Moving into Action with ADHD

Episode 188

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In this episode of Translating ADHD, Ash and Cam discuss the second barrier of ADHD – action. They discuss how the second barrier epitomizes the universal ADHD dilemma of not taking action on the thing we know we ought to do. They explore how small and subtle barriers can often hinder progress, even when the bigger issues are recognized. They emphasize the importance of breaking down tasks into manageable steps, taking action, and learning from the experience.

Additionally, they share examples from their coaching practices of clients overcoming the second barrier. They also refer to two resources from Season 1 generated by podcast listeners – The Six Cs to Completion and Cam’s Seven Factors to Action.

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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. A quick thing before we get started: For the first time in a few years, I don’t have a wait list in my coaching practice. So I just wanted to put it out there to our listeners because Translating ADHD listeners make up almost a hundred percent of my coaching practice at any given time. I love working with our listeners. I’m looking to take on a few clients before the end of the year. So if you’ve been wanting to coach with me and hesitating for any reason, now would be a great time to visit my website, which is Coach and submit an inquiry for coaching.

[00:00:47] Cam: So who do you like to work with Asher? Who’s an ideal client for you?

[00:00:52] Ash: It’s a great question, Cam. I like working with people who are asking themselves questions of purpose. Whether you’re in a career that’s not working for you, or you’re in a career that you think ought to be working for you, but for some reason it’s not. And it doesn’t necessarily have to be centered around a career. I like clients who are just at a crossroads in life and who aren’t quite sure who or what they want to be when they quote unquote grow up, whatever age they are.

In particular, I also really enjoy working with fellow queer clients. Just as the shared experience of ADHD is a real asset to my coaching with all of my clients, I find that shared experience and shared language around queer issues in today’s day and age is also an asset in my coaching.

[00:01:42] Cam: That’s great. It also means that your people are moving through your program. That, and this is what happens in coaching, is that it is a transfer of a skillset. And so you move through, and it’s great that you have space and there’s that there’ll be some individuals out there fortunate to work with you.

The other thing I’ll say is that, notice listeners, we don’t do advertisements. And Asher and I decided long ago, you know, if we’re going to promote something, we’ll promote something internally in the sense of our group coaching. And so this is something we don’t do a lot of. We don’t ask a lot of our listeners. So just to hear our promotions occasionally.

And it will also be talking about coaching offerings shortly, right? Probably in January, so that’ll be coming up soon. So let’s go ahead and pivot today to today’s topic. And last week we talked about the first barrier of awareness. And today we are looking at the second barrier of action that makes up the three barrier complex of awareness, action, and learning.

[00:02:43] Ash: And listeners, just a reminder, we said this last week that those 3 barriers also paradoxically describe the coaching process.

[00:02:53] Cam: Right. So what happens is people can come, and this is for both coaches and clients, as you come to a coaching engagement and it might be a bit frustrating. To be successful with coaching, well, first of all, it’s not urgent, right? You can kind of create urgency around it, but coaching is one of these things that is important and it’s not urgent. It’s not like a water bill. You don’t have to do it today. So number one, not urgent. So it doesn’t activate that Adrenaline Response Cycle system that we rely on.

Secondly, is that as Asher said, the coaching process lines up exactly with these three barriers of ADHD. So don’t look at that as a dilemma. Look at that both coaches and clients look at it as an opportunity, right, to help your clients locate where they are, which barrier is particularly challenging.

So again, last week we focused on awareness. This week we’re going to focus on, again, the barrier to action. And this is this prompted that universal question that we asked way back in episode 10 and 11 of Season One, this is back in early 2020 people. And that question of why is it that I don’t do what I know I ought to do. This is the universal ADHD dilemma.

Once we have awareness of what we want to do, we get to that point of, Oh, I need to save my marriage. Oh, I need to save my job. Oh, I see exactly what I need to do, and then we struggle to do it. And this is where the neurotypicals and those around us who don’t understand ADHD are flummoxed and perplexed by, well, here it is, you know, this is what you need to do and go ahead and do it. And this is a lot of the people that I work with.

