The Coaching Process: Stages and Barriers to Change with ADHD

Episode 186

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In this episode of Translating ADHD, Ash and Cam discuss the coaching process, focusing on how this process actually mirrors the three barriers of ADHD: awareness, action, and learning. This can quickly become a friction point in the coaching engagement for both client and coach. Ash and Cam emphasize the importance of creating awareness around the challenges clients face and how coaching can help individuals overcome these barriers.

The conversation also delves into the significance of learning from both success and setbacks and how coaching encourages curiosity and reflection. They share a number of client scenarios to illustrate the dilemma and how clients overcome the challenges. They tease future episodes where they will explore each barrier in more detail and how the coaching process can support informed change.

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Episode Transcript:

[00:00:00] Ash: Hi, I’m Ash.

[00:00:08] Cam: And I’m Cam.

[00:00:08] Ash: And this is Translating ADHD. Cam, I’m excited to delve into our next set of topics, which is about the coaching process and the work that we do. Do you want to say a little bit more about that for our listeners?

[00:00:26] Cam: Yes, I do, Ash. And it’s fascinating to kind of with this Season Two reboot to consider from the client’s perspective and then also from the coach’s perspective, right? Cause we’re bringing in that coach’s piece.

And so last week we were talking about barriers to journey thinking or that mindset or that approach and how to, notice when you’re attaching to outcome. Attaching to a destination, attaching to a belief, attaching to an emotional state. And that we can get kind of hung up there. So this week we’re looking at change because when you hire a coach or when you have ADHD, it’s like, okay, what can I do around this whole change thing?

And change is really interesting for those of us with ADHD, but I’ll start with this is that. It’s just a couple of examples of how our clients come to coaching. I just started one of my classes where I’m working with an ADHD partner in a relationship. They’re going through a program, and they’re learning about their ADHD, and they’re coming with this little bit of urgency, Ash. It’s a little bit of pressure, urgency, and guess what? Destination thinking of you’re going to give me something, and it’s going to give me some relief. It’s going to solve this ADHD dilemma.

And for some, it’s like might get my spouse off my back a little bit. And so, I’m meeting them where they are, right? That’s the number one directive in coaching is to meet your clients where they are and acknowledge their experience.

[00:01:54] Ash: Cam, I think this is a cool place to call out a distinction we see in our podcast listeners. When we do coaching groups with our podcast listeners, you all are arriving in a different place. It’s something that Cam and I noticed from the very first group class we’ve done. And these days, most of my, if not all of my private coaching comes from podcast listeners The sort of unexpected byproduct of this show is that you all show up so much more ready to engage in the coaching process.

So some of this sort of early onboarding prep work, bringing the client around to this way of thinking, there’s a real shortcut there. And it makes our group classes in particular, so powerful because we have 8 people in the room, and we can do a lot in 8 weeks with the clients showing up where they are. In this readiness place, already speaking the language of journey thinking, engaging in curiosity and self-reflection, having done some amount of work before showing up to the class or coaching.

[00:03:10] Cam: Yeah, and so, you know, they are hanging out at these barriers. Kind of hanging and recognizing the barriers that we talk about, right? So in Season One, we talk about the three barriers of ADHD, and the first is awareness, the second is action and the third is learning. And so when we talk about that and they start to orient, Oh, okay, this is what’s going on, they can take a collective breath. Oh, okay. So I’m going to come in and sort of be in process with this concept is with this group. And it’s a fascinating thing that happens when you’ve got this collective who are all on the same page.

So, yes, two very different situations. And then I’ll bring in the coaching perspective. So I teach a coaching class. I teach several coaching classes where I’m training coaches. And one of these early questions I often get is how do I get a word in edgewise? 

[00:04:02] Ash: And with an ADHD client, it can be tough sometimes. 

