Mindfulness on My Own Terms with ADHD

Episode 129

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There is a plethora of scientific data to support the effectiveness of mindfulness in managing one’s ADHD. Lydia Zylowska M.D. has done some excellent research to prove this. Yet many people with ADHD have mixed feelings about the practice, especially the frustration of not being able to do it ‘the right way’.

Cam and Shelly explore mindfulness in the context of orienting to the full impact of one’s experience. They discuss how mindfulness can be packaged like any other prescriptive offering with the off-putting instruction to  “just start by sitting still and focusing on one thing…”  Cam and Shelly break mindfulness down into its essential components of presence and curiosity and how both can be difficult to achieve with ADHD yet valuable in the process of overcoming the first barrier of awareness.

They discuss the benefits of informal practices of getting present and curious using body awareness techniques and exercises that provide beneficial context. Shelly shares how listeners can utilize our Pause, Disrupt, Pivot process to create space in the gap between stimulus and response. Finally, Cam shares how mindfulness can be helpful to reflect on a challenging experience to extract the learning to apply at some future time.

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Episode Transcript:

Shelly: Hi, I’m Shelly. And this is translating ADHD. Real quick, our two group coaching offerings that are coming up are resilience, which begins Wednesday, June 22 and equanimity with Cam only, which begins Tuesday, July 12th. Information, pricing, and how to apply are all available on the website translatingadhd.com and click on the group coaching tab.

So Cam what’s on your mind for us today?

Cam: So Shelly, we’ve opened up a whole bunch of things in the last couple of weeks. And I think the one big one is orienting to our full experience or full impact Of our lives, including ADHD and that how ADHD can throw a roadblock, right? That first barrier of ADHD is awareness.

Getting to a place where we can see what is actually going on. Again, two weeks ago, had your brilliant client scenario. Where she had to learn to trust her brain. And we talked about what she did in that situation. We did a deeper dive of that last week of orienting to the full impact of our experience, our lived experience.

So we’re going to continue in that vein. And I think that there’s something we’re going to dig into around distinguishing emotion from story that we uncovered last week, but we’re going to take a little side trip today. Just for a moment, just step off to a side road that’s really relevant here.

And that has to do with all right. Ready. People may be triggering, so prepare yourselves mindfulness. But before you hang up the phone, before you hit that pause button on your podcast player, this is about. Mindfulness on your own terms. I think that mindfulness, like any other program can fall into that prescriptive approach. This is the way you do it, right? This is this lunch counter. It’s a lunch counter phenomenon of here do this.

This works for ADHD, it’s effective, and this is the way you do it. And every single. Meditation or mindfulness app often starts with well, find a quiet place. Sit down, with the intention of sitting and being still and focusing on your breath. I think that’s an immediate turnoff for many people with ADHD, especially the fast brain. The fast brain is like, are you kidding me? you know, it’s not the waterfall. It’s a tornado. It is this black hole vortex. And you want me to sit next to this thing and be still? So today what we’re going to do is, again this orienting to, and developing more awareness, a mindfulness practice. that I subscribed to. And we’re going to tell you a little bit about that today. Shelly, how’s that sound?

Shelly: Cam, this sounds great. And what I’m appreciating about this topic is what you and I have been noticing is mindfulness can manifest very differently for each one of our clients and for you and I, in terms of what works. And I used to dismiss mindfulness outright. I put it sort of in the same bucket as like toxic positivity, right? I’m not a person who can easily sit still as you well know, as you watch me playing with my fidget while we’re recording this show and traditional meditation or mindfulness practices have never served me well, but that doesn’t mean I’m not practicing those things.

Cam: Yeah. And I think that, it started back for me. I think I’ve told this story before of again, turning things. So they work for me on my own terms. And there was the one about getting in shape, and getting in shape meant running for 40 minutes or riding a bike for two hours.

