ADHD and Getting Distance from the Adrenaline Response Cycle

Episode 161

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Ash and Cam shift from exploring the phases of the Adrenaline Response Cycle to discussing how to become less beholden to the cycle. The hosts share that this work is central to any ADHD coaching relationship – locating motivators other than urgency and hyperfocus to get things done. Ash and Cam focus on three main discussion points in today’s episode.

  • Building awareness around how we can rationalize our avoidant behaviors prolonging the Delay phase.
  • Building awareness of how we can hunt for meaning in everything we do and everything we don’t do.
  • And starting to shift away from our binary (now/not now) approach to time and urgency.

The hosts also look at how awareness of big signals can help to create important new learning about the ARC process. Cam and Ash share numerous examples of how each individual’s approach to this dilemma is unique to that individual and the significance of owning one’s own process here. Ash shares a different take on the “Just do it!” approach, and both hosts discuss the importance of popping the ‘fantasy bubble’ and share the limitations of popular phrases like time blindness. Finally, the hosts talk about how they use concepts like emotion, space and social connections to make time more discernible for both Cam and Ash.

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Episode Transcript:

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

[00:00:05] Cam: And I’m Cam.

[00:00:07] Ash: And this is Translating ADHD. A couple of new group coaching announcements. Equanimity, which is a course just with Cam, begins Tuesday, March 28th and meets at 1:00 PM. Project X, which is a course with both of us, begins Tuesday, April 11th, and meets at 8:30 PM Eastern Time.

[00:00:32] Cam: And that project X, that’s that one where you’ve got that thing that only matters to you and it’s not happening, right. And it dovetails nicely into our topic today, Ash, around, you know, working on stuff that matters to us and trying to get a little distance on this whole adrenaline response cycle. 

[00:00:57] Ash: Yeah, Cam, it does. But before we dive into that topic, for more information on any of these courses, visit the website Click on the group coaching tab. All of the information for each course and pricing are available there. All right, Cam, so speaking of dovetailing nicely into our topic, what are we talking about today? 

[00:01:19] Cam: Well, we’ve been looking at ARC or adrenaline response cycle. We’ve started, you know, we were in relationships and looking at boundaries. And then, you know, how we show up through the day. And when we are wired for context and we’re also wired to react and respond, it impacts our boundaries, right? We will pull up the drawbridge when we are feeling pressed or a lot of urgency, and we’ll kind of let everything down. And give away our time, give away our energy when we don’t feel that urgency.

[00:01:58] Cam: So we talked a little bit about that and just being in the delay period, right? That period or phase before, the intense activity before hyperfocus and how that can play out. So this week we’re really looking at, okay, enough here around ARC. And so what can we do to get a little distance from ARC? And by the way, we’re not saying get rid of it. By no means are we saying to put that amazing ability aside. It’s really more about how can we use it strategically and then bring in some other resources.

But before that, Ash, another announcement is that Ash has reached a milestone in coach training. And so he has just received his certification. It’s called the Certified ADHD Productivity Coach from Coach Approach training. And so it is the equivalent of a robust ADHD centered PCC, and that’s a lot. But the PCC is a very much of a respected certification level from ICF, which is the governing body of coaching. So this has been a long haul, a lot of work, and so congratulations, Ash.

[00:03:21] Ash: Thank you, Cam. A long haul, a lot of work and a lot of trips around the ARC cycle between there and here hilariously enough. So thank you. Yeah. Feels good to have that done. 

[00:03:39] Cam: Yeah. And you know, something that we feel strongly is that coaches have training and that they have some type of certification, right? That yes, these skills are transferable, but one of our problems we have in the industry is people look at it and say, oh yeah, I do that. And they really don’t do that. And so there’s a lot of struggle out there and miscommunication about exactly what is and what isn’t coaching. There are guidelines, there are competencies, there are ethics, and there’s this, again, a governing body that provides a robust outline for. So again, congratulations, Ash.

[00:04:27] Ash: Thanks. All right, so now that I’m off that particular ARC hamster wheel, let’s talk about having a different experience with ARC. 

