Ego and Energy: ADHD and Reframing Narratives

Episode 207

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On this episode of Translating ADHD, Cam and Ash delve into the power of storytelling and perspective work for individuals with ADHD. They discuss the importance of recognizing the stories we tell ourselves and how they shape our relationships and experiences. Cam shares about a client reflecting on the limitations of using ‘ego and energy’ to navigate his day as a fast brainer.

The hosts emphasize the role of context and meaning-making in the ADHD brain, highlighting how coaching can help individuals reframe their perspectives to navigate challenges effectively. Ash shares how progress and old stories can create a tension but also an opportunity for change. Tune in to gain insights on reframing narratives and embracing new perspectives in managing ADHD.

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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, I’m actually really excited to hear more about today’s topic, because what little you told me has left me with more questions than answers. You gave me the words ego and energy and you told me just a little bit about a client’s relationship to those words. You want to tell our listeners what you told me?

[00:00:32] Cam: Yes, I will, Ash. Last week we were talking about context and storytelling. You shared about storytelling around mealtime, how the moral messages there around what mealtime is, and how we’re aware it was an actual story, to see it as a story and not some truth, and to start to play around with it and talk to your kid about how do you want this time to be. You saw was an opportunity.

[00:01:07] Cam: It wasn’t really about the meal. It was about the connection. So I was just thinking about storytelling because I think that, again, we are wired for context and that making meaning is something we’re doing all the time. People with ADHD are, we are making meaning at a higher frequency than others.

[00:01:28] Cam: We’re always going through the world of how do I relate to this? How do these things relate to each other? Our relationship to, and so we will tell stories to inform how we’re proceeding. And in coaching, this is perspective work. It’s fascinating to me when I hear a coach who when I talk about perspectives and they have a blank look on their face.

[00:01:52] Cam: I’m like where did you get your coach training? What right perspective is. There’s your thing, your dilemma, your challenge, and then it’s just how you’re looking at it, right? How you’re thinking and feeling informs how you’re looking at it. That’s perspective, and that’s where storytelling comes in, is that we tell ourselves stories to give ourselves comfort to place ourself in the world in the sense of context,

[00:02:23] Ash: To fill in context where it might be missing.

[00:02:27] Cam: Right? And sometimes we don’t necessarily get that right. We make an assumption, and we’ll fill in with false information. That’s confirmation bias. That is not something that people with ADHD own. This is something that’s very human.

[00:02:52] Cam: This week, I was thinking about a client who came to a call in a reflective state, and he just he sat there for a second. He was like, it was a lot easier to make decisions when I was just going on. And there was the pause because he was thinking about it, and he said ego and energy. I was like, that’s a fellow coach here. Ash ears picking up my ears, picking up when we hear our clients say something like that.

[00:03:19] Cam: It’s Ooh, something in here that the client is getting some kind of perspective on something. So this is when I’m wired, right? As a coach, I’m just like, waiting and let them say more to articulate around ego and energy. So we explore ego and energy, and this is a one of the fastest fast brain clients I have ever worked with. And this is a client that we, the metaphor we use is the rocket. He’s the rocket zipping through his day. Zip goes home and zip at home. And do you think his family and spouse appreciate that?

[00:04:07] Ash: Yeah, I’ve worked with that and the dilemmas I know that they’ve had on the home front.

[00:04:12] Cam: And this is, again, something he was working on and recognizing he would pull the trigger, make a decision, not really thinking out and really anticipating or playing that out and then all kinds of collateral damage and mistakes and it has to walk that back.

[00:04:33] Ash: So I’m going to stop you right there, Cam, because if this was my client and we were at this point in the conversation, I’d be noticing that quote, unquote, easier decision making, was easier is a story. Because here your client now has this emerging awareness of the impact of making decisions that way that wasn’t there before.

[00:05:03] Cam: Yeah. So he’s starting to get distance here. And this is what happens with stories, is we don’t know their stories. We just think it’s just the way things are. And this is why our saying of understand, own, translate, this is about understanding and owning, to see something and how it plays out.

[00:05:26] Cam: So, fast brainer, when he talks about energy, he’s talking about his ability to hyperfocus. This is the Adrenaline Response Cycle. So if you’re new to the podcast in the search bar, Google Translating ADHD, Adrenaline Response Cycle, or ARC, and you’ll find all that you need about that.