And. It was hard to make that happen in these 20 to 25 minute increments in my day. But when I switched that to recover my brain chemistry, to kind of hit the reset button and go out for 20 minutes of brisk walk or run, or a 30 minute bike ride, I live on a hill. So I’ll just drop down and some trails come back up And so sort of defining how it can work for us. when I think about when these mindfulness teachers talk they emphasize two things. They emphasize curiosity and curiosity in the moment, right? It’s about being present. It’s about being curious. So that’s what I focus on and not about doing it all the time.

Right? There’s an assumption. And a lot of these apps, whether it’s 10% happier or a Headspace, anything else, this assumption that there’s nothing going on at this cognitive level, right around this executive functioning piece, assuming you can sit and be still and focus. And so again, taking Liberty with this to really think about, can I introduce I’m a little bit of curiosity and a little bit of presence or present moment in my day. So we’ll talk a little bit about why that’s hard, but also why it’s beneficial.

So last week I think you joke about like how, you know, either you said yourself or both of us struggle with mindfulness. when I think about you, I think of you as a pretty good mindfulness practitioner.

Shelly: Oh, really?

Cam: Yeah, I do.

Shelly: Tell me more, Cam 

Cam: Because of your ability to be present and be curious. Right. So I’ve listened to Shelly coach a lot in mentoring, but also in the group coaching that we do through translating ADHD. And you demonstrate curiosity and what used to be called coaching presence now, it’s called maintaining presence. And you do that and you do it very well. And so that’s mindfulness that is being able to hold our attention in this current moment and to access this curiosity channel.

So why is it hard? Why is mindfulness hard? Right. There’s the obvious reasons in the sense of we’ve got all this fast brain, big brain, thinking and feeling, there’s a lot of activities So it can be hard to sit still, but think about it, get into the present moment. If we just look at those two things, presence and curiosity.

So first of all, getting present is probably one of the tougher things to do for us because why we are time travelers. We are. Catastrophizing into the future. We are going back into our past with regret and guilt and time for us is very fluid and we are moving into the past and in the future. And I like to say the present is often this two-dimensional bead curtain that we pass through very quickly.

Shelly: And Cam, this is where traditional mindfulness practices and ADHD. Tend to not mix well, this idea of just sit still and get present. If we were capable of doing that on a consistent basis, that would solve a lot of ADHD dilemmas.

And so I just want to interject here some of the creative ways that I’ve discovered with my clients and with myself that we get present. And there’s so much here. You’ve already mentioned running. That’s a big one, And each of my clients for whom running is a mindfulness activity has a slightly different relationship with that for one so long as I get my heart pumping, running, or anything else.

Great for another there’s a mind, body connection. Only running can scratch the itch for only running. We’ll get her there for another it’s as much about the playlist that she has on as it is the run itself. It’s setting a mood. But let’s look outside of running. I’ve talked about my taro practices before.

That’s a mindfulness practice for me. That’s a way for me to sit down and get curious by adding a little context. Long time ago, we talked about a client of mine who discovered this self-care practice of hiking and how important that was for her. And here’s the thing is mindfulness and self care. Go hand in hand, meaning for myself and my clients, oftentimes not always the same activities.

That’s where fill that tank that refuel that give us energy to give to other things are also the ones that help anchor us in presence and mindfulness.

Cam: I love those examples. And I love the tarot cards because as you said, that framework. Or context to orient us to, It’s like, we have a little framework to get present, can be helpful. It’s an area of interest it’s engaging kind of like there’s rules of engagement, if you will.

Right. That’s why I think that board games or playing any kind of athletic games where people can get really present This is getting in the zone, getting super present. a big part of mindfulness is noticing our senses, right? So there are fans out there of weighted blankets, The weighted blanket works because it provides pressure. On your body and that pressure sends a signal to your nervous system and a specifically the amygdala saying all clear you’re good. Right? So if you actually stand in a doorway and press your hands and create pressure for 10 seconds, it sends a signal.

This is the way I get present. Is by pressing my hands on the doorway just for 10 seconds, just to get present with that feeling, that sensation. So when I go walking and I’m listening into my app and they’re telling me to sit still, but I’m walking with my dogs and I’m being present with my walk. I’m paying attention to the pressure on my feet. I’m patting down the hill, the feeling in my joints, my muscles, my neck tuning in to these sensations, whether it’s touch, whether it’s smell sight, these are little exercises you can do. Just, if you go ahead and in your friend who goes hiking, right? It’s all those distractions have gone away for a moment, including the phone.

