to listen without attachment or judgment? And so creating that space and opening and being in full partnership with our clients, but they start to practice something that is underutilized for a number of reasons.

And your example is a beautiful example there. just to start to do this, and as you do it, you start to create new meaning and break down those two barriers. Yeah. Of awareness and learning, right? The three barriers of ADHD or awareness. The second one is action. The third one’s learning. And when we articulate our experience, it’s starting to break down the first and third barrier.

So yeah, that was a great shower moment you had, because it’s such a beautiful thing to talk about.

Shelly: Yeah. So let’s start at the very beginning of a client relationship. Be it a private client. it, our coaching groups.

It is almost universally a new and novel experience for my clients to be asked. To try and articulate what’s going on in their brains. Even the clients who are podcast listeners before they come to work with me find that is a new and novel experience. And there’s a two-fold reason for this number one we learned pretty early on that we’re different that were quote-unquote, not normal.

 And we learned to start masking and hiding what is different about us? So not only are we not talking about our experiences, we’re trying to conform number two, conventional approaches. Don’t ask the ADHD person. What their experience is conventional approaches. Tell the ADHD person what their experience is.

You’re deficient in these areas of executive function. You exhibit these behaviors, you have these challenges, therefore try these strategies

Cam: I want to add one more to that. It’s really important too. And this is where Barkley distinguishes working memory between verbal and nonverbal. Right? So verbal working memory is the ability to pull words, language. And so this is an executive function breakdown area. And as you’re speaking, I’m reminded of.

My own childhood experience of not having words to describe my experience. And when people would ask me, I couldn’t pull it. And so they say, what’s wrong, right? With well-meaning what’s wrong? How can I help you? How are we conversing? We’re conversing in language. And so, you know, this is one of those things where children don’t have positive language.

Around their experience, children with ADHD just wanted to add that third really important piece there to those other two.

Shelly: Absolutely. And this kind of goes back to that universal question with ADHD of why do I not do what I know I ought to do? And we know that the answer is not what those around us are assuming based on our behavior, that we don’t care that we’re lazy or unmotivated that we’re flaky. But we don’t know what it is.

We don’t have words or language to describe what that is. And that’s part of what makes the show so powerful is Cam and I are giving you some language that – it’s a little bit of a shortcut in terms of offering you some things that may or may not be true for your own experience that you can take and play with.

And that’s really the most important part. We had a coaching group participant who was concerned about not being caught up to the lingo, a couple of classes back, everybody else speaks the lingo better than I do. And we told that person, it’s not about speaking the lingo. It’s not about being able to use cam in my words, it’s about taking, what’s being offered as some new context to your own experience and then examining it.

And that is where the power in articulation really lies. So Cam, should we talk about some of the things that happen in client sessions when we get them articulating? And by the way, you don’t have to have a coach for this. The overarching point here is not that you need a coach to articulate your experience, but there are a few key features that you need.

In partnering with someone here in order to have this kind of awareness experience that we’re talking about that can come via articulation or the first obvious, but still we’re stating is non-judgment. And with non-judgment comes not being attached. Not being attached to in particular to two things.

First of all, not being attached to what you’re saying. My clients say things all of the time that are not true. if I, as their coach was attaching to, you said it, therefore it must be true. We’re not going to get to the heart of what their experiences, what is valuable. Is you said it, so let me help you hear what you just said. And then can we examine it? Let me help you hear that strong limiting belief that you just said.

And can we examine what’s true or not true there? Eight.

Cam: Just to interject here, back to our working title here, right? It’s cultivating a practice. Of articulating one’s experience. The keyword is practice that we’re practicing this whole languaging or articulation of right. We’re not going to get it necessarily the first time. And so often, you know, it’s like, again, you’re right now in our elevated state of society.

It’s like you said, this, you know, it’s like, just stand by those words. And so then what do we do that we either lash out or we shut down and doesn’t feel safe to share. So this kind of love what you just said there in the sense of this permission to share and maybe not get it right, but not to attach meaning for the list.

And also the individual not to attach meaning because that’s a big lunch counter thing, right. There is we say something and we attach meaning to it like that, limiting belief that all or nothing thinking. And that’s what we do in coaching is we say it and examine it and start to separate to distinguish and look at the parts separately.

Shelly: Ah, sometimes the act of trying something on by saying it can be really illuminating in terms of what’s true and what’s not true. Just saying it out loud can help us see a limiting belief or see black and white thinking where we may not have seen it before, when it’s just swirling around in our heads.

