ADHD and Purpose: Getting Insight into Your Who and Why

Episode 154

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Asher and Cam make an easy transition from last week’s episode on needs and self-actualization to a focus on ADHD and purpose. The hosts share how purpose is a product of the work that happens in the action/learning model of coaching. As clients identify and operate out of strengths and start to see themselves in the picture, they begin to get insight into their Who. A client’s Who is their sense of identity and, as Asher shares in the episode, those of us with ADHD can struggle to connect to this concept for a number of reasons.

The hosts continue to discuss how learning about one’s self opens the door to their bigger purpose or their sense of Why. Asher shares a client story of how a client’s purpose was revealed through the coaching process. Cam shares from his own experience the obstacles we can face getting insight into our purpose. The hosts discuss how insight into purpose can lead to prioritization and motivation and leave the listeners with an exercise to start to get more clarity into their purpose.

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Episode Transcript:

[00:00:00] Ash: Hi, I am Ash.

[00:00:01] Cam: And I’m Cam.

[00:00:02] Ash: And this is Translating ADHD. Quick reminder that our two group coaching offerings – Agency, which is with both Cam and I, and Purpose, which is just with me – are open for registration for the new year. Visit the website translatingadhd.com, click on the group coaching tab.

Cam, it feels weird to say Happy New Year because it’s not the new year yet for us. We are recording this right before the Christmas holiday. However, to our listeners who are listening to this after the new year, Happy New Year, and happy first Translating ADHD episode of 2023.

This marks our fourth year doing the show. Wow.

[00:00:45] Cam: Happy New Year.

[00:00:46] Ash: Happy New Year. And what better topic to kick us off than to talk about purpose? So we spent our last several episodes talking about Cam’s ADHD hierarchy of needs and what that builds toward in a coaching relationship is what we’re gonna talk about today, and that’s finding purpose. 

[00:01:10] Cam: It’s so interesting. I am not necessarily a purpose specialist, but in the work that I do with my clients, as we start to identify goals, as we determine how to work best to work with each other. and that clients start to operate out of their strengths. They start to, to get a sense of they’re who, and that’s what you were saying, you’re reminding me of before this episode today, and said, getting in touch with that, who seeing oneself in the picture and that with ADHD, it can really be a disconnect to that sense of. And our sense of why, why are we here doing what we’re doing, being who we are.

[00:01:57] Ash: I think it’s important to start by saying that purpose is not a destination. It’s not about what career, what house, what car, what lifestyle, what it is about is first understanding. , what a life that fits looks like for you. And then being on a journey to get closer to that life that fits. 

Cam, over the course of this show I’ve talked about so many clients who come to me because they’ve fallen out of love with their business, or their job isn’t working for them, or their relationship isn’t working for them, just life is not working in some way. And they arrive with this perspective of, if I can get ADHD managed, that’s all that’s needed here. And there are certainly a number of ADHD components at play, but that’s just part of the picture. When we start to put the client in the picture, suddenly more is revealed. Maybe that job just isn’t a good fit for who that client is. Maybe that relationship, there’s more there. There’s work to be done. That isn’t my client’s work. That’s the stuff of yours, mine and ours. And that can be so hard to see. When we’re in the throes of ADHD chaos, and we’re living in this reactive mode. We’re operating from one down. We’re reacting to reacting to reacting to.

And getting to know yourself as an ADHD person is one of the most powerful things you can do, and it’s very, very difficult. There’s a lot of interesting research out there that says that ADHD adolescents don’t form a strong sense of an identity or as strong of a sense of identity as their neurotypical peers. And I see that play out with my adult clients. Not that there isn’t a strong identity there to be discovered, it is there, but the awareness of it is what is lacking and why is that?

Again, as ADHD people, what do we learn to do? We learn to conform, to figure out what our role is and try and bend to that, to make up for, to take on the blame. And when we’re doing that, we’re not putting ourselves in the picture. We’re not aware of who we are and what matters to us in this situation because we’re reacting to who everyone else is and what matters to them.