[00:04:39] Cam: Yeah, so there’s one episode here on how do I have a different experience with ARC, and I would say that this is the work I do with my clients over a long period is diversifying motivators. And really thinking about how do we get things done and how do we do those things we know we ought to do, where we’re not so beholden to ARC. And so we are gonna share today, but we’re not gonna give you all of the answers, listeners, because it goes beyond a single episode. We’ll address certainly some elements here regarding getting some distance from ARC.

[00:05:24] Ash: When we say we’re not gonna give you all of the answers, it’s not because we’re being withholding, it’s because you have the answers. We have the framework to help you find those answers. So when Cam just said, this is the work that we do with our clients over a long period of time, that’s precisely what we’re doing. We provide a framework to help our clients find their own answers, and that’s what we’re attempting to do here as well.

[00:05:56] Cam: And really what we do in every episode of this, right? And as we’re talking here, recognizing that the way that Ash gets things done and gets distanced from ARC is different than the way I do. It’s different from most of my clients. We all have our own different way of getting things done. And so this is really about owning your own process here, but it all comes back to this awareness. Getting awareness of what’s going on. And where I’d like to start, Ash, is around, again, the big signals that in order to get some distance from ARC, we have to understand the big signals that are in play there.

[00:06:40] Cam: And so there are a couple that I was thinking about before we started the episode today, and one of them is, again, our contextual wiring. So something that I did when I didn’t have a sense of ARC, I was constantly searching for meaning, and as I said last week, we kind of tethered that contextual wiring or that divergent thinking. It just proliferates outward. This is why brainstorming is something we do really well, ideation, and so what I would do is what does it mean, right? This little thing, what does it mean? This little thing, what does it mean, what’s the meaning there? And often going to this very negative place. What I mean by that listeners is if I had a setback, I would supersize that setback to some bigger meaning, means that I shouldn’t do it at all. I should just get outta here, get out of this area, or it means something about me, right? That I’m a failure. And so, first of all, that right there kind of agitates my nervous and has me beholden to that urgent, non-urgent approach.

The other thing I would do is rationalize behavior, right? That there’s this distinction between urgent and not urgent, and exploring what is this not urgent area and the distinction between important and urgent. And we can look at important things, things that are important, but don’t have to be done. And we try to create urgency around it and it just doesn’t happen. And this is that whole idea of Project X. Project X is this thing. You know the book you wanna write, the advanced training or courses you want to take, whatever it is, it only matters to you. We try to create urgency and yet, we can’t make it happen today. So then we rationalize our behavior in that delay phase. We rationalize our inertia and, oh well it’s not quite right. I can do it tomorrow. That’s what I used to do. It’s not quite right. It’s not quite right.

So this is the place to begin is just to sort of see, alright, am I making additional meaning? Am I rationalizing inaction or my behavior? Because that’s a lot of energy going into that and not going into trying to figure out how to create your own process to get some distance on ARC.

[00:09:21] Ash: Cam, I wanna jump in real quick and say something about that rationalizing phase because the ways that that can show up sometimes don’t look like rationalizing. I had a client who is a fellow ADHD coach, who comes from the background of special education, and one of her project X’s is giving presentations to educators on ADHD. Trying to affect some change or some new awareness about ADHD within school systems. And she is certainly uniquely positioned to do this, given her background.

Yet she found herself in this immense cycle of delay. Why won’t I touch this presentation? Why won’t I look at it? And she brought that to a coaching session. And at some point during the session I asked her, okay, if someone called you up tomorrow and wanted you to give this presentation next week, could you do it? She said, yes, I could. I have all the knowledge. Where she was getting hung up, where that rationalizing was happening, was in putting the slides together just so, having it be a certain kind of way. Old metaphor here from a very early episode, but kind of that Millennium Falcon phenomenon where she’s adding work, adding work, adding work that really isn’t important to the end goal. The end goal is to speak to educators and to impart her wisdom, and she already has that. It’s there. It’s ready to go.

