Green Light Planning with ADHD

Episode 135

Play episode

Hosts Shelly and Cam explore green light planning this week. This is a very specific example where expectations can go awry. Green light planning is a fascinating phenomenon and is the result of several ADHD challenges. It is when we predict the most favored outcome for some future event like catching a plane with time to spare. Most people will point to challenges with time estimation. Look closer and you can see more going on here.

Cam shares the example of a client trying to get to the airport and more often than not missing the departure. The client struggled with time estimation but also perpetuated a belief that he could better his best time. Furthermore, he failed to anticipate any potential delays or obstacles. Those of us with ADHD struggle to sense and anticipate variations of an outcome we create in our brain, especially the periods between events – the time between the shower, packing and eating breakfast. Specifically, this is a challenge with planning for transitions – both planned and unplanned. Emotionally we can engage in a mini ‘Zig Ziglar’ positive thinking exercise with the belief that our positive energy will somehow open an express lane to our destination. This is actually more of an emotional auto-pilot move to lock out unsavory thoughts if we are not successful in our plan.

Shelly counters with her own example of ‘Red Light Planning’ and the idea of a time optimist or time pessimist. The hosts leave listeners with an exercise to have a different experience with green light planning.

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. Listeners, as our group coaching offerings are growing, we really don’t wanna take up that much time at the start of the episode. So instead, we’re just gonna give you a quick reminder when we do have a course that’s open. There are group coaching courses open right now for registration. Visit the website translating coaching for more information.

So Cam

Cam: So

Shelly: Okay. So let’s leave that in and let’s tell the listeners what just happened as I finished the group coaching announcement. Oh man. Are we leaving that in too? All 

Cam: yeah, 

Shelly: So we finished the group coaching announcements, and I looked at Cam and he looked back at me and we were kind of having a momentary, like stare-off there. Who’s gonna start, cuz cam was waiting for me to go. So cam, what are we talking about today?

Cam: So Shelly, this is indicative of where we are in our season. Now we’re basically two episodes away from wrapping our second season. And over a half-million downloads. And I think we’re getting a little tired. I mean, just as we all get tired in pushing through to the end, I brought a topic today, and we realized it’s a great topic to launch season three with, so then we’re like, okay, what do we do?

And we’re trying to figure this one out. And we came up with something. We’re gonna see this through people. And we appreciate you being here with us, seeing this through to completion. We’ve got a couple more episodes and then we’re gonna take a break through much of August and we’ll be back in September. But today we’re gonna talk about something I call green light planning and actually just wrote a blog post on it on my website. But Greenlight planning is actually an iteration of expectation. We’ve been talking about expectations and managing expectations in the last couple episodes, and green light planning is this thing where we create in our mind an ideal outcome to an event.

I was thinking about a client example here. Where client who did a lot of traveling for his work. So he lives a certain distance from the airport’s gotta get up, get packed, get out of his place, drive to the airport, park the car, take the shuttle in, et cetera, et cetera, lots of transitions. And. He would miss his plane a lot. And as we dug into that of why he was missing this plane and massive consequences right here, he is not showing up for an onsite visit with a vendor. And his teammates are like, again, really, again, you can’t figure this one out this idea that it’s all green lights. We create a picture of how it’s gonna go. And then we lock in to that picture and then we’re absolutely surprised and it upsets our apple cart. When anything else happens, construction an accident, right. Something that doesn’t go according to this script. That we’ve developed in our brain of oh, 33 minutes. That should be it. And I can do it right down to the wire. So Shelly are gonna talk a little bit about again, that phenomenon and what we might be able to do to disrupt and have a different experience there.

Shelly: I think in order to talk about this phenomenon, you have to recognize that it’s a spectrum, right? Your client is one example. I’ve had clients even more extreme than that. I had a client. This was really adorable by the way, who had this sudden realization in a coaching session that getting out the door for work in the morning takes time. Like a bolt of lightning. Holy cow, this stuff takes time because the way that he planned for it was no time I get up here and oh, five, 10 minutes. I can be out the door. Well, By the time you brush your teeth and go to the bathroom and feed your pets, five, 10 minutes is not enough. And that’s kind of. Where the rub is here, right? Is there’s a misunderstanding or a story about time that we’re telling ourselves your client’s gonna hit all the green lights. My client thought, man, five, 10 minutes takes no time for me to get ready and get out the door in the morning, no time at all. And then perpetually confused as to why they are late.

