Context and Embracing Your True Self with ADHD

Episode 201

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In this episode of Translating ADHD, Cam and Ash explore the significance of context and how it relates to our sense of self or self-identity. They discuss the importance of recognizing and leaning into our strengths and how this can help shift our perspective from a place of limitation to one of empowerment.

They also touch on the distinction between performance-based coaching and the broader aspects of human motivation. Tune in to gain insights into the importance of understanding your “who” and embracing your true self.

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Episode Transcript:

[00:00:00] Ash: Hi, I’m Ash.

[00:00:08] Cam: And I’m Cam.

[00:00:09] Ash: And this is Translating ADHD. Cam, as we were kicking around our topic for today, I was stoked at the connection that you made from the last two episodes and how this is kind of a natural progression in terms of the threads that we’re pulling on. So do you want to say a little bit more about that for our listeners to kind of set up what it is we’re going to be diving into today?

[00:00:34] Cam: Sure, Ash. And, yeah, you brought this, you brought something today around the significance of context and how it’s connected to our sense of self or self-identity. And that self-identity is something that is important in ADHD circles and doesn’t get enough airtime. We’ve talked about this a lot, so as you were relaying a story about a client, again, sort of this, this drive around a sense of identity and related to values and needs, it was reminding me of where we moved from last week around repurposing negative emotions and to kind of finding positive motivators. And that in coaching, what we do is we help our clients with their dilemmas.

But the whole notion of strength-based coaching is to help them realize, recognize, and lean into their strengths. And that sense of self is a strength. It’s not a strength when you’re one down. It’s not a strength when you’re operating from a very limiting perspective or the, you know, I’m broken place.

So, this is a really interesting area, and I think it’s a great place to move in. The significance of your who and we’ve talked about big C coaching, right? This sort of distinction between strategizing and brainstorming and this performance model of coaching performance matters. But humans are motivated by more than just achievement. It is to be fulfilled. It is to have a sense of purpose, something that’s significant to both of us. So, I think, where would you like to begin with this topic?

[00:02:49] Ash: It’s not a question I’ve asked myself in that way. And something I realized that’s pretty cool. I started thinking about those values and needs exercises. We talked about this way back in the early days of season one, how it’s a place that I like to start with my clients and it isn’t something that I picked arbitrarily.

I had a new client who came to the big agenda conversation. So that was already part of my coaching practice. Let’s zoom out first and talk about where it is, where we might be going, what we do know about a life that fits for you so that as we embark on this journey together, we have that North star, and we’re not walking around in the woods. If we zoom out at any point in the coaching relationship to examine progress, we have something to measure against.

And I had a client that came and didn’t have great answers for that. I’m so overwhelmed, and I feel like up until this point, and this is an adult, that my life has so much happened to me more than I’ve happened to it, that I don’t know anything about a life that fits. And in the years since, I can say that.

So that happens a lot with my clients. It’s not every client. Everybody arrives in a different place, but it’s certainly a common experience. At some point in the last few years, I got really curious about the relationship between ADHD and identity and found some compelling research studying just that. The conclusion is that ADHD people don’t form strong senses of identity, and that I have found to be true. All of my clients, to a degree.

And it really kind of sharpened and strengthened my attention as a coach to notice those things and help my clients see those things. And kind of bringing it full circle is why after doing values and needs with that one client, I decided to make that a standard practice. It’s just a way to frame that conversation and start to get some glimpses very early in the coaching process of a client’s who.

And by the way, coaches, this is my process. This may not be the right process for you because there’s another strength in there I recently became fully aware of. And it’s because a client said something to me about, I’ve always been the kind of person that people are immediately comfortable with. A stranger might open up to me and tell me something very real and vulnerable about their lives, and that’s true for me, too.

So one of my strengths as a coach is being able to establish that space of safety and vulnerability with a client upfront, which is why front-loading a conversation like this that can go to deep and vulnerable places very quickly works in my coaching practice.

[00:06:01] Cam: You know what I call that? That, Ash, that’s such good modeling, and it’s such good modeling for a coach, right, is embracing this idea of a coaching mindset, which is open, flexible, and curious. And you started that whole piece there around, I’ve been really curious about the coaching process, my coaching process, your interactions with your clients, your own experience as a human in this world.

And we start to kind of consider these things. And just what has our attention? Where are we going to explore? what are we going to explore with our clients? And as you said, your style is not THE style, but it’s a style or approach philosophy that resonates deeply with you and coaches or coaches in training. It is like locating an approach that resonates with you. So then it resonates with your clients. And this is, again, the power of mindset.

And back to this idea of positive emotions, right? Last week, we started just to look at, you know, what were those positive emotions that are in play for me to be successful to drive motivation drivers. Curiosity is a powerful, powerful motivator. And curiosity is in the realm of positive emotion, but curiosity alone cannot create all the motivation. It’s, again, as you said, identifying that North Star. So we orient to what we are trying to do.

