ADHD and the Understand, Own, Translate Model

Episode 169

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Ash and Cam often speak of the Understand, Own, Translate model that is so ubiquitous to the mission of the Translating ADHD podcast – that to live fully and to have success one must understand, own and translate their ADHD experience. Today, Ash and Cam explore this model in depth through a single coaching session with one of Ash’s clients. Describing this single session checks many of the boxes the hosts have been speaking of recently like journey thinking, revealing the Meaning Maker, shifting to causation and moving away from ARC.

They also share essential elements of the coaching process and how coach and client shift from dilemma to opportunity through the discovery, action, insight model of coaching. Ash’s client comes with a specific dilemma, and coach and client quickly identify a limiting belief and a realization of the high cost of seeking rewarding behaviors in a particular way, or as the client states with colorful language, the hot, dirty coal way. Coach and client then shift into using rich metaphor work to further understand and own the behavior and start to see openings for opportunity and change.

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Episode Transcript:

[00:00:00] Ash: Hi, I’m Ash.

[00:00:01] Cam: And I’m Cam.

[00:00:02] Ash: And this is Translating ADHD. Cam, what are we talking about today?

[00:00:08] Cam: So Ash, what we’re talking about today, it’s really fascinating how I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again. We get together, and we’ve got a couple of different ideas, and we start to pull on a thread. And then it just sort of synthesizes right in front of us with the opportunity. And I’m really excited about today because what we’re doing is looking at something that’s really popular on the podcast, which is digging deep into one client’s experience with moving from dilemma to opportunity. And so that’s what we’re going to do today.

It has sort of elements of moving away from ARC and a sense of urgency and moving to and getting to what is real. I think the thing that we try to do with our clients is to get to what is actually happening, what’s real, and that our clients get to a place of asking better questions.

This is the thing I see on social media. This is the thing I see out there in general ADHD land, is we keep asking the same questions. The questions don’t change. And that in part is ADHD in play because ADHD impacts our ability to discern, to distinguish. And it kind of lumps them into that undifferentiated mass that you talk about. And binary, right? Black and white. And so this is a really great example of kind of moving to better questions and what is actually going on.

[00:01:45] Ash: And Cam, it’s not even necessarily better questions, it’s more informative questions. Because the question all of our clients are asking themselves is, why do I not do what I know I ought to do? The problem is they’re not getting satisfying answers to that question no matter how many times they ask it.

And so when we talk about better questioning, it’s about lending more information to the situation. Distinguishing, uncovering what’s real. So Cam, should I go ahead and dive in and talk about this client who happened to have a really timely topic around the thread that we’re pulling on here in the show last week?

[00:02:28] Cam: Yes, but I want to interject something. I’m kind of excited about this because it checks so many boxes for, again, what we’re trying to do here in the podcast and the experience of our clients. And so, we’ve been talking about the meaning maker. Last week. It was me sharing about my meaning maker, that sort of, that confirmation bias that reinforces a belief.

So that’s in play here. The other thing, it goes out to this larger topic area that you and I have been talking about a lot, which is kind of digging into our own process of understand, own, translate. It’s a great example of you doing this work for her to understand, own and start to translate. And finally, it’s really good metaphor. I asked you about this, and you’re like, uh oh. Yeah. Right? 

[00:03:26] Ash: I had sent you a little note that meant nothing.

[00:03:29] Cam: I know, but it’s so cool. It’s like the metaphor guy. Like, whoa, this is so good, and I won’t spoil it, I’m not gonna share the metaphor. I’ll let you share that. But yes, please go ahead and proceed, Ash.

[00:03:41] Ash: Yeah, well long before we get to the metaphor, let’s start with where the client arrived to the session. And that was with this topic of feeling depleted at the end of the day and getting curious about what a replenishing day might look like. And we pretty quickly discovered that this depleted day was coming from stagnation and a sense of the blahs at work.

This client works in tech. For those who follow tech news, you might be aware that there have been some bank challenges there and funding challenges with technology, which is creating a bit of stagnation in my client’s job. There’s just not a lot of room to do career development either in the role that she’s in now, sort of taking on and pioneering new things or to grow into a new job at the company that she’s at, but she likes the company she’s at. She does want to stay there. So the question she was asking is, how do I ride this time out when there’s not a lot that can happen in career when there’s not a lot replenishing or fulfilling about my job right now without spending the duration of that time in the blahs?

[00:05:07] Cam: You made a point about or shared about her distinction there around she’s okay with sort of long-term prospects and really addressing sort of short-term in the sense of how can I have a replenished day? How can I address this depleted day, sensation or experience?