When couples come to this realization that ADD is in play, it’s like, okay, well, it’s ADHD. We got to address the ADHD and it becomes this sort of project thing. And then the ADHD partner, because of their ADHD, are unable to take what they know and create real and sustainable change. Because this is right in line with the very specific ADHD executive function challenges of being able to move from this knowledge state into action, consistent and engaging to specific completion points.

So, in this Season 2 reboot, we’re taking the best of Season 1, kind of condensing it and consolidating it, so you don’t have to. This stuff is relevant. And Asher and I are thinking, well, we’re not thinking, we know we are in a different place than four years ago. So we have a fresh perspective on this. We have new knowledge and we have all these experiences with our clients of how they navigate the gap between what you know, and what you want to do.

[00:05:46] Ash: Cam, I said at the start of the show that I primarily work with listeners of this podcast, and interesting thing there. And the interesting distinction between a client who is a listener of this podcast and a client who is not, is a client who is not, we do a lot of work on that first barrier.

First, that’s that barrier of awareness is where we’re spending a lot of time. My listeners are my clients who have spent some time with this podcast. First, what’s cool is they come with this awareness. I just had a new client today who named, it was our very first action-oriented coaching topic, and she named it a really simple action.

And she said I think that’s enough. Because I know myself, because I know that I want to try to change it all right now. So I’m going to do something different here, and I’m going to name this simple action and stop right there. And then, Cam, started to try and apologize for it. And I did the coaching thing of pausing and appreciating what I’m appreciating here now on the show.

There was that client’s awareness of herself and her behavior patterns in the room, informing her decision to approach this differently. This one thing. That’s enough. This time that feels like enough. I don’t have to make sweeping changes in a week.

[00:07:13] Cam: And the cool thing – and that’s a great example – and the great thing is that to get practice here, to exercise in the activity. Because what we can do is we can get hung up in the thinking. We get hung up in the planning and the preparation, and in the avoidance. It’s just not, it’s not quite right.

You use the term red-light planning, right. That red light planning of kind of, it’s not quite, you know, looking for reasons not to engage. So I love that you brought that in because a little bit of knowledge goes so far when you are dealing with ADHD. Is such a wide presentation of ADHD that there’s 4 percent of the population has it.

Some are doing so much better than many, and they start with getting accurate information. Whether it’s from our podcast, whether it’s from another source, whether it’s from several sources to understand what exactly it is and what it isn’t. It’s not a moral failing.

And then they come, and it’s like a realization. As you said, she knows herself well enough not to bite off too much, but to go ahead and design a small engagement. But then with coaching, what we do is from that experience, then we can take that and transpose it, translate it share it around the sense of other areas. That approach and that learning, third barrier, the learning from that approach. That’s what we get to apply to different areas. That’s the knowledge that becomes compounded really can, then you can move forward in your effective management of ADHD. 

[00:08:51] Ash: Cam, when we’re talking about the barrier to action, it’s probably the barrier most affected by the other 2, as you just said. However, I want to bring in another phenomenon that I see with my clients when it comes to action. And that is, we, this is the purpose of our Project X course, that is when something is so big that you can’t possibly move it forward with urgency alone, it’s just not possible. And it won’t ever become urgent.

So, my clients in academia and their research and publishing work, things where there are unspoken expectations and requirements there, but there aren’t necessarily hard and fast rules or guidelines about what is required there. My clients who feel a creative pull. I have more than one client right now who wants to write fiction, long-form fiction, and the way forward from the start of a book to the completion of a story can feel muddled along the way.