[00:11:18] Cam: And that kind of hearkens back to last week where I think it was the guest room example of it’s a little bit different, but it is this sort of, here it is top of mind and it’s not quite ready, or I need to tinker with it, or it’s just sort of top of mind and that distance thing, right. This reminds me of your own awareness, Ash, of we can kind of have this latent anxiety about this. It’s like, you know what? I can chill on that. I know what to do. It’s just, I really need to be thinking about, all right, how much time do I need to get ready for this thing? And so then it’s not, again, putting all this energy and effort into thinking about it, right, when you don’t have to.

[00:12:06] Cam: The other thing you’re talking about there is this accountability piece, right? As you said, it’s like if someone called and said, you know, Hey, could you do this for me on this date? Because there’s a backstop there, right? There is a definite time mark that you see. It’s set, it’s shared with someone else. And I’m gonna say, so what we get into this thinking of, I gotta do it myself, right? Only counts if I can be self-reliant, independent. I’m telling you, people, when I started to collaborate with folks and really outsource the accountability thing in the sense of shared dates, putting shared dates out and spreading them out enough, allowed me to prepare adequately for a class, a presentation, a coaching session.

[00:13:02] Cam: And the other fascinating thing here, Ash, is it helped to fortify. I don’t know if fortify is the right word. This goes to this whole concept of time, but I was able to appreciate time more when I started to kind of look and see how can I make time work for me, and it’s a mix. I’ll go into that in a little bit, but again, this is another piece is starting to challenge the way you see time and move away from this urgent, not urgent binary approach.

[00:13:44] Ash: Cam, something that kept me stuck for a long time was inaction. Inaction, just like I articulated my client’s inaction. In fact, to the point that I was rooming with a colleague who I adore at an industry conference, and I was talking to her about all of the things I wanted to do in my business, which at the time was an organizing business, and she looked at me and said, why don’t you just do it?

I love that story now because now I see what she sees. But back then that hit me hard and not in a good way. Cam, was probably the equivalent of your wife saying, why aren’t you not working? It’s like the fantasy bubble. I love that metaphor that my client used, that fantasy bubble, that everything was going well. That one statement just popped it for me. But in the meantime, I’ve learned that just doing it is the way for me if I wanna give a talk on a new topic. Booking a talk on that topic is a way to get to a finished product. My purpose class that I’m teaching for the first time. The way to get there was to book that class and then let it come together.

[00:14:59] Ash: But there’s an element of self-trust there too, right? To put a deadline on the calendar to make a commitment and to trust that you’ll get there. And that was something I didn’t have in the back when, when my colleague said, why don’t you just do it? That I do have now. 

[00:15:22] Cam: Right? And I’ll just counter with that or add onto that is the trust was not just a matter of trust period. That trust was built on a skillset, right, of you’ve done 10 plus classes, right? So you know the format, you know the process, and this was just moving in a very similar approach. Just new and interesting, by the way. Interesting subject matter, but you’re absolutely right. It’s not so much to just do it, it’s, it’s the laser or strategic, just like just set the date, right. To sort of figure out what is your just part to do in order to trip it over into, okay, now I’m moving from this thinking state into doing.

The other thing you bring up is, and I think this was popping, my fantasy bubble, was my thinking. I thought I was doing, when I was thinking, when I was thinking about work, when I was thinking about projects I thought I was actually doing. And when my wife said, what are you doing? Well, you’re not working. And I’m like, I thought I was. I honestly, I was working, and so it’s again, getting back to like that distinction between thinking about something is not actually doing it.

Listeners, as you’re listening to this, this might be resonating with you and it might not be right. I can think about so many people who it’s like, my problem is not the doing part. My problem is the tapping the brakes and the stopping. I just have someone in my class right now, they are reluctant to get into something because they can’t find an exit ramp, right. So this sort of, again, discernible nuggets of work that are outside or complimentary to the adrenaline response cycle. We can still use that fuel to activate and nudge into activation, but giving some useful structures here that work for us.

[00:17:37] Ash: Cam, I’m glad you brought up people who have the opposite presentation to what you and I have, that sort of delay being in the thinking and the thinking, feeling like work versus doing, doing, doing, but still not feeling like you’re getting any closer to those things that matter. I have a client right now who is a total fast brainer, who is very ambitious and has always been very ambitious, and his evolving understanding right now is around time and the realities and the constraints of time, and if I’m being honest, he’s in a bit of a bummer place about it right now because he’s realizing that time is a resource that he needs to be able to apply to his ambitions. And he is coming to the understanding that it’s a constraint. It’s a constraint that he didn’t see or understand as a constraint before that he does now.