[00:04:43] Cam: And we’re just also, you know, masking through our day right of, we’ve talked a lot about authenticity, vulnerability. and that in that one down perspective, this I can’t show up as myself. That psychotherapist that I was talking to about needs and that safety level of this, at least, I can’t exist as my authentic self. And so a tremendous amount of energy goes into passing, masking, trying not to be who we are, but as we start to explore that and understand that, and I really appreciate that Ashe around that. It’s not that we can. Connect with, our sense of identity and sense of self. It’s that awareness piece.

This is the first barrier of ADHD, of developing awareness here around our who. But in doing so this hearkens back to Big C coaching and that I have the same thing. Clients come and they’re like, okay, I’m told ADHD is the problem, or I’m realizing ADHD is the dilemma, right? And that’s often the impetus for coaching. They come and we do, we address the ADHD, but we also are life coaches. We are life coaches, we have life coaching skills in addition to the ADHD coaching skills. So life coaching skills is about realizing about your. Realizing about your purpose and embracing this idea of it’s a journey and being on that journey versus I think the way we can fall into is this destination thinking, I’ve gotta get to a certain point and then I’m done. and everything’s finished.

The really fascinating thing that happens here when we do purpose type coaching or big C coaching, it becomes so much easier to executive function. And so often we talk about these symptoms and you are presented with what you need to do and get a good night’s sleep, get your exercise, get your protein, get your greens, neutropics, fish oil, meds, behaviors and practices, and these are all important. But I will tell you when you start to develop this alignment, this integration of what you’re trying to do with who you are, and you’re no longer putting all this energy and effort into masking or passing, just managing that. Your ability to attend and be present to pivot and activate. To sustain effort to a completion point becomes so much easier.

And so we are not doing this as this extraneous thing to be a better version of yourself, Ash. This is, this was the coaching that I got my training years ago. My life. And it was a little bit out there for me, but coupled with the education aspect of having ADHD that we teach about ADHD, we were just teaching about ADHD about the needs and these subtle distinctions at these specific levels of Maslow around the physiological and safety and love and belongingness and esteem and self-actualization. There’s a lot of teaching here. There’s a lot of learning, but there’s also this as we work together to be curious about who we are at our core.

[00:08:27] Ash: Cam, I’m doing really interesting work with a client right now that I think will kind of help illustrate what purpose is and what it’s not. Again, it’s not a destination. It’s about knowing you’re who this client and I have been working a lot on coming back to projects consistently. He’s somebody who likes to figure out a lot of things for himself from electrical or handy projects around his house to investment and tax strategies. He wants to figure those things out for himself. He could theoretically hire somebody else to do them, but there’s a level of enjoyment there for him. There’s something about novelty and learning for the sake of learning. In fact, I think one of that client’s values is knowledge. Just this thirst for learning and unearthing new knowledge.

And we had this really great session a couple of days ago where a bunch of dots connected for this client. Different threads we’ve been pulling on. So the metaphor we’ve been using is like junk cars in the yard. If I’m gonna work on all these junk cars, right, how do I know which cars are in the yard? And then how do I come back to those cars consistently? And the car we’re working on right now is the financial car. You know, how do I make a consistent practice around the financial car? What’s coming in, what’s going out? And that starts with going back and doing that for all of 2022. And I’m sure anyone who has rental property or is a small business owner who has ADHD listening to this who hasn’t done that throughout the year, listening to this is having that same eh moment because it’s a pain to have to do that.

I’ve had to do that before too. So how does he engage with this really boring, awful project of sifting through all of the transactions from last year? Well, he’s coupled it with this novel project of can I come up with a better tool than what is out there? And here’s the really interesting thing, is he’s not attached to the outcome of a better tool. The better tool is a novel piece that makes going through all of the transactions from last year enticing, whether or not he pursues the novel project. And when he did this, we looked at the other tasks and we did the same thing. All of a sudden, here are these novel projects, these things that he could do to further his own goals, which may or may not happen. But even if they don’t, there’s learning and novelty to be had there that wouldn’t be there if he just stuck to the task of sifting through the transactions. So there’s that client interjecting that value and that strong source of motivation for him of novelty and learning. And turning it into a way to tackle those tasks that are tough for him to tackle.