And as ADHD people, we don’t see the completions along the way as completions. It’s done or it’s not done. So these huge things, even something like getting organized, right. We start with the end in mind. I’ve talked about this extensively on the show before. We have this picture in mind of what organized looks like. But then we look around our homes, and we can’t see how to get from where we are now to this picture of organization. It’s this combination of not knowing what the steps are, not knowing how to break it down into steps, or not even being able to fathom the steps. I know the result. I know where I want to get to. I don’t know how to get there.

And this failure to see the completions along the way, to appreciate the steps that we do take, the things that get us closer to that bigger completion. And because we don’t see those things as completion, the whole thing lives in the category of not doing this thing that we still haven’t done, we know we want to do, or we know we ought to do that. We beat ourselves up without recognizing it.

[00:11:12] Cam: Well, and I think that it speaks to the adherence of the ARC system, right? So ARC is way back to episode four, the Adrenaline Response Cycle, where we utilize the fear center of the brain to respond to urgency and activate and hyper-focus. And so the metaphor we used was the ARC pony. And he’s got the one pony in the barn. And when we have that, it is, it responds to a blunt force and high energy, the big signal.

So we’ve already talked about the significance of nuance and distinction. It’s that completions are subtle. They are often these more subtle signals. But when you bring your nervous system down, calming it, then you can start to identify what those completions are.

So if we start to get curious about what a completion is, we can do it. Now, it’s not that we’re swearing off the ability to hyper-focus. I have a big presentation, I have slides due next week for the big conference. I know I’m going to be utilizing that ARC for sure. But it’s a bit of a kind of a mix of that ARC and also chipping away. It’s like coming and chipping, right? And finding our way to engage with these actions.

There’s another one, Asher, that I’ll speak of again that I noticed in a class recently. So this is in my Equanimity class where we’re looking at the role of emotions around motivation and also decision making. You know, leading a fulfilling life. And the first part of it is sort of identifying these, that inner critic, the saboteurs, that inner judge that can be very loud for us.

And there was someone who paused, and they were like I’m not so sure I want to give up my saboteurs because I don’t know what I’d do without them. They motivate me, right? Get your butt in gear. Let’s go. Go. Like who’s gonna, who’s gonna, you know, I don’t see another way. I don’t see another option. It’s like often those saboteurs are holding the keys to that whole ARC system that we think that our only way of activation is through adrenaline and urgency.

And Asher and I would say that in coaching, we are looking to diversify and find motivators other than urgency, right? So back to values and needs, as you mentioned last week, Asher, identifying goals and successful outcomes. And I think the most important is designing these very specific and measurable exercises.

What would be a gesture where we can go and explore an activity, get into action, and then get out of it? Because not only do we struggle with getting in and breaking into action, but anyone here is listening and does that falls down the Alice in Wonderland, you know, down, down the rabbit hole into the wormhole into a black hole, right?

You say, okay, I’m going to go. I’m going to go research this. And then all of a sudden, it’s 4 hours later. So not only do we have a hard time breaking into action, but we also have a hard time breaking back out of it, especially if it’s interesting to us.

So listeners, I think, you know, the, what we’ve said, what we’ve said in the last couple of weeks, especially with this Season 2 reboot, is take a breath and be where you are, right? If you’re in that place of awareness, not quite sure what the dilemma is, where to begin, or you know exactly what you want to do, but you’re unsure how to take the first step, what we can do is be in that place of discomfort and panic, and just wait for that ARC, wait for the Adrenaline Response Cycle you’ve always had. You always had that Adrenaline Response Cycle.

It’s looking to develop another method. And so starting to have a conversation again, back to working with a coach, talking with someone that you can trust to articulate what it is you want, what is it you want to do? And looking at specifics, watching out for, especially, expectations. You said earlier, and people in academia with untold expectations are untold messages of how it’s supposed to be done. Getting clear on expectations, getting clear on what is possible.

[00:15:37] Ash: Yeah, and another big one that I like to challenge my clients with is what can you do? What is the thing you can do? Talking to another client today, she’s feeling some kind of way about the physical condition that she’s in. It’s in her words, the worst shape she’s been in her life.