I love what you said, again, about how many of our clients come and that state. He said that, she said so much of life is happening to me, rather me happening to my life. I’m so overwhelmed. I can’t even have a, how can I even start to have this conversation? So, how did you start to have that conversation with this client around big agenda and discovering their who?

[00:08:06] Ash: It’s a great question. Cam. And the answer is I brought in values and needs. And funnily enough, I couldn’t tell you which client that was today. This was so many years ago, but I’m just now in a place where all of these sorts of diffuse awarenesses are creating a bigger picture for me of who I am as a coach, what my coaching process looks like, and why I do what I do beyond the fact that the evidence says that that’s what works.

And why I do what I do is something you noticed for me. So there’s some coaching process in there too, when I was kicking around doing my group coaching, and you suggested the topic of purpose because you noticed based on the way that I was articulating what had my attention with my clients, what was grabbing my attention in our coaching classes, that purpose and identity were big themes for me.

And that was a few years ago now. So combined with this place that I’m in today, again, just has me looking at the coaching process. And it’s not that client I want to talk about. I want to talk about a client I’m working with right now to kind of illustrate this idea of getting to the who and how cool it can be to find those glimpses of who to anchor to early in the coaching process.

So, for the client in question, we just finished values and needs. This was our last conversation, wrapping up, going through each need and each value, and having a conversation about it. I asked questions at the 10,000-foot view. What does this need or value mean to you? We explore what the client’s relationship is to that meter value.

Now, are you meeting this need? Are you living this value? And the client arrived and was kind of in a state but didn’t say a lot about what was going on other than there was a little chaos with her animals in her house. And she was 5 or 10 minutes late, kind of cleaning up the chaos. And she had already given me her list of values. And she told me she wanted to move this one to the bottom. She said, I kind of reconsidered the order, and this one I think comes last. So we went through the others, and we got to this value of drive.

And here’s where I need to step back and tell you that before discussing drive, what I knew about this client in relationship to their desire to become a writer is that they’re traditionally employed right now in a tech field. And that a life that fits for them involves writing full time. And we touched on it a little bit when we talked about creativity and some other things, but that was all I knew about this client’s why, when it comes to writing, that she’s a fiction writer. She has a passion for it and loves the creative elements of it.

And now we’re talking about this value of drive. So the way that this client articulated drive was being able to change the world for the better to make a difference. The ADHD challenge that she articulated is I feel like I constantly have to work towards getting to a zero, getting to a baseline, and getting to anything higher feels lofty. I mentioned the background situation that my client was having that was showing up right there because my client was feeling like that was a situation in which she wasn’t getting to zero.

And that’s the head space that she’s showing up as we’re starting to talk about drive. And I would say the tone in the coaching conversation was that was there. You could feel the heaviness of whatever else had happened in her morning as we’re talking about the other two values we discussed this day. And now moving on to drive. So then she says telling stories that make people think differently about the world. No, wait, no, she didn’t say that. Let me back it up. Take that out.

So then she says something about drive related directly to her writing. I don’t remember what it was, but it definitely got my attention. And I asked a question back, and she starts to tell me this amazing story. This, like, memory story when she was an adolescent, 10, 11, 12, somewhere in that age range. She lives in the United States now, but grew up in India and grew up in what she described to be a pretty conservative place at the time. And this is in the 90s, so we don’t have the world at our fingertips the way that we have it today. Those of us that had these analog childhoods, your reality is the community around you and what you see in the media that you do have access to.

And here are the types of stories that are being told in the media that she has access to at the time, and we’re talking fictional stories, right? These aren’t news stories. This is what movies and television are being written to convey. She tells me about one movie where a woman is taking a shower, and her house catches on fire, and she has to be rescued. Because she was nude when she was rescued, she ran out into the street and committed suicide by letting a car hit her.

Whoa. Right? The second one, a little less mild, but has the same general theme is a man sees this woman naked, and the plot follows along that they’re married a week or two later.

[00:14:04] Cam: Can I interject? 

[00:14:04] Ash: Interject.

[00:14:05] Cam: Well, it’s just, again, like very conservative and subservient roles are being modeled for her, right? If this is what it is to be a woman.

[00:14:14] Ash: More so than that. My client said at that age, her biggest fear was someone seeing her nude. Whoa. So I don’t quite remember how it happened, but it sounded like it was somewhat by chance, my client was exposed to just a snippet, and the right snippet, from the show Xena Warrior Princess. Now, for those of you that aren’t familiar with that show, or are familiar with it in terms of the fact that it exists but don’t understand its cultural significance, Xena is a massive icon for feminists and queer people because she represented a powerful woman in media at a time that we didn’t get that type of representation at all.