So the second important feature of someone to partner with here is not attaching to outcome as a coach. One of my biggest jobs is not attaching to my client’s outcomes.

Let me be clear and say that doesn’t mean that I am not attached or invested in their success. I absolutely am. And that is also a big part of my job. Coaching is a partnership. There is an investment there on my part. There is a belief on my part in my client’s ability to be successful. Many of the examples that we’ve brought in other podcast episodes of really important awarenesses would have never happened.

If I was attaching to the client’s stated outcome cam, I’m thinking in particular about the client who came and I’m just going to briefly describe this, but the client who came with this overwhelming to do list. And she said, I just need you to help me sort this all out. I’ve got too many things going on, too many balls in the air, too many upcoming transitions.

And what I want out of this session is for you to help me sort out this, to do lists and make sense of it because it makes no sense very early in our conversation. She said, I feel like my brain is not accessible to me in a useful way. And that’s powerful language, and this is where coaching skill does come in because that’s powerful language.

And I reflected that back to her. I said, what does it mean for your brain to be assessable to you in a useful way? And that client was able to go back to a time in life, where she had a lot of time to hike and meditate and pray. And it wasn’t an easy time in life either. It was a difficult time, but a time that she felt her brain was accessible in a useful way. And so here’s what we didn’t do in that session. We didn’t sort out her to do list her action at the end of that session was to take a hike, to go be in nature and to recharge. And that allowed her. To have her brain be assessable to hurt a useful way. And she was able to then tackle that to-do list and make sense of it.

And so if I would have attached to that initial outcome of, we got to sort out the to-do list. That I might’ve never asked the question. I asked her if I did. I might’ve been like, okay, all right. That’s a nice story about hiking, but let’s get back to your to-do list and we would’ve missed the bigger point of what that client actually needed in that moment.

And that’s the thing about ADHD is it’s complicated. This is why prescriptive solutions don’t work. And so. a big part of articulating is finding things you didn’t know were there. In our current coaching group, we have two participants who have a similar goal who decided to come together in an accountability relationship around that goal. Now, Oftentimes in modern society.

When we think about accountability, we think about negative accountability, somebody to hold our feet to the fire, to make us get it done, to ask us why we didn’t do it. And we encourage these participants to pay attention to that. As this accountability partnership was forming in class and talk to them about positive accountability.

And what that looks like. And the next week they came back and they were both so excited about how that relationship was going. And when we checked in what’s working there, both of them said in checking in with each other daily, it creates a pause. It creates a moment for us to step back and articulate our experience. To get the learning from what’s actually happening to examine where the disconnect is between our stated outcome, that good intention, and what’s actually happening. So it’s learning-oriented, not action-oriented. And that is the point of articulation as well as to about the learning, not the action. And not that we don’t want to try.

Action. But it’s trying them without attachment coming back. Examining. Here’s what I thought based on what I was learning about myself and my brain. Here’s what I thought might work. Here’s what I tried. Here’s how it wins. Here’s what my actual lived experience was. And now how can I take that learning and apply it for.

Cam: I love that story. And it’s so fascinating that you bring that up um, as a, just a great example of where the two individuals in thinking about it initially, it’s like this problem, it’s a problem. And there’s feelings there. I can’t close out my day. I can’t finish my day. And part of that whole positive accountability engagement, I’m going to call it engagement.

Was this agreement on the front end of let’s park that stuff because it’s not helpful. We’re really gonna focus on the practice and the learning from that practice. And I think that it reminds me of another class that I’m teaching for couples. And it’s, I’m teaching the, I have the add partner in this class.

And again, talk about uh, a standoff, right? People are frustrated. They’ve identified that the big thing is the add and oh, talk about finger pointing. All right. We found the culprit. It’s you and your ADHD. So emotions are high expectations are high, and the whole idea around practices do this, or why haven’t you done this? And if you want to have something that just completely completely shuts down that ability to articulate as we’ve been talking about, is this pressure, this again, judgment and we’re human. It’s natural to judge. But I’m doing the same thing, Shelly, with this group of introducing the concept of, Hey, can we partner here? Can we partner and talk about what really matters? Can we have an agreement to discuss this without lobbying zingers at each other that puts us in our defensive positions right away and then really talk about, okay, what are we really trying to do? To have some conversation on either side of the actual engagement, right?