[00:05:50] Cam: But it is that it’s that urgency, it’s the delay until this intense activity, crash and recover. So he’s using hyper focus, and he’s noticing that hyper focus and pushing stuff through being the point of the spear in his organization. Come on, let’s go. But he’s also seeing how his sense of self – and he said it ego, my ego and my ego in the sense of I’m right. It’s just a lot simpler.

[00:06:20] Cam: As you said, decision making is simpler putting air quotes there because there really is no decision. It’s just is I’m right and I’ve got the energy. I’ve got the momentum and let’s push through. So here he is coming to the coaching session, really reflecting on how that’s not helpful, how it really isn’t helping him do the really important stuff he wants to do in life, to have a big impact, to be a positive presence in others lives.

[00:06:55] Cam: So here he is starting to see the story he was creating around that, Ash, of they need me. They need my high energy. They need my larger than life persona because this is a strength that I can tap into their waffling. I’m decisive.

[00:07:21] Cam: So as we go forward here and his realization, part of the realization was how did he get to this place? How is he coming to, it was a lot easier. It seemed easier when I just did ego and energy was because now without ego and energy, he had decided to set that aside. To set aside ego, to sample energy, but not always be at that high intensity of how difficult it is to make decisions. To consider others, to have a discussion with someone and consider and weigh and go back and forth. That for a fast brain can feel really ineffective and efficient. It’s like we need to be going fast. We need to be going quick. So part of is this as he’s realizing the cost of ego and energy.

[00:08:11] Cam: He’s also realizing how difficult it is to try a different way. I go back to, remember the conversation where we use the metaphor of the dirty coal. Your client was like using dirty coal and renewables and how it’s like, can I bring some renewables on? I was thinking about that for this client, is that he’s really putting that old power plant off to the side and trying to build a wind farm or a solar farm. And it’s hard. It’s not easy because he’s not just going to tap into that hyper focus and just go with the I’m right, period.

[00:08:54] Ash: This is always a fun place to be with a client, where we have the intersection of progress of change of new experience and old storytelling. And it happens in this way, in particular, when the change itself feels hard, feels challenging, feels slow or counterintuitive. I see this so often in my clients when we talk about planning or breaking tasks down or dismantling stories in that arena.

[00:09:34] Ash: Particularly when those clients maybe backslide into a state of overwhelm. I was actually talking to a client this morning who had been traveling, had an industry conference, had a pretty disrupted couple of weeks overall. She’s an academic, and we’ve really been working on finding more writing time because that’s such an important part of her career. But when she’s in that reactive mode, it’s the thing that can be left behind.

[00:10:00] Ash: What was interesting about today, she actually asked if she could share a calendar with me. We were doing some granular planning in this session. She pulls up her calendar and she says, this week is shot. And we had talked about picking that one big thing for the week. And she decided that’s always going to be writing. Eventually I’d like to get to two or three big things in a week, but for this week, it’s very packed – too many meetings. We’re going to make it one big thing. We’re going to make it writing, but where am I going to fit that in? And then she sees this two hour window and she’s like oh, that’s plenty of time for where I’m at on the paper that I’m working on, because I’m not doing creative work. I’m doing mechanical logistical work. I’m just cleaning it up. I’m just reviewing and accepting edits. This is enough time for that activity.

[00:10:51] Ash: And so it was by virtue of slowing down, looking at her calendar, about what the actual quote unquote writing task is, that she was able to bypass this story that we’ve been grappling with for a long time that writing time has to exist under this perfect set of conditions. It needs to be a long amount of time, and it needs to be in the morning, and I need to be well rested and, tack on there are a few other conditions there. And here the client with no intervention from me, just by virtue of taking it that far, was able to bypass that old story, the story that had just come out of her mouth when she said, how am I going to find time for this week?

And so it’s always a fun place to be with clients to see them starting to grapple with and have a different experience with those old stories. But man, those old stories still like to come up and tell us. Oh, decision making was easier before this is harder. That’s part of the context. Decision making maybe was actually easier before, but it wasn’t making your client’s life easier overall.

[00:12:16] Ash: And so that’s what I’m curious about, is where did you go next? So this client sort of grappling with decision making is harder now, but there’s also a different outcome to pay attention to here.