And you can just tune in to your surroundings. There’s all kinds of ways that we can get present. And so the funny thing here is that when you do that and you quiet down that amygdala, you’re quieting down that limbic system, right? That fear center and heightened vigilance, that’s the other part that when we get present, it allows us to open a door to carry out. It’s really hard to be curious when you are in that arc pony, right? Adrenaline response cycle. Hyper-focused vigilant in a state of consequence based motivation. What is going to bite me in the butt and just in that Q1 urgent mode of work. But if you can relax a little bit. And just quiet down that part of the brain, then this quieter more nuanced, smaller signal, right?

The big signals in the fear center, the big signal is in the vigilant area, the amygdala, but this more nuanced signal is in this curiosity aspect. And so curiosity, you know what that is? That’s one of your favorite terms. Right. Detaching from outcome. When we attach to outcome, we’re going to some future outcome and we are judging, right? Detaching from outcome is letting go. That’s the interesting thing that can happen. And I think that, again, back to big vortex or idea generator or the volcano of thoughts, feelings, and emotions, we feel like we have to step right into it. No view it from a distance right.

But to create some distance here, you don’t have to jump into the deep end. It’s to really notice this thing, volcanologists study volcanoes, but they’re not right in the middle of the event. They’re viewing it from a safe distance, right? They’re measuring, they’re gathering data. And so this is something you can do too, is as you get present, as you get curious, your thoughts and feelings can be scary.

We’ve already mentioned that everybody doesn’t like to be with their thoughts and feelings, they just don’t like it. They’d rather get a shock than be with their thoughts and feelings. It’s a study out of Virginia. So you can do these small samples or do it with a friend, 

Shelly: Cam, I think it’s relevant here to call back to a model that we introduced on the podcast and that we’ve been really using heavily and kind of modeling our coaching classes after. And that’s pause, disrupt pivot. The idea that when we’re going into the valley or into our limbic brain, that we can pause, notice and name what’s happening. And then once we’re able to do that in that critical moment, there is an opportunity to disrupt, to have a different experience and what you were just talking about there in terms of using these mindfulness practices as a way to disrupt. Is one great practice or one great way to employ whatever it is that works for you.

My client who hikes, she needed a disrupt. That’s what that coaching session was about. She thought it was about overwhelm. She thought it was about sorting out her to-do list. And if you recall, she said, my brain’s not assessable to me in a useful way. And I asked her what that meant. That was the whole coaching session ended up being centered on that statement, which got us to, I need to go be in nature and hike and guess what?

She went out, she got nature, she hiked, and then she sorted out her to do list. Because she was able to shift out of that limbic system brain and back into having her brain in her language, assessable to her in a useful way. My clients who run, tend to use that as a practice. I even use taro that way.

If I’m feeling frazzled or frantic about something, I’ll sit down and shuffle my deck, right? That’s the sensation, the shuffling of the cards, feeling them in my hand. And I’ll pull a couple of cards, not because I’m expecting them to give me the answer, but because. Adding a little context to the mix helps bring me back to curiosity, whatever it is.

That’s got me in the limbic, contextualizing that with some tarot cards can bring me back to that curious place.

Cam: You know, And all this goes back to what we’ve lit upon, two episodes ago around trusting. Your brain, right? That this is a process to then pause, disrupt, get curious in this current moment to create some awareness so that we can see what’s going on so that we can develop some trust in our own brain in our own decision-making. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard this quote. And it’s again gap or the space between stimulus and response. And meditation, mindfulness individuals talk about this place, the place between stimulus and our response to that stimulus.

So Victor says, that’s a place where there’s power because we have an opportunity to create a pause and make an informed choice. And for us, those of us with ADHD, it can be really hard to create some space between that incoming And the response that we have with emotional dysregulation.