[00:05:28] Ash: Exactly Cam, long-term. As of right now, this role really aligns with her longer-term goals. She’s got some other long-term things outside of career, like writing a book that are of interest to her, but what she said to me was, I wish I had more control over my sense of short-term rewards and fulfillment. That’s where I feel like I’m not getting anywhere.

Which then brought us to getting curious about how do I harvest some fun out of an otherwise blah day. Which is where the rubber started to meet the road in this coaching session, because there is this big limiting perspective on the table that my client was able to name. And one of the cool things about coaching is when clients start to get acclimated to the coaching process, I didn’t have to dig too hard for this limiting perspective. She brought it right to the table. And that limiting perspective is that my life is so easy, I shouldn’t need to have extra fun to blow off steam.

[00:06:34] Cam: Oh, I love that. And just as you said, this practice, there’s a practice here. Your client has been practicing this. I’m all giddy because there’s a coaching kind of IQ here. I don’t like that term, but this knowledge, this sense of, I know my mind, right. So bringing this, I wanna address this whole depleted day thing and harvesting, right, addressing the blahs – what great language – and that the client comes with recognizing, here’s a limiting belief. This limiting belief that her own meaning maker is reinforcing: My life is so easy. I shouldn’t have to have extra fun to blow off steam. Ooh, there’s the should. Right in there. Yeah.

So what did you do with that, Ash? What did you do as you identify that limiting belief or narrative? What’d you do with her in the coaching work?

[00:07:43] Ash: Well, shortly after she named the limiting perspective, she said what happens when she’s in that perspective. And that is, screw it, I’ll do this hot, dirty coal method of having fun. And Cam, you know as well as I do, you hear hot, dirty coal method of having fun as a coach and you’re like, ooh, what does that mean?

And you hear us sort of getting nerdy and excited about this. I just wanna clarify that in the session, I wasn’t necessarily quite this giddy yet because the client wasn’t giddy yet, right. But internally, internally that’s basically what’s happening is, ooh, there’s some rich language for us to grab onto. Let’s find out what’s there.

So what’s the hot, dirty coal method of having fun? Well, it’s fuel that burns dirty, and so the two examples that my client gave were going out for drinks after work, were eating the cookie. So when my client goes for drinks after work, similar age to me, mid-thirties, and those of you listening who are in a similar age know that that’s about the time that one or two drinks can mess you up. It can mess up your sleep, and it can mess you up the next day, even if you don’t drink too much, quote unquote. Get drunk. And that’s this client’s experience. So she goes out, she has a little fun, but it burns dirty, and it has these lasting implications that do make the sense of the blahs worse the next day.

Similar idea with the cookie. In that moment, the cookie feels like it’s going to be a great reward, a great hit of dopamine. It’ll be worth it. But it never tastes as good as my client thinks it does. It never feels as good as she thinks it does. And eating healthy and taking care of herself is important to her. So as a long-term source of reward, fulfillment, fun, eating the cookie isn’t it. It burns dirty for her. And by burning dirty, that was really the crux of this metaphor, it doesn’t burn clean, so it’s not ever as fun as she hopes it’s going to be. It doesn’t give that fulfillment she’s really looking for, and it has these other byproducts and ramifications.

[00:10:14] Cam: Before we go on with this metaphor, which is brilliant, back to how it checks all these boxes here in the sense of, again, this breakdown between cause and effect. Is that it’s not like she goes out and says, I’m gonna go drinking to feel lousy tomorrow. That ADHD kind of creates this gap between what we’re gonna do and the consequences of our behaviors. Over our time horizon, right? So it’s got ADHD in play.

It also has ADHD in play in the sense of dopamine. It’s part of our attention system, it’s part of our reward system too. So we’re always bumping into this, is that we’re seeking a desire for attention and motivation. And yet again, we go and we’re seeking also some kind of a reward. And so that self-medicating way of getting our dopamine needs met here. And then finally, just again, back to here she is with the metaphor work of getting in touch with her real experience. That she is really starting to put language and a sense of understanding of understand, own, translate to what it means to burn.

[00:11:33] Ash: Exactly, Cam. And the fun thing about working with metaphors, is my client did not come to this session with this metaphor pre-baked in. Hot, dirty coal just came out as a way of articulating this phenomenon and how it happens for her, and gave some language to the phenomenon, made it clearer as you just said.

So where did we go next is what’s not the hot, dirty coal method. And the fun thing here is it’s, let’s play with this metaphor a little bit. And see if we can articulate the opposite experience in some way. And by trying to do that in the context of this metaphor, you could just see my client’s wheels turning. It put her in this really curious head space rather than in the blahs about this dilemma. And that’s one of the cool things about metaphor, is it just puts us in a different head space. Even my clients who aren’t big metaphor people like you are Cam, sometimes a metaphor is just a thing to bring some clarity. And it did because she tinkered around with it for a minute.