[00:12:29] Cam: That’s a great question, Ash. I want to go back briefly to what you were getting excited about as a coach. As we are making progress, the old stories that kind of can be like Velcro, or just lock on or hook on as we’re making progress, as we get distance from story, as we get distance from ways that are not working.

[00:12:55] Cam: And so he’s finding out that ego and energy has limited payoff. That’s the big perspective shift for him, is that excitement that the payoff really the way it was 10 years ago. It just isn’t that way now because of his perspective, because of him stepping away and viewing this, noticing the cost, not only to the people around him, but also his own health being so close to that.

[00:13:29] Cam: ARC creates stress, creates cortisol, just it’s like that roller coaster that we talk about of that just always on that cycle is exhausting. So he had gotten far enough away where I was like, yeah, it was when he said ego and energy, it’s it was so easy to make decisions. I knew he wasn’t going back, but he was at this inflection point of he’s away, and I’m trying to plug into another power source. And it just doesn’t have that intensity of ego and energy that we talk about – big signal.

[00:14:08] Cam: It doesn’t have the big signal. But as you said with your client, she had that story, and right after the story of wait a sec, slow down. Yeah. Let me pause. Let me think about this. This is something that we’ve been doing for a long time.

[00:14:28] Cam: And so, it’s not like it was an immediate pivot that happened. He was already moving in this direction of looking at, Okay. What can I do beyond ego? So he started to distinguish self from ego. And folks out there be like, wait a sec, isn’t ego self? Isn’t that all one in the same? Not necessarily. And again, it’s what the client’s thinking here. What’s relevant for him.

[00:14:55] Cam: For him, ego is this I’m right. Self is I’m thoughtful and considerate, and what are my values and preferences and needs and strengths. It’s about that awareness of what matters to me. So he started to distinguish this kind of, I’m right guy, ego, can’t be wrong with I can be open. I can listen.

[00:15:24] Cam: So starting to be curious about sense of self that is not based in ego. And we talk about that all the time with ADHD. ADHD makes it really hard to be aware of the concept of self. That is the who part of who we are. That’s why in coaching, we’re always inviting people to reflect upon this experience and how it resonates with your values and your principles and your needs and preferences, your strengths.

[00:15:55] Cam: So that was that one part of as he was getting away from the ARC and that high energy output, he was looking at these together. They went hand in hand, and how ego and energy kind of would match up and become this sort of force that was so hard to control. And it was like, it just was too much of a cost.

[00:16:20] Cam: So we started to play around with rocket. And I know I’ve brought this up in past episodes, giving that rocket telemetry to develop that awareness side of empathy. To be curious about, again, what’s the broader vision that we’re trying to do here to focus more, not on the hard charging point of the spear, but really the culture of our company.

[00:16:47] Cam: He started to focus on the culture, the sense of what kind of organization do I want to have? When people go home, what are they thinking? Is it just a job or is it something more than that? It really mattered to him that people could come and feel that they could be themselves.

[00:17:14] Cam: So it’s being curious, it’s looking at alternative power systems, like back to that renewable idea. Getting away from ARC. And it’s difficult, but I know he’s not going back. So there’s empathy, there’s curiosity. And by the way, he’s not sworn off hyper focus by any means. He still dips into hyper focus because that’s a go-to, but what he’s not doing is counting on it 24-7.

[00:17:42] Cam: He’s not just tapping that lever all the time. He is tapping it when he needs it. He’s got more of, again, I would say like a hybrid approach of strategic collaborative curious in addition to that high energy when he needs it.

[00:17:56] Ash: Cam, I just think this story is a lovely illustration of the fact that progress and coaching is rarely a linear exercise. Here you are standing in awe of your client. You’re not going back. I see that here while he’s grappling with decision making is harder than it used to be. So he’s not at a celebration point.

[00:18:21] Ash: He’s, in fact, at a point of frustration where there’s an opportunity to step back, to grapple with that, to cultivate some new awareness, right? And that’s – making hands at you like our listeners can see me, but what I’m doing listeners, and I’m just waving my finger up and down – there are peaks and valleys in this process all the way through. Frustration is a normal part of the process, but it’s also an opportunity.