This session happened this week, so I’m so stoked to see how this turns out for this client. But the moral of the story, however it turns out is there’s the client’s who right there in the why am I not doing what I know I ought to do? Bringing in what gets him excited to engage with a task rather than trying to brute force it.

The reason that I share this story is here’s this client’s but you notice there’s no destination there. Novelty and learning towards what? Well, for this client, novelty and learning towards anything in his own words. Anything can be interesting to me if there’s novelty and learning anything, and so it’s not always about where is the end point? Where is this going? Again, it’s not about does he do these novel tasks or not. It’s about the idea that he could.

[00:12:43] Cam: And the fun part here, this bending of this belief around interest, which I see out in ADHD land, right? I’m interested or I’m not interested. This binary take on interest and right here, you and your client are fabricating interest by infusing something that’s not that exciting or interesting to something he is very interested in based in his value system. Right? Again, novelty knowledge and learning. It’s sort of like, he’s finding some grain for his flower mill, right? To move this stuff through this process. He’s more intrigued by the mechanism, the processes, and I love where you started. This was connecting the dots.

Something I used to do, Ash, was do a lot of naval gazing. I would rationalize my inertia. It’s just sharing that with one of my children, rationalizing inertia. The sitting there of sort of like, what is my why? Who am I? Who am I gonna? but sitting still and trying to think my way to this place of clarity, of lucid thought, of my purpose, and this is where taking some steps, crafting some experiments to look at something and starting to bring things together that might seem disparate, might seem unconnected.

When we bring novelty and creativity and just holding it lightly, we talked about holding things lightly over the last couple episodes around esteem and self-actualization to kind of look at the dots and spend some time with them and consistently come back and walk around them and tinker with them to sort of see, okay, how can we create those dots how can we connect those dots?

Because that’s when we start to do that high level contextual work. Where you’re looking up and seeing stars, and then all of a sudden you see the constellations, you see the patterns, and you see these consistent patterns and it’s energizing and it gives you a sense of purpose.

And with that, a really interesting thing is it gives you a sense of priority. And so many of my clients are like, how do I. Better decisions because everything presents equally. It’s so hard to distinguish what should I be working on now in this moment, and when we do this work, we can actually start to develop the sense of priority and who doesn’t want that?

[00:15:27] Ash: Cam, I love everything you just said because it really drives home that coaching and the work that we advocate for on this show is a learning action model. And the action is not about did you do it? Did you not do it? Did you pass? Did you fail? It’s about what did I learn? And so let’s back it up and talk a little bit about the dots that this client connected.

We didn’t start here. I’ve been working with this client for a while and we’ve been working on prioritization for a while. We’ve iterated on it several times, starting with pretty traditional, put it in a list, put it in a system, trying to quantify priority. Meanwhile discounting that part of him that loves novelty and knowledge, almost admonishing himself sometimes for, I went down this rabbit hole, my attention was here. It should have been here. I’m spending a lot of time on this. I really ought to be spending a lot of time over here on this. So seeing love for novelty and love for knowledge, for the sake of knowledge, as at odds with being able to prioritize and engage with what’s important. And now look at where we are. 

We’re taking those values, right? Knowledge, learning, novelty. and leveraging them as a strength to create priority. So yes, let’s identify which cars in the yard need to be attended to, but we can also make room to make them novel and to add some opportunity for learning and fun and exploration as you do these tasks. And something my client said in this session several times was, and giving myself permission to do that. So when I repeated back the task of okay, to pull the transactions and sift through them, we’re connecting it to this novel project of can I come up with a better way to track my transactions? and he followed that up with and giving myself permission to do that. Giving myself permission to pull on the novel threads while I do the boring work.

