Repurposing Negative Emotions with ADHD Part 1

Episode 199

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In this part one of two episodes, Ash and Cam discuss the idea of repurposing negative emotions. People with ADHD are often told that they don’t manage their emotions and they need to learn to regulate their emotions. That’s like trying to hold back a rising tide with a sand castle wall! We can do more than just manage emotions. Emotions are responses to our environment, and when redirected or repurposed they can be amazing resources, especially when it comes to figuring out what matters to someone.

Cam shares a recent personal experience to illustrate repurposing negative emotions – how his aggravation from, of all things, a split poopy bag, a gourmet polenta that fails to set up and a cooking class where you don’t get to cook can be converted into a reminder of what matters at Cam’s core. Ash deftly steers the conversation to further explore the significance of “things doing their basic function” and how the learning from the cooking class example is the thread to pull on. The conversation explores the awareness of negative emotions, recognizing their impact, and the potential for repurposing them to inform and reacquaint one with core values. The discussion touches on ADHD implications, the importance of basic functioning, and the frustration that individuals with ADHD may face. The episode concludes with a promise to continue the conversation in the next part, delving into repurposing negative emotions further.

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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. Just a quick bit of information for our listeners this year. Cam and I are turning our attention back towards our Discord community. And one of the ways that we are doing that is by reintroducing the idea of a live coaching demonstration once a month. Next month’s demonstration will be with me. It will be on Monday, February 19th at noon Central. So if you’re already in the Discord, I hope to see you there.

If you’ve been thinking about joining to support the show, you can do so by becoming a patron, visiting the website at and click on the Patreon tab. That grants you access to the Discord community. And you are welcome to join us for the coaching demonstration. Hope to see you there.

So, Cam, I’m stoked about what you’re bringing today. We’re getting back to this idea – we’ve gone through the coaching process. So now let’s talk about what has our attention right now when it comes to the coaching process. The wide variety of things that can happen in a coaching session or with ourselves and generating our awareness is where you’re headed today. Why don’t you say a little bit more about what has your attention today?

[00:01:24] Cam: Sure, Ash. I was thinking about our listener who provided us with our content last week around modern living maxed out. How to prioritize, how to get a start, how to get a meaningful completion when work is calling, the kids need something and you just, it’s so tight, it’s just such a hard place to, where to turn, where to begin.

And that same person was talking about Brendan has the wall of awful, he was talking about the ball of dread and how this dread and unpacking all of this stuff, and then we just explode into that undifferentiated mass that you brought up last week. It had me thinking about emotions. That had me thinking about a lot of the work that we do with our clients is looking at emotions, and emotions in a way beyond just regulating emotions.

I think that again, something that is short-sighted and that a good coach is going to help someone understand and appreciate their emotions, how they come into play, and what we can do with them. So today our working title is repurposing negative emotions. As I said, we can be taught that we have emotional dysregulation, and we need to learn how to regulate and manage our emotions versus can we do something more creative with them? Can we repurpose them? Can we redirect them? Can we look at negative emotions and see how they might inform what matters to us? That’s the working or that’s the theme of today.

So I’ve got a couple of funny things. I’m aggrieved, I have been aggrieved, Ash.

[00:03:14] Ash: That’s a powerful word, Cam. If I was coaching you, I noticed that powerful language is aggrieved.

[00:03:21] Cam: Agreed. Do you wanna hear what I do? You wanna hear what I’m aggrieved about?

[00:03:25] Ash: Of course, I do.

[00:03:25] Cam: All right, here we go. Nonfunctioning poopy bags.

[00:03:30] Ash: Ooh, that’s the worst. 

[00:03:31] Cam: Poopy bags with a slit in them, nonfunctional. Gourmet polenta in the burlap bag.

[00:03:42] Ash: Oh, so you paid like 10 bucks for that, right? 

[00:03:44] Cam: Plus, I didn’t do it. My wife did it. She’s a foodie. That’s okay. But the polenta was never set up. We’ve tried it twice. We’ve cooked it. We follow the directions. We are big polenta people. Grits. Okay. We know how to do it. Never. It’s just this soup, right? Never set up polenta that never set up.

The final one is a cooking class where you go, but you don’t get your hands dirty in any way. You watch and you’re just a spectator. Those are the three things that I have annoyance and a grievance around currently, Ash.