[00:04:05] Cam: It can be tough. It can be tough. And it’s sort of, we talked a little bit about this, the need for when to interrupt. And so interrupting is a coaching skill, but it’s for, there’s a very specific reason why we agree to develop this. Again, this has this agreement to interrupt that sort of automatic verbalization of what’s going on in that current moment. Let’s just think about where that client is, right? The client has saved up money. They’ve decided finally to enter into this agreement and address these changes, and they want to make the most of it. But in doing so, they’re feeling the pressure. They’re feeling that urgency that they’ve utilized all their life to get things done to create change.

We often revert to that Adrenaline Response Cycle. And so they’re coming and it’s like, they’re getting like, I got this to do and this to do, and this to do, and can you help me with this? And then the coach feels like they’re kind of chasing this person around trying to figure out, okay, what are we doing here?

So there’s, just want to bring those two instances where we’re looking at change. And yet that mindset is around the destination for the client, and the coach isn’t quite sure what to do. They’re not sure what to do with all that urgency and immediacy.

[00:05:25] Ash: And that is a learning curve for sure. In my first two to four sessions with a new client, by design we didn’t do actions. We’re doing a 10,000-foot view. Big agenda values and needs, orienting to what is a life that fits for this client. And still even today, even with what I just said about my clients and their readiness for coaching, I often have new clients ask me for homework. Is there something I can do between our sessions? What can I be doing? How can we get this process moving? How can I speed it up a little bit?

Cam, I want to take a pause here and go back to the three barriers because something we didn’t yet say that I think is important to say is those three barriers line up with the coaching process. Coaching is awareness, action, learning. The process we’re doing week in and week out with each one of our clients, be they individual clients or group coaching clients.

[00:06:32] Cam: And that’s the fascinating thing there, is that why coaching, so you might think that the phases of coaching or the stages of coaching line up. Exactly what are the barriers of ADHD, and by the way, it’s like, what do they mean? Well, we’re going to dig into every single one of those barriers in the next three weeks of looking at, again, that first barrier of awareness, that second barrier of getting into action, and that third barrier of pulling the learning forward.

But this is part of the conundrum. I think that a lot of coaches who are not ADHD coaches, but ADHD people are coming to them, and they’ve got their model. And then they got these people who are not moving through the coaching process, and they’re thinking, oh, this person is not a good coaching client, when in fact might be identifying these very specific areas where they are bumping into barriers.

And that’s part of this process. So I appreciate you going back to we don’t do actions in the first two sessions or three sessions. We’re doing this 10,000-foot level, right? I am, too. And it’s, again, we want to get into sort of this idea of change and motivation for change. Why are you here? What are we trying to do?

And as we’ve always said, it’s like, this is the place where we want the ADHD to show up right out in the world. We’re trying to like not have the ADHD show up where we miss that appointment or we forget something or we, you know, this and that. We’re always like, we’re trying to minimize and mitigate all those ADHD instances that then we have to recover from.

Often we hear about the ADHD tax, right? How do you pay a tax for some ADHD mishap here? We want to see ADHD, but we want to see it in the context of what are we trying to do here. So that’s why this whole coaching, designing the alliance, taking the time to look at, okay, let’s sort of first talk about what do you want to have happen, and how can we have it happen in a way sees you in the picture and gets a little space away from this whole ARC urgency thing, the pressure.

[00:08:34] Ash: That last thing you just said about ARC, Cam, is exactly why I like starting this way with my clients. It’s an opportunity to slow down, to zoom out, to talk about what is. What is a life that fits this client and to find the positive motivation for change? That’s the huge one. What can we connect these negative dilemmas in terms of a positive outcome, more so than meeting someone else’s deadline.

Or I had a new client not too long ago, say, I want to be a quote unquote good daughter and, Cam, I know you’ve heard language like that before, to where we’re in a role and we’re trying to conform to that role. We’re not putting ourselves in the picture. So guess what? Good daughter. Let’s zoom out on that a little bit and talk about what that means. What does it mean to you? What can we question there? And what does a good daughter look like with your client in that picture? And so just looking for those ties to this is part of a life that fits.