And so this clip is – and this is secondhand, so if you’ve seen the show and I get it wrong, I’m telling the story based on the client telling a story, we’re going for the gist here – is that Xena is naked in a lake, and a man approaches her and says something about it that is somewhat derogatory. And she quips back what haven’t you ever seen a naked woman before?

Just completely flipped the script for my client. Just opened up her world a little bit to a broader perspective outside of the world she lives in. And so at that point of the story, we just stopped to notice and appreciate that like, whoa, this isn’t just generic drive. This isn’t just creative drive. There’s a core why. Here, alongside whatever other things I have yet to discover about this client. Why is it writing? Why is it fiction? I don’t know the answers to those questions yet, but client, if you’re listening, those are some good threads to pull on.

But now we know something about her why and her pull towards writing. There’s a drive through her writing to be able to make a difference. And once we got that far, she said there’s something about telling stories that make people think differently about the world. And I want to challenge norms through my writing. By the way, the whole tone in the room shifted as we were having this conversation.

And, Cam, you know exactly what I’m talking about here, those moments when you just see really like the purest form of your clients who shine through when you’re connecting to something so core. Whether or not my client was aware of this background motivation in some way before this conversation, there’s power in articulating it to someone else looking at it and examining it. I say so often to my clients that one of the beautiful things about coaching is you can say something, we don’t have to be attached to it.

But when something powerful like that comes out and somebody might be saying that truth about themselves for the first time, it makes it real intangible, and something that you can connect to in a way that you maybe couldn’t before. And it was made in a way that was maybe mixed up and buried with limiting beliefs or storytelling or other stuff that you knew was there, but not like this, not this powerfully.

So you can see how we now have something so amazing and so core to who my client is to connect to as positive motivation for the work that we are doing related to writing, or not writing, is a big why. It’s part of a life that fits. Not all of our work will be in the realm of writing. All of our work will be in service of getting closer to that life that fits, where my client is meeting that, living that drive value in a way that fits, whatever that ends up looking like. 

[00:18:29] Cam: I appreciate you sharing that story and what we do as coaches. There’s another episode in here. Again, I get a little frustrated with this take on of like, you know, it’s so mystifying. It’s so mystifying. Why do I da da da da da? Why is it that I know I’ve got a pack for a trip and I’m defrosting my refrigerator?

There are reasons for that. And we’ll talk about that at another time, exactly why that is. But here, it’s so interesting to me how people can’t grasp this concept. I’m not so much listeners, it’s more of our peers. That sense of self fades with anyone, but with ADHD in particular, and this is again, this self-awareness, this ability to self-reflect, those positive messages that we tell ourselves verbally and nonverbally, right? The verbal aspect is those, again, words to describe myself in positive ways. We don’t have that like others do.

And then the imagery, the nonverbal in the sense of seeing ourselves being, again, stepping into this way of being. So I do this every week with my clients. I just got off the phone with someone who we go through our weeks and it’s, we just get pulled like saltwater taffy in so many different directions, like your client who came in and, you know, one down and getting all kinds of evidence that is reinforcing this limiting belief around, yeah, I’m below zero and I just got, can I just get back to zero? Can I just, I’m so below the baseline. I just had this conversation with someone about being below a baseline for him. It was around this sort of, I’m falling behind as a knowledge expert and I can’t catch up.

And so as we work with our clients and sort of reconnect – you said anchoring – is this re-anchoring back to this closer to pure form of their who. Because as we go through our week, it gets distorted. Our lens gets covered in dust and distorted, and it’s so hard to reconnect with that sense of self. So the who and the why, because I think you’re talking about both the drive and the writing. It’s not just who it is, this context piece or this purpose, the why piece, too.

[00:21:15] Ash: Absolutely, Cam. And something I tell my clients, once we get to a particular place in coaching, particularly my clients who are going through a tough time and feel like I might be backsliding, I’m not showing things are going as well as they were going before. And I’m afraid. There’s this very real fear that this progress, this period where consistency is present and they’re putting themselves in the picture. Like so many other failed attempts with ADHD was just temporary.

And what I love to tell my clients – and I reinforce this when we part ways as a way to invite them to reach back out anytime, for any reason, if they’d like some more coaching – is that now that you know this about yourself, no one could take that away from you.

When clients returned to coaching, when we’ve left in a place where they’re on the path to a life that fits, the work is different than what we’re talking about here because it’s less about discovering and it’s more about reconnecting and getting clear on what happened. What are the reasons, what are the context shifts – we’re going to have a great episode on that next week – that have muddied my view, that has invited old stories back in that have brought back old behaviors, whatever it is.

So there might be some new learning to do, but we’ve got this incredible knowledge to work with based on the work we did before. And that makes a huge difference. A typical client when they return, I coach him for a couple of weeks to a couple of months, just depending upon what the context is to get them back where they need to be. Back where they feel like I can continue on this path. Because, again, we’re not starting from zero.