It’s huge. We can so often deny permission to ourselves as ADHD people and just act in ways that are counter to our because we don’t think we’re allowed. We don’t think that other people value our creativity or our novelty. There’s so much focus on productivity and efficiency. We can tell ourselves this story that we need to do it efficiently. We just need to do it quickly, get it done.

So yeah, that giving myself permission, that was huge in my own journey. Still is. And sometimes I have to remind myself of that. You know, I have that voice too. When I’m having a tough day or tough week, I can get on myself about, you need do more. You need to be more productive, and I can forget to give myself permission to do what works for me. That Drill Sergeant steps in. And so again, back to a life that fits and a life that fits is not only not about a destination, it’s about approaching every day in a way that works for you to the best of your ability based on what is under your control and what’s not.

[00:19:08] Cam: So well said. There’s another piece here too that I’m appreciating and I imagine It was again, something that your client worked through was the whole FOMO thing. right to pursue one area. To push right, to push the boundaries to really dig in and explore. You have to let go of some things may have to let go and, let some other cars sit there. I think that what we can do is with, fear of missing out, we kind of start to go down one. It’s like, oh, you know, I can’t commit to this because what about that thing over there? And that was the thing that I used to do a lot, so much as I was go and start, but all of a sudden something else would get my attention and I’d jump to that track get to that level of exploration and curiosity and integration. I’d start to see some stars, but never able to really start to connect the dots to really appreciate, oh, okay, here’s a pattern that’s really interesting. It’s getting my attention. It’s interesting. But that’s based in fear. His approach was based in curiosity. and fascination.

[00:20:27] Ash: Cam, it’s funny that you say that because, you know, months ago, I think one of the first times we attempted to identify cars, and we weren’t even using that metaphor yet, it’s like, okay, let’s just make a list of at home and personal threads that you’re pulling on, things that are out there that you want to do or want to attend to. And as his coach, I wrote down the list as he was talking, didn’t say a word about it. Finish the list. Is that okay? Now let’s look at the list. What do you think? And he said, I think there are way too many things on this list. So yeah, that was a big struggle for that client and is still there.

And another thing, this is the eloquent mode client, right? So another big limiting perspective that was in the room was that he either had eloquent mode or didn’t have it. And so when he had it, he had to capitalize on it. And when he didn’t have it, he just didn’t have it. How do I get more of it? How do I get more of this type of engagement?

[00:21:30] Cam: Can you share with our listeners, just refresh our memory of eloquent mode for this.

[00:21:36] Ash: Basically eloquent mode is that place where things are clicking. He’s moving through tasks easily. He’s feeling good about himself and his who, and he’s completing, things are happening. They’re happening without a lot of struggle because he’s quote unquote, motivated and engaged.

And do you see again how we’ve kind of flipped that on its head? Because when we talked about eloquent mode last time, we talked about addressing that limiting perspective with that client and his curiosity of, can I generate eloquent mode? Maybe it is something that I can find ways to access or create for myself. And here we are now, doing just that, linking together these values with his bigger picture, because financially there’s a bigger picture there for him and his household that is important to him. So taking values, linking it with the journey where we’re trying to go, and generating motivation from that place.

You know, I’m a big fan lately of saying two things can be true, right? This client can do the boring stuff and is fully capable of doing the boring stuff to get where he wants to go financially. But boy is it so much easier and more fun and more engaging when he gives himself permission to link it to some novelty.

[00:23:11] Cam: So Asher, as we finish up here today, and as we leave our listeners with an intention or an area of focus, I wanna come back to this client and what were the prerequisites for him to kind of, you know, there was that, permission aspect, but before the. was there something there that he started to turn towards that maybe our listeners could too, right?

If they’re sort of seeing these dots and they’re like, ah, I see the dots, but I’m not sure how to start to connect or How I might be able to apply some of my strengths or values in a given direction. where was that early pivot for him?