And the other thing that it does is a few months down the road, the client hits a frustration point, which often happens. It’s pretty predictable. At some point during the coaching, the client is going to come to a session, and ADHD will have just won the week. Everything’s a disaster, and they’ll look at me and say, Ash, I don’t feel like I’m making any progress.

That’s a great time for us to zoom out and ask, is this client making progress? And by the way, I’m not attached to proving that my client is making progress or not making progress. But what we do is go back to those first conversations we had about here’s what a life that fits looks like for you. Are we getting closer to that? And chances are we are getting closer. That client has just temporarily lost the ability to see that because of the current overwhelm, or perhaps because of some quote-unquote relapse in unwanted behavior patterns that’s happening right now.

[00:10:38] Cam: So I want to back up a little bit to, yeah, I love that in the sense of like getting into and learning about the client’s preferences and challenging old thoughts that may have served them in the past, but don’t no longer serve them. Right? Like quote unquote, good daughter. I wanna go way back to, again, back to this who’s coming through the door and what are they focused on? And it just this focus on that middle. A piece of the coaching model is action.

And I, and there’s this metaphor that I want to share that one of my clients came very early and looked at this in two ways. It’s like, Cam, I got to, I got to make more pasta. I got to make pasta. I got to make more pasta, and I got to know where to cut the pasta. And I’m like, okay. So of course, she’s not a pasta maker. She’s a creative. She is, again, in a leadership position where she is doing some kind of design work, a user experience, website stuff, building out, architecting, all that fun stuff, and her kind of ADHD is to be able to delineate what is a completion, what is done, and with ADHD, we never feel done.

So again, though the students come to my class to try to improve their relationship, what’s the argument? The argument is, well, you don’t make enough pasta, you know, like do things you need to do more. You need to contribute more to the relationship. So they’re coming with this idea of this guy is going to help me make pasta, right? To figure out how to engage with the things I have on my list.

Well, this goes back, Ash, to our universal question of, why is it that I don’t do what I know I ought to do? This is ADHD. If there’s one ubiquitous descriptor of ADHD, is that it’s the thing I need to do, and I don’t do it. I do all kinds of avoidant behavior, and I do everything else, but I can’t engage with the thing that I promised to someone else. And this is like, the stakes are high here because over time, when you don’t do what you say you’re going to do and those commitments, then it starts to erode trust. And it has real ramifications.

But again, that urgency of, okay, we’re going to pasta class, you’re going to help me take this ball of pasta, we’re going to stuff it in some kind of machine, and we’re going to shove it through, make something, and then cut it into, you know, units that I can distribute and get credit for doing.

And this is where the coaching process is to utilize the other two areas, right? It’s sort of to straddle that action focus, this hyper-focus on action. And oh, by the way, accessing the prefrontal cortex, but that’s for another time. Got my attention, but to help clients to boost the signal around awareness, the value of awareness, and generating new awareness. Boost the value of the learning aspect of learning is the awareness on the other side of the activity. And those of us who rarely get there and see the benefit of that, and it kind of fades before we can grab it and pull it forward.

[00:13:32] Ash: Cam, I love that notion of straddling action and that most of the good stuff that happens in coaching, most of the important stuff, most of the stuff that starts to get our clients to action and consistent action happens in those other two areas. And by the way, I’m certainly not immune to blind spots in my awareness still. And I do this for a living every day. And yet sometimes… My ADHD gets in the way.

I was trying to figure out this weekend why I couldn’t do laundry. What’s up with laundry? Never had a problem doing laundry before, and now all of a sudden I can’t do laundry. Well, my laundry room is a wreck. My laundry room is a wreck because of this ongoing renovation project, and because it became a storage dump for things that had no place to go. So what did I do?