[00:04:22] Ash: So I already know where we’re going. But if I didn’t, I would want to ask you, and I’m going to ask you, what on earth do these three things have in common? Why is this, why are these three things coming up for you in this context?

[00:04:41] Cam: That’s a good question. And here’s the thing – there was a time when I wouldn’t have been able to tell you because I would have been so enthralled by the aggrievance. I would have been so wrapped up in the emotion. Can you imagine, people, just a poopy bag that has a slit in it, and I can stick my hand through. And oh, I wouldn’t be able to tell you that Ash, but now I can because of this exercise of repurposing this negative emotion. And so all three of them, what they have in common is it’s these are things that needed to be doing their basic function.

[00:05:17] Ash: Ooh.

[00:05:18] Cam: How hard is it for a doggy bag to do its job, right? If you’re going to make a bag, and I’m going to pay for it, it should do its basic function, do its basic job. And so that’s the thing, is like the polenta, its basic job is to set up.

[00:05:34] Ash: is to

[00:05:34] Cam: Can’t do that, huh?

[00:05:36] Ash: is to be polenta.

[00:05:37] Cam: It’s to be polenta. And it’s like I don’t care about your burlap bag. I don’t care about your high price as long as you perform your basic function. So it’s interesting that I know this about myself, is that I don’t care about fluff and aesthetics. I just went skiing with my kid. I have a pair of skis. I don’t, everyone’s talking about skis. I don’t care about skis as long as they do their basic function.

[00:06:06] Ash:  Yeah. You can tell that this is what matters. It triggers a powerful emotional response. I just want to take a pause here and tell our listeners what it is we’re talking about here. And this is you generating some awareness over time about what this response is for you. So when you said, Ooh, I wouldn’t be able to answer that question so many years ago, maybe, or maybe not, we might have gotten there in the coaching context, right?

As a coach, even if you didn’t know the answer, I would certainly be curious about the relationship between those three things. You and I think it’s even helpful to say that when you name the three things, and I thought about my relationship to those frustrating events or events that could be frustrating, the only one that would bug me is the dog bag and for a different reason I would go into, I just, I hate capitalism so very much.

And when the insidification of everything is in my face, that we can’t even manufacture plastic bags as a society that does their job correctly anymore because some shareholders weren’t making enough money and they cut the costs or whatever else. That’s the spiral I would go into, which while tangentially related to your spiral, is certainly possible to create the same large emotions. Different causation, different thing.

And so when we talk about things like your context matters, this is exactly what we’re highlighting. You and I could be bringing the same topic to a coaching session of why am I so pissed off about dog bags, and we’d be going completely different places in terms of what’s at causation there.

[00:08:00] Cam: And so back to this. Understand my translation and the value of awareness and that third one around the class – the cooking class you don’t get to participate in any of the chopping or the cutting or the measuring. That is right at my core as an educator, and that all education is experiential.

Someone was asking me about what’s the difference between listening to you guys in the podcast and taking one of your classes. There’s a huge difference because you’re in the seat, you are, you’re in the cockpit, getting training at the yoke, you’re flying the airplane. And it’s you kidding me? The class was, Asher, the class wasn’t even for me, it was my wife was getting it for my daughter because they’re big foodies, and they love to cook. And they canceled it, and they got their money back because they’re like, whoa, we don’t even get to touch the macarons, are you kidding me?

So, it is this core principle around education and learning that resonates for me. And being able to again, bring it from that negative place of grievance and annoyance to this knowing, this understanding, this appreciation of what matters to me. And it’s a fascinating thing. Guess what I get to do with that emotion? I get to repurpose it. I get to funnel it in a way that works to my benefit and not against me.

[00:09:36] Ash: Before we talk about what that repurposing looks like, which I’m stoked about, I just, again, want to notice the nuance and distinction there. There’s this grouping of three things that is around it doesn’t do its basic function. But with the cooking class in particular, it’s not just about that. It’s also this other core principle, core belief that is touching on.

And we see stuff like this with our clients all the time, right? Where we’ve been working together for a while, maybe we’ve talked about the poop bags. And so the client brings the cooking class and I say, Oh, is this like the poop bags? What useful information can we pull forward here and examine it from there? Because it is like the poop bags, but it’s also not.

[00:10:35] Cam: Yes.

[00:10:36] Ash: And it’s different. I’d like you to speak a little bit to is there a difference in how the emotion then shows up with the poop bag and the polenta versus the cooking class that touches against people when Cam says core principle?