So I say that, listeners, because if you find yourself in that place, a backsliding place when you’ve seen some positive progress, it’s a place where black-and-white thinking can come in and throw us for a loop. But I invite you to consider the alternate perspective of two things that can be true. You can know what’s true for you, and you can also be curious about what’s going on now that makes it different.

[00:23:44] Cam: This is a great conversation today. And, listeners, you might be out there thinking this thought today. And there’s a thought that goes along with this, again, this sort of coming back to what we know. This idea that, uh, gosh, well, I’m just so tired of having to deal with the same stuff. I’m so tired of having to kind of reconnect these anchors.

Why is it I always am doing the same work? The same work. And with our interest-based nervous system and our need for stimulation and novelty, we can bump right into a challenge here. And I would just say, you’re identifying a really important area, keep coming back to, to keep exploring. Because every time I do this with my clients, again, this goes back to our conversation at the conference with curiosity, nuance, and distinction, there’s some new. This sort of the envelope opens a little more. There’s a more reveal. There’s a little bit more interest, or this, again, the sense of knowing. And what matters resonates. And it’s just a slightly different turn of the kaleidoscope, right? It’s just a new color, a new pattern, something that’s fascinating there.

So at first blush, it might be so tired of this. I’m just tired of dealing with the same stuff. ADHD can be seen as very inconsistent in its presentation, but often there are certain consistencies that we look at. And we get bored with, we get tired of, we generate a, again, a fatigue here, that is understandable. And so, again, digging down and bringing curiosity to keep looking in these areas where you’re seeing repeat patterns of behavior. Why is it I keep doing the same thing over and over again, keeping making the same mistakes? This is the area to explore.

[00:25:45] Ash: Nicely said, Cam. And before we wrap up, I just want to close the loop on this story, because I talked about how my client showed up. I rattled off the three values I had remaining for us to talk about. And she told me to change the order. So we did, and we came to drive last. Drive was by far the most powerful, not that the others weren’t interesting in speaking to my client, but this was the powerful moment.

This was the, as you said, the intersection of who and why. So when we finished that conversation, I asked my client, what made you want to move this one to the bottom, given the conversation that we just had? And what she told me – it was a very emotional moment – the way that she had arrived at the session was feeling badly and inadequate about her ability to take care of her rescue animals. I can’t even get to zero.

And so it wasn’t the move, the priority order move. And not all my clients do priority order, by the way, with values and needs. I kind of let my clients have their experience with this exercise, but this client found it useful to think about things in terms of priority order.

What’s most true? What’s most important? That decision had nothing to do with priority order, and everything to do with one down and storytelling and the moment that she was in. I can’t even get to zero. How could I ever be integrity with my value of drive if I can’t even get to zero? If I can’t even honor the commitments that I’ve already made.

Which, by the way, is all storytelling. And we spent some time diving into that a little bit with the time we had left and noticing the storytelling. And I just think that that’s such a nice little example of how we can lose sight of our who and our why, especially if we’re not already in tune with it – which ADHD makes it very, very difficult to be – without some intentional work.

But even if we are in tune with it, and that’s kind of where we’re going to go next week, I’ve had a pretty radical context shift in the last year. And I’m just now coming to awareness about how much that impacts and changes. And I’ve been in this frustrating place where I haven’t been able to get back to where I was. And not in that toxic way. Not in that way that our clients hope we can bring them back to a time and place where for a time, everything was clicking. And just give me more of that. Give me more hyper-focus. Give me more of this. Give me more of that. But with a very coach-like approach, looking at it with curiosity. What is keeping me spinning my wheels?

So, listeners, we’re going to continue this conversation next week. But if I leave you with anything today, it’s this, when I talk about ADHD coaching to people with ADHD, my clients, here on the podcast, and other coaches who work in other specialties, I say that if ADHD coaching and whole-person coaching is a Venn diagram, it’s a circle. And this is why, because we talked about who and why. That has nothing to do with ADHD, other than my client has ADHD. And we also talked about how ADHD can get in the way of even being aware of that who and being able to connect to it powerfully. You can’t coach the who without recognizing the ADHD and vice versa. Both are always in the room. Always.

[00:29:57] Cam: And, you know, this is a part, this is a great example of how getting in touch with our who, or sense of identity, can give us scope and direction. And this orients us to the challenges, the opportunities, create focus, create priority, create motivation, activation, all of these. All of these areas in the realm of straight-up conventional ADHD coaching of being able to do what you know you ought to do, or do what you want to do. I think that’s a great place to finish up today, Ash

[00:30:34] Ash: I think so too, Cam. So until next week, I’m Ash.

[00:30:38] Cam: And I’m Cam.

[00:30:39] Ash: And this was the Translating ADHD podcast. Thanks for listening.

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