[00:18:42] Cam: I’ve said in the past, so that acronym of time, energy, and attention, and there’s this interesting place that we get to is this recognizing the limits of our time, our energy, and our attention. You know? So going back two weeks with protecting recovery time, that was a recognition on your part, Ash, of I only have so much to give, I only have so much time, energy, and attention to give. And then I run out and I’m dead, and I need to recharge. I need to renew. So listeners, as we are moving along here to think about this whole thing around urgency, I’m gonna point you in the direction of this binary thing, right? This binary, take on urgent or not urgent. Interesting. Not interesting. And now, and not now.

[00:19:37] Cam: So that’s what’s happening. Kind of at causation that then has us looking for meaning or being challenged by the constraints of time or rationalizing behavior because it’s really hard for us to see time other than now and not now, and that I have things that are urgent or not. So here’s all this stuff that’s not urgent, including your Project X stuff, and how do you get traction on that?

[00:20:06] Cam: This comes back to present. Curiosity, your keen observer and bringing awareness here. I’m gonna say my concept of time again, I said I was gonna come back to this when I’ve been kind of playing around with time and sort of placing these things out and, you know, basically trying to be a sprinter in a marathon, right? Do these little ARC sprints, get ready, but then rest and do it. I have shifted or done something with time where it is, it’s an emotional thing. It’s a spatial thing, and it’s a social thing, okay.

So let me expand on all three of those. The emotional aspect. I’ll start there in the sense of before it was, you know, again, anxiety, urgent amount of time, or there’s an urgency there that would make that dopamine available and I could activate for. But starting to think about, again, what does bring me meaning, right? That teaching and educating and training and mentoring are really rewarding for me. They provide this amazing feedback loop that gives me a sense of who I am and why I’m here.

And that I used to spend a lot of time, Ash, just churning on of that, again, that high contextual going to, what’s the meaning? What’s the meaning of this? What’s the meaning of this to, oh, okay, I have a sense. And if I pick things that are in that vein, right? There’s only so many things I can do in a day, so I have to be selective and instead of getting focused on, shoot, there’s only so much I can do and I’m missing out on all these other things. Versus what are the things I want to identify and nurture and move to some completion point? We talked about moving melons and that, you know, we will move these melons like a project and really have a hard time discerning what is completion, what is a step, how do I get it to the next level? So I had to build that out.

[00:22:23] Cam: So doing it socially with other people of like, you know, what is completion here? Oh, okay, I got it. So I know what the next step is and to move that forward. So that social aspect of working together with others, this is where accountability and positive accountability groups can be really supportive here to help you move things forward. That emotional aspect. Looking at your projects other than a lens of urgent and not urgent.

And then this other thing of spatial. I’ve had a client sort of talk about they see time spatially, like a three-dimensional block that they’ve had to create because that wasn’t there before. So listeners, it’s like taking this idea of, okay, that term time blindness and taking it beyond. Yes, it’s hard for us to appreciate time in the passage of time to be able to see into the future and draw upon our learning in the past, but to push past that time is something we’ve gotta deal with. We gotta deal with it. It’s here to stay. And so if you can get creative here, bring that keen observer to how can you look at time in a different way other than just urgent, not urgent.

[00:23:45] Ash: Cam, it’s so interesting because I would use so much of the same language you just used, particularly the language around emotion and space to describe my relationship with time, but it looks very different than what you just articulated. For me, the emotional aspect is how I’m feeling about time and how I’m feeling about time goes to, do I have space? Is there spaciousness in my time and in my schedule or not? And so when I have something important that will become urgent coming up, I’m looking ahead and I’m planning for spaciousness because the lack of spaciousness can make me feel resentful about time, about my commitments, and can cause me to freeze or shut down.