The supportive environment matters to me, by the way. Listeners, that’s a huge source of support for me, is an environment conducive to the thing. So I spent some time this weekend making the environment more conducive to the thing, and now it’s a little easier to engage with laundry.

Three or four weeks, Cam, of why can’t I do laundry. Needed to spend a little time making the environment supportive. That’s what I needed. But if I had never gotten that awareness, I would just keep butting my head up against that universal question. Why don’t I do the thing I know I ought to do? Why am I not doing the laundry? Why can’t I stay on top of it? What’s wrong with me? Everybody else can do this. Why can’t I do this consistently? But stepping back, putting myself in the picture, putting what I know about me, it was about the environment.

[00:15:17] Cam: Well, before that, it was this remembering a model of change, right? It’s too because we can go so deeply into that what’s wrong with me, that big signal could trigger a shame response, a blame response. To taking that breath. Pause, disrupt, pivot. And to kind of remember the three barriers and the coaching process. Okay, here’s this activity that’s not happening. And instead of, you know, what we’ll do is, when we get frustrated, we put our head down and lean in, push harder. In this situation, you did the opposite. To stop, to pause, to disrupt, and to step back. And to kind of think about the, okay, the awareness on the front end, the learning on the back end, and to reflect on the inactivity.

So, listeners, Ash’s example is a wonderful way to look at an exercise, something for you to do, too. Because, again, it’s like we don’t want to go to the inactivity. It’s like, give us the activity. Give us the way to be in action. The way to be in action is to actually be okay with the inaction, and to go there and explore it.

And as you explore it from either side, right, the awareness on the front side, or did I prepare? Is there some preparation or is there some distraction in the way? And then the learning on the backside, then you can look at it from a more resourceful and resilient place. And this, it’s not just your problem, right?

As you said, it’s like, oh, this is the environment. The environment was not conducive to this happening. And then we can approach it with this more objective perspective.

[00:16:50] Ash: Cam, we’ve said a lot about awareness and action. I want to say a little bit more about that learning stage. I have this long-time client who I adore, and one of the things we’ve been working on is she’ll come to a coaching session, and we’ll check in on her actions, and she’ll tell me what she thinks is a story of failure. I didn’t do it the way we said we were going to do it. I didn’t do this. I didn’t or I got sick or this happened or that happened or whatever. My week got turned around, and that’s why it either didn’t happen or it happened differently than I said it was going to happen.

But interestingly enough – and we’ve been working together long enough that this is always true – what’s actually in her story is a choice we talked about, when life interrupts, towards the end of Season One. So being at choice when things go sideways, choosing to amend or put down those actions for the week, putting herself in the picture, and still completing where it matters.

And so it’s so interesting to see how that old story of failure is still there for her – I didn’t do it the way we said we were going to do it – when failure was not there at all. There’s all this rich learning and change that has happened in the course of our working together. And she’s acting on that change. And now she’s starting to learn how to appreciate that change. She comes to sessions now, she’s a little more thoughtful about her reflections. When actions aren’t straight-cut yes, I did, then they were great, thank you, let’s move on.

When it’s more nuanced than that, she’s giving herself more credit. She’s seeing where she’s being at choice. She’s seeing how this is different than a quote-unquote relapse. I’m not back at square one even if I had a little backsliding. There are things that I did differently here.

And that’s why I’ve said it so many times on the show, I’ll say it again. I tell my clients it’s never about whether you do your actions or don’t do them. It’s about what your lived experience between our sessions is in relationship to this dilemma and these proposed actions and whatever that is. There is something to learn. There is something that we can carry forward for the next session. And sometimes that learning is positive, like I just described. And sometimes that learning reveals a new part of the dilemma, something we didn’t see before

[00:19:18] Cam: I appreciate that distinction there. And it reminds me of before the episode, Ash and I were talking about our live event at the conference in Baltimore and just the topic there.

[00:19:30] Ash: The CHADD conference, by the way, listeners, children and adults with ADHD.