And so part of it is if you’re not successful, The first time, if you actually reflect on the experience, that works too. Right? So this weekend, Shelly, Saturday morning, my I’d love to say that I had a mindful practice in place. And Saturday mornings it is like a really vulnerable place for my wife and I think that we just gotten through our week and we’re both at a deficit and our default moods are I go to a kind of sensitive, flaky.

Shelly: Yeah. Sensitive, flaky. I would say that’s accurate. 

Cam: And she goes to, you know, a little irritable cause she’s sort of following around three neurodivergence all week. and she’s like, oh man.

And so Saturday is really interesting time just in the morning. And I’m thinking I really want a break just from everything from efforting, from adulting, from executive functioning, like every day, I’m like trying to line up my ducks, and make things happend. All through the week and I’m looking for a little break, but I’m depleted and she’s depleted and she’s looking at the list and like, oh, Saturday, it’s time to do stuff around the house.

And we’ve already had these, you know, discussions and how Saturday morning needs to be a kind of a, break time. We’ve done that. Right. I mean, We all slip and we slipped this weekend. And so my child she’s like, both of you are so childish. And I was, it was sorta like that movie, or that was like, adults acting like children.

I can’t remember Julianne Moore was in it. And we were kind of like thrown a little bit of a tantrum, both of us. And so, you know, it was regretful. and I wish that, the practice that I’ve been practicing for a year and doing pretty well at served me in that moment, right. in that space between the stimulus and the response that I was able to. Pause breathe. Say, you know what? I don’t have to engage the way I’m engaging right now. I can just step back. We can step back. It didn’t happen, but we did a post-mortem on it. Right? The important thing is we come back around and check in what happened.

This is lunch counter in the sense of going to causation, what was the causation. What was the setup there that had us come and engage in this way. It doesn’t work. Right. We’re amazing together. We compliment each other. It’s just this one moment.

again, what we did, we got curious and we got present to the learning and had some understanding. And appreciated and had empathy for each other and moved on. And so it’s not something, again, I think with mindfulness is like, oh, I got to do it in this moment. No, you can actually do it while you reflect on something that didn’t work.

Shelly: Again, Cam, when we talk about pause, disrupt pivot, we talk about that. Pause being the starting place. Well guess what, if you do that, post-mortem if you get the learning from a situation like that after it’s happened, you’re going to be all the more equipped. To catch it in the moment or nearer to the moment next time.

And this is so much of the work we do with our clients is first noticing the patterns and noticing them sort of in retrospect, in hindsight, but getting really curious about what’s going on there, what’s happening. What is that for this clients? What is their experience there? What language can they give to that?

What can they call it or name it so that they can recognize it more quickly. The next time it happens. And even when we do get to the point that those pauses are happening pretty consistently at the critical moment, creating space for that disrupt and pivot, that doesn’t mean that there’s not going to come a time.

Or they’re not able to do that just as you weren’t this Saturday. And that’s, you know, when we talk about consistency, if there’s one thing that we’re trying to do with every client we work with, it’s cultivating consistency, but consistency does not mean a hundred percent. You and your wife are able to have that blow up and come back and talk about it because of the other 98% of the time.

That you’re able to pause, disrupt pivot, and the moment that you’re able to have a different experience that you’re able to build on that foundation that you’ve been building in, the work that you’ve done for yourself and together all of these years

Cam: Might be more like 93%, but

Shelly: was trying to give you the benefit of the doubt Cam.

Cam: Well, again, the consistency and practices you’re. Working a muscle there as you look back, right? Retrospectively and then applying forward prospective, right? Remember prospective memory is really challenging for us that anticipating what may happen in future time 

Shelly: So if you like what we’re doing here on the show, three big ways you can help us out. The first is to leave a review wherever you listen. The second is to not keep us a secret. Share us with others. And the final is to support us financially by becoming a patron, which gives you access to our discord community and contributes to covering all of the costs associated with running this show. To become a patron, visit the website translatingadhd.com. Click on the Patreon link in the upper right-hand corner. So until next week, I’m Shelly.

Cam: And I’m Cam.

Shelly: and this was the Translating ADHD podcast. Thanks for listening.

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Episode 129