And that’s something a couple of weeks ago we talked about how I’ve been attending to my time, how I set some boundaries around my time with my partner as we manage this process of getting him moved in, which is now done and finishing out the basement, which is not yet done. I have to preserve some amount of spaciousness. Not that I necessarily need all of that space for recovery, which is the context we were talking about it before, but because when my time starts to feel too clamped down or too restricted, see that feel language there? See how the emotional modality comes in when I start to feel too restricted or too clamped down in my own time? That can put me right into freezing, to delaying, to not attending to.

And interestingly, this social element works a little differently for me too. This collaboration is a huge source of support for me. This podcast would not exist without this partnership between you and I, but I don’t seek out collaboration in the same way that you do. Collaboration can sometimes be a frustration point for me. And things like body doubling groups, positive accountability groups, they don’t work for me. I like to work alone, work in quiet, and so working alongside others is something that only works in very specific scenarios for me. And I’ve only got two right now, by the way, one being this podcast, the other being a writing group that I attend once a week to start to sharpen that skill of writing because I’ve got some future writing projects that I wanna attend to, including that book that we talked about, what, a year ago,

[00:26:39] Ash: And so in those specific instances, it’s a great source of support, but showing up to a positive accountability group where everybody just picks their own thing and works on it is a surefire way to make sure that I don’t work on anything because it touches on that time constraint thing. For me, it feels restrictive in a way that I just don’t like.

[00:27:02] Cam: As I’m listening, Ash, it just reinforces this idea that one size does not fit all, right? That how our ADHD presents is unique to the individual, as we talked about earlier, with the sense of the big brain and vast brain, and how we perceive of time or how we can make time work for us is gonna be different for every individual.

[00:27:27] Cam: What it reinforces for me is back to the opportunity to own your own process, right? You’re appreciating time, right? You’re appreciating it and seeing it in a way that resonates for you. Trusting that emotional modality of when it feels spacious and when it feels restrictive, and knowing your preferences, knowing your strengths, and knowing your obstacles, right? Knowing those consistent challenges that will trip you up. Same thing for me, right? Last week I came in, what did I say? I said, I’m depleted, and I was, but the most important thing about that was my awareness of it. This week, I’m not depleted and I got a lot going on. And really it comes back to this appreciation of, again, time, but also resources and trusting I can move some stuff in ways that don’t rely on the big push from that ARC.

So listeners, as we finish up here, is to come back to this place of, you know, noticing what has your attention? Are you rationalizing behaviors? Are you searching for meaning like I used to do? And to kind of take a step back and consider, okay, how can I see time or appreciate time in a way that is outside of this ARC lens away from this urgent, not urgent. Now, not now. Can we insert even just another category, Ash? I go back to a long time ago you said something easy, something fun, something hard, right? And it was a way to, again, address these things other than urgent.

So the exercise might be here just to kind of think about what’s something that I can get a little traction on, some noodling on. Maybe it’s a release, not thinking too much about something as we talked about earlier. Give it a break, set it down for a little bit, walk away and come back. This is really fascinating. I’m really enjoying this conversation. There is a life beyond ARC, people. We would not be doing this if we didn’t think it was possible, if we didn’t know it was possible, to be fair.

[00:29:45] Ash: Right, Cam. Just kind of sitting here laughing to myself because something easy, something fun, something hard. You hear my strong emotional modality even in that my let the easy things stay easy or let it be easy. Again, there’s my emotional modality showing up in terms of how I relate to time and tasks.

[00:30:07] Ash: So we could definitely keep going here, but pause here for today, listeners. If you appreciate what we’re doing here on the show and you want to support us, one way that you can do that is by becoming a patron. Our Patreon subscribers cover all of the costs of running this show for Cam and I, which is a big part of the reason that we’re still bringing you this show week to week. Those supports are critical for us, and we’re so grateful for those of you who are supporting us now or who have supported us in the past. To find out more, visit the website Click on the Patreon tab. And for five bucks a month, not only are you financially supporting Cam and my work, you also gain access to our Discord server where our listeners are working together to do their own understand, own, and translate work.

[00:31:01] Ash: So until next week, I’m Ash.

[00:31:03] Cam: And I’m Cam.

[00:31:05] Ash: And this was the Translating ADHD podcast. Thanks for listening.

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