[00:19:34] Cam: Well, it’s CHADD, and together, so it’s the annual international ADHD conference. No, it’s the international annual conference on ADHD or one of those variations, which is formerly the CHADD conference.

[00:19:51] Ash: It’s like our outdoor music venue here, right? It’s like, I don’t know, I think it’s Verizon wireless amphitheater these days, but everybody calls it Riverport because it’s Riverport. Right? 

[00:20:01] Cam: And, and, and that whole naming thing. Oh, my God. Don’t get me started there.

[00:20:05] Ash: So the CHADD conference.

[00:20:09] Cam: Okay. All right. Well, I think we’re, I think we’re coming to like, we’re coming to it, our first like nonagreement here.

[00:20:17] Ash: Oh no.

[00:20:18] Cam: It’s fine. Yes, it is the CHADD. And if you Google CHADD, you’ll find it.

[00:20:21] Ash: Tooties.

[00:20:22] Cam: Yes. So, but this idea of, you know, as you often our clients are with failure because it’s the only thing, it’s the only option. It’s what’s populating. So for so long, again, this dilemma of doing and not doing, and then being with the failure of the not doing. And that’s the only option. That’s the only option that’s presented to us.

And again, with coaching, it’s starting to kind of broaden this landscape of there’s something other than action. There’s something other than inaction. There’s this process of change, and all of us approach it differently. But what we want to do is, first of all, take a big breath. And we’ve got to kind of blow up this idea of now and not now, that time is on our side and that to take our time to develop how we go about this change.

So, as you said, values and needs. A life that fits. How does your ADHD get in the way? So you can start to understand your barriers around awareness, action, and learning. But that learning piece, I so appreciate, is that part of the coaching process when we invite our clients to come back, regardless of whether they were successful or not. To exercise that reflection muscle and to have another option other than failure. Right. So there’s this, as that failure it’s, you know, I don’t know if it’s a failure thing goes away. It’s always there, but it’s this very small signal. And the signal that gets bigger and bigger is this learning piece.

So now we have a choice. Okay, I could go that old route if I want to and get kind of down that rabbit hole of shame and blame. Or I can step into the learning and appreciating. And this is where that nuance, distinction, curiosity, and then applying it forward.

And by the way, what does that have to do with CHADD? That’s what our topic is going to be on when we do a live session at CHADD on Friday around this idea of curiosity, nuance, distinction, and living an authentic life.

But I love that you brought that in because this is neuroplasticity. This is developing neural pathways different than what we’re used to. And that’s the thing that, as we come in, as you said, people coming into our podcast. They’re already considering these concepts and this appreciation of understanding, owning, and translating, which if you look at that, is very similar to the coaching process of awareness, action, and learning.

[00:22:52] Ash: Well said, Cam, and I want to appreciate what you said about learning and how our clients show up for learning and how that changes over time. Even when I tell clients it doesn’t matter whether they do your actions or don’t, those first few times that actions don’t go well, they come apologetic, feeling shame, feeling a certain type of way.

Over time, my clients come chomping at the bit. What happened here? I have no idea. Let’s dig in. This is interesting. And that’s, I think, the magic of the coaching space, is it’s this you can do this work without a coach, but it’s this designated time and place to get curious. And over time, clients embrace that. Whatever else they might be feeling is, wow, that didn’t go well. Let’s get curious about that. I have no idea what happened. I’m really curious to see what we find. And genuinely meaning that, which is so cool.

We’re not done, listeners, when it comes to the coaching process. Our next several episodes are going to be breaking down each one of these barriers, talking about ADHD and the barrier itself. And then also talks about the coaching process and how the coaching process supports improvement and change with these barriers as ADHD folks. So stoked to stay on this thread. It’s really fun as a coach to talk coaching. But let’s wrap here for today. And until next week, I’m Ash.

[00:24:24] Cam: And I’m Cam.

[00:24:24] Ash: And this was the Translating ADHD podcast. Thanks for listening.

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