[00:23:57] Ash: The early pivot was that question of can I generate eloquent mode? This previous perspective of I have it or I don’t. Coupled with a perspective of I need acknowledgement and accolades from others to feel good. That generates eloquent mode to turning that inward. How can I self-generate eloquent mode, and how can I roll with the punches when something knocks me down a little, takes me out of eloquent mode without letting it steal eloquent mode for such a long period of time.

Like, Cam, we could spend so many episodes just breaking down all of the individual pieces that went into this bigger realization for this client. And I think that’s sort of the moral of the story here, listeners, is that purpose isn’t necessarily something we coach directly to. It’s something that comes out in Drs and Drs in the coaching. It comes out in the things that keeps showing up in different places. It comes out in learning to put yourself in the picture and that right there. is what set this client up to be able to do this.

This client, when we started working together, I just suggested this, let’s just say as a, okay, I see you like novelty and you like knowledge. What if we do that? What if we try and make this novel and fun and you give yourself permission to do that? I think he would’ve recoiled at the thought, I’m not allowed to do that. Those aspects of myself are something that frustrate the people around me sometimes. So I really can’t do that. I have to do it the right way, the efficient way. Now I have to please the people around me get it done. But over our work together in so many areas, he has practiced putting himself in the picture.

And again, this is back to coaching being a learning action model, we can’t get somewhere new with the learning, without some new lived experiences, without throwing some stuff in the mix and seeing what happens. And I have thrown a lot of actions into the mix around prioritizing being more consistent with pretty mixed results, but the results aren’t what matters. It’s the learning. And while the results around prioritization may have been mixed, when my clients started putting himself in the picture, more and more started seeing that he had agency over eloquent mode. He had agency over motivation and excitement and engagement. That was the game changer. Cause I don’t have to wait for this to come and I don’t have to be afraid that somebody else is gonna take my eloquent mode away because I have agency here. I’m in this picture too.

And so listeners, again, we don’t coach directly to this, so if this seems a little mysterious, that’s okay. But what you can do is look at where can I put myself in the picture here and what do I know about myself in this situation, around this dilemma, around this car? And there are numerous ways you can do that. Yours, mine, and ours is one of my favorite ways to help clients start to learn how to put themselves in the picture when it comes to a dilemma with another person. But even if it’s a dilemma with yourself, what’s the dialogue there? what’s the should? What’s real and what’s not?

And actually I’ll end with another quick little client antidote that sort of illustrates that I have this client who has this rebel mode on. When her drill sergeant starts barking at her, she’s got this rebel that says, Nope. Okay. I’m not doing anything right. I should do this, I should do this, I should do this. Nope, not doing any of it at all.

And what we recently coached about is the difference between the rebel and the actual need for a break between major transitions. She’s traveling for the holidays, so leaving town, coming back. Then when she’s back in town, she’s off work for several more days. So that’s another transition. And what she was curious about is what is the distinction between my brain’s need for rest in order to be able to transition and the Rebel, because I don’t know when one stops and the other one starts.

And listeners, my client’s ability to even recognize that, that’s the question she’s asking herself is a product of the work she’s done in coaching. Right? It’s being familiar with her Rebel, and it’s also being familiar with herself and giving permission. I wanna be able to give permission for that break, but I also wanna understand when the break becomes the rebel, because that’s when it becomes detrimental.

So listeners, the best thing you can do is just keep cultivating that awareness. Cam used the metaphor of constellations – every new bit of language you give to your own experience – eloquent mode, the rebel, the drill sergeant, those are stars in your own constellation. And it’s okay if you can’t see the bigger picture. Just keep noticing those things that you have named, those things that you have become aware of when and how they’re showing up, and over time, the other stars will start to fill in. And that is the focus of the Purpose class, is looking at that bigger picture, actually coaching to purpose a little bit. And seeing what stars we can fill in, we can map out the sky just a little bit more.

So once again, listeners, Happy New Year and until next week, I’m Ash.

[00:30:00] Cam: And I’m Cam.

[00:30:00] Ash: And this was the Translating ADHD podcast. Thanks for listening.

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Episode 154