Cam: Love that it’s a great starting place. Right. Is that internal dialogue of what we’re telling ourselves who rationalize our inaction here? I think that’s a big part of it. We rationalize our inaction to delay taking action. And so this time’s gonna be different or, maybe I can beat my personal best for my client and this whole green light. Planning thing we realized there was a number of factors in play. One was black and white thinking. It’s really hard. Once we get a picture of something, it can be very difficult to change that picture. It’s like, I think of another guy who was like, Cam, this is success. And he just rattled off these things. like a sports car and a girlfriend. And I’m like, this was a long time ago, by the way. long, long time ago. This must have been 12 years ago. And I was really that’s it. That’s your definition? Like that’s how we know we’re successful. Can we take that frame and maybe expand it a little bit? And this is something we do in coaching. Like they come and it’s like, Here’s my dilemma and here’s my goal, and this is my picture of success. And as coaches, it’s like loosening up that frame, could it be something else that’s that E of rebel to expand the mind, not be so rigid in our thinking of the picture of success I said earlier This beating his personal best time. It’s a gamble. It’s a roll of the dice. And so, oh, I did it in 33. I think I can beat that time. That’s exciting. That is risk. And that excitement there creates dopamine creates adrenaline creates an ability to activate. And that takes us to the third part. this is dilemma around ADHD is that actual activation piece to be able to move from this resting state into a moving state, whether it’s brushing teeth, whether it’s pulling your suitcase out from storage, whether it’s stopping and getting gas cause you forgot that you’re on reserve. So it’s a number of things here that are conspiring together. And then as you said, Shelly, there’s that story that we tell ourselves about time, kind of a convenient thing of, oh, it shouldn’t take that long. This is how we know that ADHD is in the mix is when we start to play around with that picture and it’s black and white, and we think about time and we really kind of smooth the edges on it. And don’t take into consideration any variabilities. Oh, yeah. It can’t possibly be that long.

In our mind, we are thinking smooth sailing and that sets us up for autopilot, right. From that emotional health ladder. Just like, yeah, it’s gonna be smooth sailing. I set this on autopilot and then we’re absolutely surprised when it doesn’t go according to plan.

Shelly: Cam, this used to be a pretty big struggle of mine. And when things didn’t go according to plan for me, meltdown city. You’ve never seen a person so angry that they have to stop and get gas before in your life than me. When I’m running late, the emotion gets heightened to 11 because now my plan is completely thrown off-kilter and I’m angry at the amount of time it takes to pump the gas as if I have any control over how fast the pump works or as if there’s some huge variance in how quickly or not quickly gasoline pumps work. I think they’re all pretty standard.

Cam: don’t think so. Shelly. there is one place. I have one emotional memory of like, oh my God, this is going so slow. I have to remember never to come to this BP again.

Shelly: they’re all pretty standard. Yeah. So I would be curious to know whether that’s a reality or an emotional memory, right? Because you were running late and that’s kind of the point I’m making is, we, paint ourselves into this corner. We leave no wiggle room. And the result when things don’t go just so when you don’t hit every green light, is this anxious, frenetic energy, or at least that’s what it is for me.

And I’ve learned that the counter to that is to give myself extra time, which we’re so loath to do as ADHD people with that one down on board. I shouldn’t need extra time. It shouldn’t take this long. I shouldn’t have to do it this way. When the reality is it takes the time it takes plain and simple. And by leaving myself a little extra time, I don’t get anxious. I don’t get stressed and I tend to be on time more often than not. And for complicated scenarios, I like to start at the end and walk it backwards. You know, I’m at the airport getting on the plane, let’s walk it backwards and let’s figure out along the way. What are the possible things that might need to be taken care of?

Do I have gas? Let’s check on that. Where am I gonna park at the airport? What’s my contingency plan. If that parking lot is full, let’s leave time for that, right. And then backing it up to my route there. What time of day am I going? Are there potential problems there? You know, We tend to kind of gloss over those finer details because again, we have this fixed picture in our mind of it takes this long.

What is this long wonder? What circumstances does it take your client? 32 minutes to get to the airport. And what are the possible changing circumstances each time he goes to the airport.

Cam: Something I do with my clients and we actually do it in our group coaching class, accounting for time. One of the things that we do is we see our time and tasks in these kind of neat little cubes. Right? Gotta get gas, gotta park the car. Right. Gotta take the shuttle, gotta get through TSA.

So we’re seeing all those, but we’re not seeing the transitions and shelly. And I refer to those as the ramps, the ramp up and the ramp down. A fascinating thing that happens is we will just kind of see these events. And then what do we do with that? We just kind of collapse it, like books on a bookshelf, just stack ’em up.

And we’re just gonna walk from one to the next, to the next to the next one. We don’t take into consideration and we just miss the shuttle and the next one comes in seven minutes. So there’s this transition period of waiting for that. So starting to appreciate. These ramps and Shelly, that’s what I appreciate here is starting backwards, but kind of considering what could possibly take up time that I’m not thinking about right now.

Shelly: I love that example with missing the shuttle and having to wait a few minutes for the extra shuttle. Another one that I thought of is. Getting gas. Do you have a plan? Is there a convenient gas station on your route? Or are you gonna have to go out of the way a little bit because that going out of the way a little bit or making an inconvenient left turn takes extra time. And those are the little things that space between the tasks that we really miss and falter on.

Cam: And I wanna go back to that whole idea of extra time. So how you became successful with managing time was to recognize the need for extra time and start to insert that. I think that can be really tough because. Of our glitchy activation system. we want some guarantees for our time, right? We know that if we’re gonna make that investment of efforting, we want payoff. We want some return on investment on that time investment. And if you go ahead and sort of stoke your day with any extra time. Well, There’s no guarantee on any kind of return on investment of investing on that extra time we often work right to the margin.