I’ve known and been educated by Cam for over a decade now. This is at the heart of who Cam is as a human being. Which to me sounds a little different than it doesn’t do its basic function. This is just this information when you are at your best. That principle is informing everything you do.

[00:11:17] Cam: It’s really interesting. And it’s there’s so much focus around these tools and systems and accessing our executive function center. And I’m not so sure about that in this case, in the sense of this deep knowing of what matters. So this is prioritization. Before our call today Ash, I had a relatively open day, and I was spending lots of time looking at the material that the participants sent me for a class tomorrow because I wanted to have an intimate understanding of who they are, what their dilemma is, and what they get out of the class.

And so it was almost luxurious for me, but also necessary, right? I’ve been talking a little bit about understanding and appreciating your essential creative work. When I brought that up in social media about essential creative work, people said, they don’t see the essential part. They see the creative part of this.

Oh, I need to make time for painting, or I need to make time for these things that are creative and extra. When in fact, when I think of essential creative work, I’m thinking about that – the thing that resonates at your core, right? That when I teach, it is personal. It is intimate. It is experiential. And it is real.

And so as I right now, as I’m sitting here, I’m getting chills. That to me is again, I know exactly what I’m doing here. So the sense of priority and bringing in. And this added value of, okay, can I say another thing? This whole thing about ADHD being a superpower, people are amazing. ADHD comes into play. And if we have awareness of the areas, the context, the environments, the people, the skill sets, the things that come together that where we are vibrating, we can be super, but we can also stumble into areas and challenge areas of people and environments.

And again, the tiger snares the tar pit getting stuck, and it’s that knowing piece. So that’s part of this here is the knowing the other thing is about the 80 pieces. Again, I want to speak to them, about how my ADHD got in the way of my being able to actualize.

[00:13:42] Ash: Yeah. Listeners, did you just hear Cam’s powerful knowing of himself? What matters to him, what his strengths are, what has his attention, where he shines. We get to do that with clients every day. It’s the thing I love about coaching, is I love helping people see the amazing, powerful person before me that I see.

We don’t do that under, sometimes we do that under noticing. Noticing a strength championing, but oftentimes it’s this process where we just get a client talking about what has our attention in the coaching session and what has our attention right now is the cooking class thing different? And if so, why? What is it about that core principle that Cam just gave so much great language to make that one different than the other two in terms of the emotional response and what happens next. So Cam, do you want to speak to that a little bit?

[00:14:44] Cam: Yeah. Say the question one more time because I’m a fish in the water right now. And this is again, this is an interesting part of the coaching process is I’m in it. So help me understand the question and how it’s different than what I said already.

[00:15:00] Ash: Ah, so we’ve got these three things that all touch on It Doesn’t Do Its Basic Job, one of which also touches on this thing that’s so core to who you are and what you do in this world and that you’ve spent a lifetime cultivating that eloquent awareness about that. You just shared with us. So as we move into talking about negative emotion and repurposing it…

[00:15:25] Cam: Yes.

[00:15:26] Ash: is that a different experience from here in terms of the negative emotion itself or what repurposing looks like than the other two because there’s not just another thing at cause there? There’s a core thing. A core who I am in this world and what I believe thing.

[00:15:46] Cam: Yeah, that’s a nice, that’s a nice pickup. So yeah, am I annoyed with the poopy bag that doesn’t work? It is an annoyance. It’s an irritation. I’m out there, and it’s okay, I’ll have to come back. And if I remember, go get a functional bag. And so you’re right. It is different.

[00:16:08] Ash: So why don’t you speak first to repurposing negative emotion on those two or just the poopy bag, the polenta. What have you learned about yourself? What awareness do you have that is creating this moment of repurposing emotion? And what does that look like?

[00:16:25] Cam: Yeah. There’s this recognition of I think there’s another thing there around efficiency or cost, right? It’s If I’m gonna pay extra for something, it better do its basic functioning. And if it doesn’t, remember that and get back to basics, right?

Like again, ’cause polenta is like a canvas, right? You don’t eat can, you don’t eat polenta by itself. You, it’s what you put into it that makes it amazing with cheese and other things, butter, et cetera, to make it something phenomenal. Like shrimp and grits, right? It’s a form of polenta.