You know, she was like, is it wind power? Is it nuclear power? Is it solar power? Thinking about what clean energy could be, thinking about if she could even stretch the metaphor that far. And she settled on solar power and here’s why, and I love this. So what is the solar power method for fun? Well, solar power takes time to accumulate. Solar power works best if you do it daily, getting power whenever the sun is out. And there is a neutral impact on the environment, or in my client’s case, on her body, on her wellbeing, on her mental state. And so she settled on solar power because of the way she was able to then expand out the metaphor using solar power. The metaphor still makes sense in terms of the experience she’s having with the hot, dirty coal and the experience that she wants to have regarding short-term fun and fulfillment with the solar power method.

[00:13:52] Cam: It’s so interesting how, again, this, permission to play, right? We’re playing with this imagery. So this playfulness, this curiosity, starting to look at what is this solar power. I love this. So it’s starting to kind of create this alternative to the short term rewards. So what happened next, Ash? Did you move in the direction of tweaking the limiting belief, or did you start to look at the actual practice with her?

[00:14:26] Ash: So, Cam, that’s a great question. And really most of that happened as we were sort of playing with this metaphor. She was shifting as she was articulating this out loud. First this statement of I shouldn’t need to have extra fun to blow off steam, that loses some weight when she realizes I’m doing it anyway. I’m just doing the hot, dirty coal method, which isn’t serving me at all.

Back it up a little bit more to where the session started before we got into the metaphor. The session started with feeling depleted at the end of the day, and we started with work. This whole session could have gone a totally different direction and been about being at choice at work, and that’s where we checked in first, to the point that we found out that the client long-term wants to stay where she is. That’s not the place to create change, but it’s not easy right now. So that story of easy work isn’t so easy right now. Life isn’t so easy right now.

So take those two things, and then we start talking about solar power instead. And now my client is envisioning this different experience, which is a really cool thing to see happen, right? This experience that here at the start of the session she said she didn’t deserve, she didn’t need, and now she’s stepping into, hmm, what is the solar power method? What could that look like or feel like for me?

[00:16:06] Cam: So this is ownership, Again, listeners, understand, own, translate. Ownership is about acceptance. This accepting of, okay, maybe life isn’t so easy, and here’s this nuance, is that what we will do is mitigate. We will kind of bring that Zamboni and kind of just put a nice clean surface over the rough edges.

Just like, okay, you know what life is. It’s an easy statement to say, trying to convince ourselves that it is. And guess what? There’s this where the conundrum is, where the friction point is coming to terms with, well, wait a sec. There’s some nooks and crannies here. There’s some scratches, there’s some rough spots. Maybe I look at those rough spots and explore them and not try to just put a layer of new, you know, clean ice over it. Right? That clean ice that we can do green light planning. This is called mitigation, where all brains do it, but we will do it more than others.

It’s just like, oh, well life is easy. Yeah, maybe explore that a little bit, get to the nuance of, oh, it’s not impossible. It’s this gray area. It’s scales of gray, not black and white. To explore it in the sense of, yeah, it’s not easy and this is how it’s not easy. And to validate her feelings and of, oh, you know what, there’s a need here that I can address.

And it’s again, about how she’s approaching it. That metaphor resonated so much with me. I’m gonna share it with some of my clients, I think. Again, we’re looking for rewards and we go down that hot, dirty coal path, right? I used to do it all the time in the evening when the kids would go upstairs with their mother, and I would head for the Ben and Jerry’s. You know, like, that’s hot, dirty coal, people.

[00:18:11] Ash: Now I just have to interject and say you’re such a healthy guy that it made me happy to hear that you have a junk food hot, dirty coal thing, too.

[00:18:20] Cam: Oh, you know what’s going on right now? My kid’s looking at me, and she’s like, okay, let’s negotiate the Easter basket.

[00:18:29] Ash: Oh.

[00:18:31] Cam: She’s like, I’ll give you the M&M’s if you have hands off everything else. So this is the kind of parent I am, people. I will go raid my children’s Easter egg baskets, and they were young enough not to know. Okay. The truth is out. Yes, it’s a wicked, wicked awful. It’s cathartic, Ash. I feel like I’m in a confessional. It’s just lovely. It’s my Monday morning confessional, Ash. This is what’s going on. Yeah.

[00:19:07] Ash: Yeah, but what resonated there was the hot, dirty coal because you had that same experience with junk food, be it the Ben and Jerry’s, or the ill gotten gains from small children’s Easter baskets.