I’m gonna use my kid as an example. So he got into Virginia tech and he did so on his terms. All he did was what he needed to do to make that happen. He went against the grain, right. Where everyone was like, oh, you don’t need to do SATs. You don’t need to do a C T. He targeted the, a C T and he took it and he took it again and he crushed it. And that was the difference maker for him. The other thing he did was as he’s living his life through COVID in school system and they say, okay, this is what you need to do here. He became an economist. He got ruthless with not expending too much. He is a master at protecting his bandwidth to a fault sometimes like Cal, do you mind go cutting the grass? 

Shelly: I do. 

Cam: No, he doesn’t bristle. No, it’s a poker gate, so again, there’s the parent there of just like desire for a chore. it’s like, how do you make that? But I do see this he’s calculating time and effort and really conserving energy. It’s not that we wanna just absolutely give it away and be efforting and not getting something for our efforts, but playing around a little bit with extra time, taking some thing that you have in your day, where you are struggling to make it happen, where you are doing green light planning and just inserting 15 minutes. Of extra time, like don’t open that door. So it’s just wide open, be discreet, be the keen observer and experiment. Okay, I’m gonna go ahead and play around with just 15. Can I give this 15 and sprinkle 15 through this whole thing? See what happens? I have a different experience shelly and I were talking. At the beginning here, I’ve forgotten. What can we do with our habitual responses to expectation? GreenLake planning is a habitual response to our own internal expectation. This is gonna come off without a hitch. So just starting to play around with time a little bit and bringing in a little bit of extra time to see, can you have a different.

Shelly: Cam, I think it’s really interesting that you say that your son economizes time almost to a fault, because I see that in my clients too, we try to, again, that one down perspective we’re constantly trying to make up for. So we feel like we have to squeeze the most out of our time and out of our day. And that can cause us.

To do things like not give enough time to something or not do something at all. It’s really interesting. It’s two sides to the same coin. You’ve got your green light client. I would call that the optimist side of the coin. I joke with my partner. optimist. Alex is what we say when he’s doing that thing where he thinks we can do seven things in a day.

The other side of that coin for me, I’m a bandwidth protector. I can try to economize my time a little bit too much. And that makes me a time pessimist. Oh, we don’t have time for that. We can’t do that this weekend. We can’t do that today. We can’t do all of that. And I’m already seeing. Or feeling worn out by the number of things that he’s laid out.

It’s so interesting because it creates the exact same problems, right, of either not leaving enough time or not attending to what we wanna attend to, or not planning for correctly, but it comes from two entirely different places. Two different perspectives. One of which, oh, it’ll all work out. There’s plenty of time. We’re gonna hit every green light.

And the other is, there’s not enough time. We’re gonna hit every red light. And that can be just as problematic, who needs to get to the airport, especially when you have pre-check, which I do. And you live in a small city, three hours in advance. I do not need to be at the airport three hours in advance, but I’m often at the airport three hours in advance because my time pessimist doesn’t wanna miss that plane and doesn’t wanna miss it so completely that there’s just dead time that I’m losing.

Cam: I really appreciate how you are bringing in this example of you and your partner and how it becomes this dynamic, right? That often we are having our own experience, but we often have our experience in response to others. Right. I know that my son, In part, he was having that experience because of, how his world was turned upside down, right.

When he was robbed of his senior year and had to sit in a room on zoom and not be engaged. Right. So in part that economic approach was in response to certain factors that he was adjusting for. And I think that, as we look at disrupting habitual responses, it comes back to, you know, our own stuff and recognizing what we tend to.

Am I a time pessimist? Do I tend to throw up red lights? Am I a time optimist? Do I see it in the way of green lights and then how that might be interplaying with the other people in my life? we’re not these individual vessels. Doing our own thing. We’re always coming in, interacting with others in our lives, our loved ones and people at work. And then those things that are out in society, right? The cop sitting on the side of the road is gonna pull you for speeding because you’re late but listeners, as we finish up here What kind of view do you have on planning? Is it green light? do you tend to be a time optimist and to just think about what does it look like to put in a couple yellow lights? What I mean by the yellow light there is transitions.

How things might go sideways for a moment and to add a little time if you’re on the other end. So Shelly, you remind me of my mom who is like getting to the airport and she would just think about everything that could possibly happen. And then we would be often, there with an hour and a half to spare. And as you said, then I have dead time. Can we nudge that a little bit the other direction there.

Shelly: Cam, you know how much I’m loving the pendulum metaphor lately. And this is yet another pendulum. Red light lives on one side and green light on the other. So the opportunity here is to find some space in the middle to slow down and account for if you’re on the green light side and to get a more realistic view, if you’re on the red light side.

So 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 gonna say ’em again. The first is to leave a review wherever you listen. The second is to share us with others. And finally, you can financially support the show by becoming a Patron. To do that, visit the website Click on the Patreon link in the upper right-hand corner, and for $5 a month, not only are you covering all of the costs of running this 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

Cam: And I’m Cam.

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

More from this show


Episode 135