With a poopy bag, it’s not just grabbing it and going. So it’s checking the integrity of the bag, man. It’s just that, Oh, here’s a little bit of learning of yeah, these things can fail. Don’t know what you’re like, and back to your capitalistic thing about yeah, people cutting costs and et cetera, et cetera. They’re like, just okay. And that’s a really interesting thing, Ash, because this goes into, I spent a lot of time out in the woods. And it’s if I’m gonna be in the woods, the things I need to be functional. So there’s another piece there.

[00:17:34] Ash: What does it look like to repurpose the negative emotion now? So we’d, any listener can imagine what the negative emotion looked like then with or without the context, right? How we can spiral and respond from that emotional place? So letting the doggy bag sour your mood for the rest of the day. Or going down a rabbit hole of what is the best doggy bag.

Like we could talk about any number of ways that might play out. But the important thing is it was having an impact in a good way, right? So what’s the repurposing with the polenta and the doggy bag when you talk about repurposing negative emotion?

[00:18:12] Cam: So, Ash is pinning me down, and this is good, this is a coaching skill set. Thank you, Ash. Thank you for demonstrating that. 

[00:18:20] Ash: Excellent teacher, as it turns out!

[00:18:24] Cam: And again, with emotional dysregulation, it’s that sort of intensity of our response and how long it stays with us. And so again, something like that, we have a grievance or an annoyance or an irritation and sort of sticks with us for the rest of the day. And we’re not aware of it.

So it’s, first of all, that awareness of I’ve been doing a lot of work around this again, emotional intelligence and doing that with my clients. But doing that myself because recognizing, hearing from my kids of you can get a little heightened at sometimes, Dad. And it’s yeah, something that matters to me to be a good model for my kids.

So repurposing the emotion there is to, first of all, recognize it for what it is. I’m having a negative response. In this situation, I’m irritated, right? Naming what it is number one, number two is okay, context, and does it matter? And this is a lot of exercises that, this has been a lot of practice here, Ash, over the years that listeners, you’re not necessarily going to have amazing success with this right out of the gate because we are creatures of habit.

But to acknowledge it, the emotion, and it’s like what is that a grievance? And is there something that matters to me that is getting impacted in some way? Often it is a value that’s being compromised, et cetera. And so it’s again back to, does, does a functional poopy bag matter in the grand scheme of things? No, it does not. People are listening, and dude, gourmet polenta. What the heck? 

[00:19:57] Ash: I love where this is going, and I want to give it its due time. We’re out of time, so I think we’re part two of this. I think we pick up with the, okay, so now we’re, we pick up with A, answering the question of, so what is the pause, disrupt, pivot moment you’re now having there? And then B, now let’s look at the cooking class and see if that’s a different thing. And then you have ample time to tie in all the other stuff.

[00:20:20] Cam: What’s got your attention? It’s, and I can say just again, there’s more to look at here. And you say all that. And I say, yeah. And there’s the ADD implications, too, that we haven’t even scratched the surface of.

[00:20:33] Ash: Cam, I think at this point, we should do something that we haven’t done very often.

[00:20:37] Cam: No, we haven’t.

[00:20:38] Ash: In this, in the evolution of this podcast. And we should stop here, but I love where we’re at. So, listeners, we’re going to pick back up right here next week and continue this conversation.

And funnily enough that itself is yet another modeling of coaching. The goal for any coaching session is to get to some action, get to some new awareness or learning that can inform some practice or some action. But sometimes there’s more work to do there than a single session allows.

So rather than try and re-record or make this a shorter topic, I love the way we’re approaching this, Cam. Let’s just pause here for this week, end on what has your attention right now in this place that we’re at, and then we’ll pick it up next week and we’ll pick up right where we left off.

[00:21:33] Cam: So what has my attention now is, there was a time, people, a very long time when I was not able to deliver my basic values because of my ADHD. And that is at a core here again, deep down. And I think that this is one of the big frustrations with people with ADHD, just basic functioning is so hard for us because we get pulled in so many different directions. It’s so hard to prioritize. It’s so hard to remember what matters.

So we’re going to get into that. And we’ll get into, again, continue to look at repurposing negative emotions here and what else you can do with negative emotions. Great topic, Ash. Fun, fun.

[00:22:12] Ash: Yeah, this has been fun today. So listeners, until next week and part two of repurposing negative emotions, I’m Ash.

[00:22:20] Cam: And I’m Cam.

[00:22:21] Ash: And this was the Translating ADHD podcast. Thanks for listening.

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