And our action this time around was around the things she could do, was around the thing that doesn’t bump up against those feelings. It gets her moving. It gets her feeling better and it doesn’t bump up against the physical fitness thing in a way that makes her feel emotionally bad. So that was the thing she could do this time.

[00:16:18] Cam: I think that we’re so focused on all we should be doing. Yeah, that sort of looks like perfectionism, but I think Asher and I like to say it’s more about black-and-white thinking. We see 100%. We see 0%. It’s very hard for us to see 87%, 73%. What would that effort be? So it’s very difficult to see something other than ideal, what the ideal outcome is, or once we establish an outcome, there’s a little thing called cognitive inflexibility, or we lock into a picture and it’s so difficult.

When the picture changes, it can be tough to adjust to that new picture, that new expectation. There are a couple of other things that, again, there are some resources from Season One that I will share, just again, to remind listeners who have been listening with us, and we’ll put links up in the episode notes.

So one is the Six Cs of Completion. And so this one is about the challenge of commitment. And we can get a little dopamine hit from committing and uncommitting around an activity. Yeah, I’ll do that. I’m in. I’m in. And then it’s like, I’m out. Or as we move towards something, everything else gets much more exciting.

The grass is greener phenomenon as you move away from the grass. So this sort of, and this big signal around committing and uncommitted. Committing and Uncommit keeps us in this place of not moving forward. And so just the Six Cs are looking at curiosity and choice on the front end before commitment and putting creativity on the backside of the commitment.

Because I was just telling a client earlier today, we can be so creative in our avoidance. We can be so creative in our procrastination playing out. What if scenarios, this client just was saying is like, I have made a decision. I am 99. 9% sure I’ve made the right decision, that 1 percent that 0.0, excuse me, 0.1%, where it’s just like stars to play out the what ifs. What if I can’t account for, I can’t account for this either. Going out to these extremely unlikely scenarios, but lock into his imagination, activate his fear center, and it becomes an IMAX surround sound. And as he said, I’m taking something that is a level two threat, and I’m ratcheting it up to a level 10. And I’m doing that all by myself.

Listeners, that is your ADHD in play right there, to take that to level two threat and ramp it up to level 10.

[00:18:49] Ash: Cam, you know, I like to tell on myself sometimes on this show, and I mentioned a couple of episodes back that I took up kickboxing earlier this year and how good it’s been for me. Well, I haven’t been going recently, and I’ve had some life changes, some upheaval that in a big way, explain why I haven’t been going. But you want to hear the funny granular little barrier that I wasn’t aware of until today? I’ve lost about 25 pounds. So my shorts are too big, and I cannot tie them tight enough to stay up during the warmup portion of our workouts, which is frustrating, and a little embarrassing.

And yet I have one pair that I accidentally bought that’s too small. And when that pair is clean, guess what goes? Cause they fit now. And it was seeing that pair, moving that pair from the washer to the dryer and going, ah, maybe I will go kickbox tomorrow, that click that light bulb for me.

So all of that to say, it’s such a silly little thing that there are layers here. Right? There are, it’s a nuanced, layered thing when it comes to why are we not doing what we want to do. There are big reasons in my life that I could go to. Those are obvious because they’re big signals. But here’s this little bitty signal under the surface that’s actually creating quite a big barrier because for me, what support looks like in getting out the door and getting to the kickboxing gym is knowing that my clothes are clean, that my hand wraps are rolled up and ready to go, and that all I have to do is roll out of bed, throw on the same clothes I always throw on to go and walk out the door. Guess what’s missing? Being able to throw on the same clothes. I always throw them on because they’re too big now.

[00:20:43] Cam: Right. But it also illustrates something so much a part of the change process is that barrier, right, of having shorts that are too big. That barrier came out of a huge win, right, of losing 25 pounds.