What are we trying to do have that exercise and then for the person with ADHD, it’s really helpful to have that on the backend, a positive form of, as you said, evaluation or examination, let’s examine what we learn. What did we learn about time? What’d we learn about engaging. What do we learn about this? To grab the bits, the nuggets that are worthwhile and then apply it to the next practice. This iterative approach here.

Shelly: So a couple of important things in there that we haven’t yet said is when cam and I are talking about a practice of articulation, this is one really powerful way to cultivate that reflective practice that we talk about. So often that is what this is. It is a way of examining your lived experience, reflecting on it.

Determining what is true and not true for you. And particularly after an intention, doesn’t go the way we plan. How does often where things come to a screeching halt with ADHD? That system didn’t work. That idea. Didn’t do what I wanted it to do that way of approaching things. Didn’t help me get to actually.

 So let’s throw it out. Let’s get another system going. I need to find a different way and there’s no meaningful reflection or learning there it’s well, that didn’t work here. I am again, let’s throw the whole thing out versus really getting into well, what didn’t work and what did work. What can we carry forward? What do we need to leave behind? What can we change or meant? So articulating creates these pause moments, cam, and I talk about pause, disrupt pivot that pause disrupt pivot really describes the learning action model that we engage with, that we engage in with our coaching clients almost perfectly.

 And I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. The most important part of that model is the pause because when we’re able to pause and reflect and get the learning, that creates an opportunity for a different experience. And when we create space to pause by articulating. We’re not relying on our brain to remember that posit first we’re creating intentional points of practice cam.

And I see this all the time with our clients where at first, most, if not all of their reflective practice happens in the coaching session, in the space where they have dedicated time and space to articulate and Kamina. Uh, Really taking the lead and helping them find where they need to be curious. We’re guiding them, we’re leading them and again, not guiding or leading to any outcome, but just prompting asking, curious questions, helping them reorient.

If they come to a session in the limbic system. With the all or nothing thinking onboard that while I failed it, I didn’t do my actions.

 But over time, this really cool things starts to happen. And that’s that the client starts naturally doing this reflective work between sessions. They’re bringing back powerful awarenesses that they’ve already worked out for themselves I, and within the coaching itself, even cooler. The client will pause and redirect or reframe or ask a curious question of themselves.

They will start to take the lead there and notice the opportunities to do so. and so cam, this is where I really love your metaphor of coaching as a damn. with the coach, being the one gently leading and teaching. The client, how to dance. Some clients come, they have natural rhythm. Maybe they’ve never danced before, but they take two dancing more easily than others other clients come and maybe they have other forms of dance that they’ve practiced before.

Other ways outside of coaching that they’ve learned to develop this reflective practice, to examine their experience with curiosity, to get to know themselves on this level. And then we have clients who, like my poor ex-husband – and we’re still very good friends, I’m allowed to pick on him about this, by the way – cannot clap to a very simple two, four beat song on the beat.

Can’t do it. He can’t hear the beat. He can’t feel the beat. It’s not there. And there’s no right or wrong as to where you are, but there is opportunity to be curious and orient there because. If you have some dance experience or if you’re take naturally to dance, partnering with someone else or finding a community to do that articulation work.

Maybe all the support you need. And we get feedback from listeners all of the time, listeners who have never talked to cam and I who have never taken a coaching class who are not in our discord community, telling us that they are using this show as a framework to do that work. However, if you’re very new to dance, if this is still very foreign to you, That is where having the support of someone who can teach you the fundamentals might be a difference maker, helping you learn how to create that.

Pause, how to be curious, how to have that reflective practice by virtue of regular practice and having guidance, having someone to help, correct the course. Having someone to help you stay in curiosity and getting some evidence and lived experience of what that feels like and what that is because that’s a very different place than the place we go to naturally as ADHD people. And that is where I would strongly advocate for coaching as a strong support.

Cam: So I want to so a term you used, I want to expand on a little bit as we finish up here, and that is orient to write that. Shell. And I were talking about how, when we don’t know what’s going on, when we are attaching to what we are oriented to, is the dilemma, the problem what’s wrong with me, what’s wrong with them.