[00:19:20] Cam: Yeah, no, and more importantly, this recognition of at seven o’clock at night, after I’ve been executing all day, I’m in this depleted place, and I’m looking to re jumpstart my brain. So I’m going to the Ben and Jerry’s to try to reengage, to reboot and recognized it didn’t really work. It doesn’t work. And to look at other ways to reboot. Like take my dog out for a 30 minute walk instead, right? A solar energy alternative to the hot, dirty coal.

[00:20:00] Ash: And the thing I like about this metaphor, too, Cam, is just in those two types of energy, the hot, dirty coal is there, it’s ready, it’s available. All you gotta do is light it and burn it. The solar power is a little more effortful. It’s not as easy to engage with a walk with your dog as it is a pint of Ben and Jerry’s.

But the energy burns so much cleaner when you do, and that’s one of those practices that may not seem that important the first or second time you do it, but as you start to cultivate a practice, what it does for you on the other side becomes its own form of motivation. Yeah, it’s not a tasty treat, but man, does it feel good when I’m done. Man, do I feel good and my brain feels good when I’m healthy.

[00:20:53] Cam: Right. And there might be some skeptics out there of like, those options don’t sound fun. I really wanna, like, you know, cut loose and have fun. Again, bringing the curiosity, the playfulness aspect of how can you make it fun, right? Making it social, you know, bringing in others to engage where every one of you is gonna have a different definition of those two categories, right? This is an example of one person’s kind of two categories in the sense of hot, dirty coal versus their solar. That’s what resonates for them. And so use this as a starting place.

I’m coming back to the whole tethering thing, right? Tethering to. It’s so important that we be able to tether in the absence of tethers good practices, remembering what works and what doesn’t work. This whole idea of what is the solar alternative in that moment of not having my prefrontal cortex online, I’m caveman, and caveman want Ben and Jerry’s. It’s just like, ah, yo, want New York super fudge chunk, Ash. It’s like, oh, you know, come on, have some willpower, have some strength. It’s recognizing that vulnerability and looking at, okay, how can I protect myself from this and not to be so hard on yourselves? Not to beat up on yourselves for failing time and time again.

Every day you have an opportunity to improve. Every day I have an opportunity to have a different experience, right, with that freezer at seven o’clock and to make different choices. And so that’s the opportunity here is journey thinking, right? To look at what’s the opportunity today and how can I innovate here to replenish, and so I can be in a good place tomorrow and launch the way I want to launch?

[00:23:00] Ash: And, Cam, just to add to that, it’s not entirely necessarily about saying no to the Ben and Jerry’s. It’s about getting curious as to what is the need behind the action sending me to the freezer. That’s that distinction, right? 

[00:23:16] Cam: Absolutely. 

[00:23:17] Ash: The freezer and the Ben and Jerry’s is the hot and dirty. The taking a walk is the solar power for you.

[00:23:23] Cam: And having a moderate amount of Ben and Jerry’s, and eating it and enjoying it can be solar too, right. In the sense of just moderation. And back to, again, what is the motivation here? I’m motivated, I’m trying to reboot. Ben and Jerry’s is definitely in the hot, dirty coal category there. It doesn’t work to reboot, it’s just soothing. It’s just in that reward, that immediate reward center versus it’s not giving me what I need. And I look at other areas back to what made the day so depleting in the first place. What can I do there to address it?

[00:24:07] Ash: I appreciate that distinction. I think this is a good place for us to start to wrap up. So I’m just gonna tack onto that distinction for me. Video games can be either. They can be hot and dirty when I’m using them to check out, to avoid, to numb out, to take my mind off of what’s not working. Versus when I’m choosing to engage, and I’m having real fun, I’m using my brain. It can be a good time.

So I appreciate kind of ending on that distinction for both of us because not everything is black and white. Even for this client. I’m sure there are times that having drinks or having the cookie can be solar powered, but more often than not, and particularly right now for that client, they’re showing up in this hot coal.

So again, the idea isn’t to look at your behaviors and put them in the hot coal category or in the solar powered category, but rather to use this metaphor as a mechanism to get curious about your own needs. What’s the need behind the unwanted behavior? Or to even ask the question, does this behavior serve me? Is this solar powered? Is it hot coal? Can it be both?

That’s distinguishing, and that’s kind of the point of this episode, is there isn’t one clear cut answer. That’s why we do what we do. That’s why we do this show. That’s why we believe in coaching as one powerful way for ADHD people to experience real change. Is because it’s nuanced and more so than learning how to have a different experience here or a different experience there. The work that we do with our clients teaches them how to get curious in this way so that they can be the architects of their own different experiences moving forward.

So until next week, I’m Ash.

[00:26:14] Cam: And I’m Cam.

[00:26:15] Ash: and this was the Translating ADHD podcast. Thanks for listening.

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