So you’ve been doing kickboxing, you’ve been losing weight that’s a win, but with that change, it created a new barrier. And a barrier that you were not aware of. But I love this example because you’re taking us through the three-barrier complex, right? You had the action of going to the kickboxing gym and losing weight.

And then that third barrier, which we’re going to explore more next week is the learning barrier. Oh, here it is. This is a key piece of why I’m not going. And it’s this pretty small, insignificant, but logistical, right? It’s a logistical piece. And as you said, there it is, there’s a key. And it’s such a subtle thing. It doesn’t necessarily get on our radar because, all these other things are getting on our radar, crowding out that bandwidth.

That’s a great example, and I think that so many listeners probably identify with that, right? We make headway, but as we make headway, sort of like a snowplow kind of pushing snow up, you go, we kind of create this wall of more, you know, again, a new obstacle. And that’s what change is all about. And I think we think that, oh, we’re just going to go and it’s all going to be green light planning, right? Is this going to, oh, it’s going to clear out in front of me? But then again, as we change, as we progress, we produce new barriers to identify and be able to figure out how to work around. Great example. Ash.

[00:22:21] Ash: So much of the work I do with my clients who I’ve been with for a while is not necessarily brand new stuff. It’s revisiting stuff like this, stuff that we’ve maybe previously done in coaching even, where it was working and now it’s not. And more often than not, we find new dilemmas, new barriers, new things that aren’t necessarily large signals and therefore not necessarily obvious.

And I think, if anything, that maybe the moral of today’s episode is so often that barrier of action. We’re dealing with the big signals surrounding that barrier, be they emotional, be they deadlines, whatever it is. We’re paying attention to the loud signals, and we miss the more subtle things underneath, the more mundane things that are getting in the way.

And so often the solution for my clients is not one or the other, it’s both. Hey, it’s making peace in some way with that bigger signal, having a different experience with deadlines with urgency. Or on the opposite, having a different experience with being able to move something forward that you have a lot of shame around because there is no deadline and no urgency to force it to happen. But also dealing with the smaller things that get in the way, the routine stuff of life that can throw a wrench into things sometimes, no matter how small. A pair of too big shorts, Cam, has kept me out of the kickboxing gym for the last few weeks. And it’s not the only thing, but it’s there.

[00:23:57] Cam: Right? This is also, again, as we finish up today, just coaches, I want to talk to coaches for a moment, is that when you’re working with your clients around this gap to action – back to what Asher was saying about his client and that let’s pick something distinguishable and small, and take action on it. What I like to say to coaches and clients is we want to get to the backside of the activity because on the backside of the activity or the action is learning. So we’ll get to that next week.

But for coaches, inviting your clients to see the whole picture of, okay, there are these three barriers, and we want to try to get through that activity part to get to the backside, get to the awareness on the backside of the action. That’s where the learning lives. And as you move through that process, you and your clients can appreciate and look at, again, that example right there that you just shared, you had to get through that activity to get to that learning of, Oh, here is the new dilemma that now comes around to awareness, preparation, and getting back to the gym.

[00:25:07] Ash: Well said, Cam. And all I’ll add to that is I’m not attached to what getting shorts that fit will do in terms of my getting back to the gym consistently. I know it’s a piece. I know it’s an action I need to take, and I will take it. And I know once I’ve taken that action, there will be an opportunity to see what the impact is and what the impact is not. And that’s exactly what we do with our clients every day.

[00:25:33] Cam: I think that’s a great place to finish up today.

[00:25:35] Ash: I agree. So until next week, I’m Ash.

[00:25:38] Cam: And I will say I’m Cam, but I just want to say I’ve been looking at the Apple podcast, and I haven’t seen a review since July 22nd, Ash. I would love to have someone drop in a review for us in the next day or two. That’d be just lovely. There’s a request. And I am Cam.

[00:25:58] Ash: And this was the Translating ADHD podcast. Thanks for listening.

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