What’s wrong with the situation. And it’s very fast. With this inability to inhibit effectively. It is lightning fast that we go to this dark place. We go to our valley place and this is what we orient to. We are oriented to, oh, here we go again. Or around people who are here we go again. And so when we orient to that, that sets the tone. For everything that comes downstream from that, right? This is that one down position. So this is the value of articulating your experience is it’s a practice and exercise to shift what you are orienting to when we practice this and we have others modeling and teaching it for us, that we start to orient to the possible. An opening, we crack a door and words and language and articulation is the actual mechanism to open that door and orient to what’s possible. What’s different. What have I learned? And in order to when we do that, then we can distinguish and gather up the stuff that we’re. Bring it forward with us and then take the other stuff and say, you know what?

That didn’t really work. And I can leave that behind. I don’t need that. I don’t need to keep carrying all of this. It’s like, I just, as you were talking, I kind of think about our, our clients point. Like it’s like, we’re just burdened. This is a way to shed. What was I talk about? Becoming curious about your who and who you are becoming articulating your experience is a step in that direction to start to shed the old skin and move in a direction of developing news.

Shelly: Yeah. And cam what you said about not carrying forward old context, so important too. We talked about that in the episode on contextual Madlibs. And so part of what articulation allows when we’re looking at any given dilemma is to pull apart. What’s real here and now, and what’s a story that we’re carrying forward.

Based on old context, there is so much more we could say about articulation, but I don’t know that we’ll do another episode on articulation. And here’s why this is one of those practices that you can’t really know how powerful and transformative it can be until you engage in some practice with it yourself. I tell clients all the time even, even now clients come and they know me, they know my coaching style and they come with a readiness for coaching. That’s unprecedented by virtue of listening to this podcast. But even then, You can’t know what it’s like to be coached until you’ve been poached. You can’t know what it’s like to start to develop this practice until you start to develop this practice. So listeners back to our dance metaphor, orient to where you are. Is there opportunity there to engage some support from a person or a community that you’re already a part of? Does support look like something else for you? Do you need a little more help in orienting to what we mean by a practice of reflection by way of articulation?

There’s no right or wrong manner. I invite you to be where you are with that question.

Cam: I just right before our recording today, I had a conversation with an old friend. We haven’t spoken in six months. And it was like, we just picked up right there. There’s it’s, as Shelley said, it’s finding that dance partner, who can be that dance partner. It might even just be practicing those steps.

It’s willing to engage with you in this practice to not judge, to accept you for who you are and create the space for you to explore language. To explore words, to bring in and develop a vocabulary. As we’ve been doing here in the last two and a half years, this is all about understand, own and translate.

This is the translate to piece. So take a breath. If you don’t think that there’s somebody to take a step back and think about where that might be for. 

Shelly: Cam, I love that you said that, and here’s where I’d actually like to end. I had a client asked me a really interesting question and that is, do I still have a coach? And the answer to that question is no, but not because I’m not still doing my own work, but because at this stage of doing my own work, I don’t need support in that way.

I don’t need someone to hold the space. For me to practice examining my experience. I know how to do that part. And I know who the supportive people are in my world that I can tap when I need to do that work, when I do need to do some articulating or examining. And that is a practice that I still keep up to this day.

That is something cam and I do with each other often, you know, we’ll grab each other for little sort of mini-coaching sessions when we’ve got some articulating we need to do, but it’s something that I do with other people who aren’t coaches as well, because I know the steps. And so oftentimes at this stage, what I’m looking for is someone to hold the space so that I can do the articulating part so that I can hear myself out loud and do that examining.

If you like what we’re doing here on the show, three big ways you can help us out, you know them already, but we’re going to say them again. First is don’t keep us a secret. Share us on social. If you have ADHD or neurodivergent support groups at work, share us there, share us with the other neurodivergents in your life or those you know, who love and support a neurodivergent person.

Number two, leave a rating or review wherever you live. This helps other people know why our show stands apart and it helps other people find our show and cam, and I are also so grateful for the awesome feedback that we receive from all of you lets us know where we are hitting the mark and what to do more of.

And finally you can support the show financially by becoming a patron. Visit the website, translating Click on the Patreon link in the upper right-hand corner. And for $5 a month, you are supporting Cam and I by covering all of the costs in running this show, that includes our editing and our assistant, and having that support makes it easy for Cam and I to continue bringing you this free content every week.

In addition to that, if you become a patron, you gain access to our discord community, where our listeners are working together to do their own, understand, own, and translate, work, doing some written articulation together, if that is a modality strength of yours. So until next week, I’m Shelly, and this was translating ADHD.

Thanks for listening.

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