[00:18:55] Ash: And, Cam, I was just sitting here thinking of what’s another way to talk about this. And I was thinking about weight loss, of all things. So listeners, if you’ve never had the experience of losing a lot of weight, I have twice in my life. The second time being right now I’m down 45 pounds and counting. And this crazy thing happens. You see yourself in the mirror every day. You notice that your clothes are getting too big. You notice that things don’t fit quite the same. But you don’t really see the weight loss until you do. And the people who see you most often, who see you every day, don’t really see the weight loss until they do. You can see these other markers of progress and still look in the mirror and see the same person, however many pounds heavier you were before. It’s such a mind trip. It really is. The second time really got me because I knew how much weight I’d lost. Because I knew what clothes I was having to replace.

[00:20:14] Ash: And because I wear men’s clothes now, and they come in useful sizes versus completely arbitrary, ridiculous sizes, there’s a bit more of a measure of success there built into things like waist size. I know I’ve lost weight, but I didn’t see it in the mirror until I did.

[00:20:40] Ash: And it sounds like this is the moment your client was having in this coaching session, is grappling with, I know I’ve made progress. And to a degree, I know that it’s a story that decisions were easier before, but what does that mean now? Where am I at now? There was a reorienting. It sounds like to here’s what I’ve been doing differently. Here’s the impact. And here’s how that connects back to these bigger picture things that matter.

[00:21:10] Ash: To me, here’s the why of why I’m doing it this way now. And the evidence says that I’m moving in the right direction, even if it is frustrating, even if the decision itself is harder. I can see your client could see the progress in a way that he couldn’t before.

[00:21:32] Cam: That’s really nice. It’s like that the trapeze artist is letting go of one trapeze and try to grab the next one. You’re in this in between place in your term of disorienting, it’s disorienting. And that progress is not linear. And in coaching, we see this as this stage of coach training where we talk about conscious and competence. You have the awareness that you’re not great at it. He had the awareness that he wasn’t great at making decisions, but he was moving beyond the story. He’s starting to move beyond the story and not feel the pull of the story of this is hard. This is so difficult. I’m just going to, just go back to the way it was. Not willing to do that.

[00:22:32] Cam: And so that’s that recognition of the value of awareness. And that this is what happens in any kind of change model. Awareness always precedes practice. So, listeners, as we finish up today, some really interesting stuff to pay attention to here. If things are getting tough and challenging, it might be a sign of progress. That awareness is so valuable, and if you keep at it, the practice will catch up. The practice will catch up.

[00:22:58] Cam: Do you think that’s a good place to finish up today, Ash?

[00:23:01] Ash: I do, Cam. That’s really nicely said. The one thing I will add – just to exemplify things getting hard, but then new awareness setting in – is something else I noticed, or became aware of really recently, in my weight loss and fitness journey is that I still tell myself the story of things I can’t do, things that will be tiring to do. Dragging up all the heavy Christmas bins from downstairs and packing all the Christmas stuff away, and then dragging them back down the stairs.

[00:23:38] Ash: I was telling myself a story of how physically exhausting that was going to be. And it really wasn’t because I’m in pretty good shape these days. I’m in amazing shape relative to where I was a year ago. The only place I get that context usually is at the gym. And so in other places, I will still tell myself that story of, Oh, and I’ll feel it. I’ll feel the physical tiredness before I even start a task. Oh, that’s going to wipe me right out. Oh, that’s going to be so hard. Oh, that thing is so heavy.

[00:24:16] Ash: Oh, it’s not real. And so armed with that new awareness, I can now catch myself telling that story. Catch myself feeling that very real tired feeling, and I can remind myself, Hey, you’re in pretty good shape. Why don’t you just get started and see how long you can go with this? You might be surprised. And I usually am.

[00:24:39] Cam: I’ve got one, too, around doing stuff around the house. It’s I’ve lost it, but I’ve lost that ability to, I was making,

[00:24:47] Ash: It happens. That one’s always a frustration for me.

[00:24:52] Cam: But I’m thinking, I love your story because behind this wall right here, behind me is a laundry room. And I’m putting down a floor, and I was making, I was like, I can’t, I was like, ah, it’s going to be too hard.

[00:25:11] Cam: So that out of a story, it’s just, listeners, it’s that, where are you? Telling yourself convenient stories and just to be curious about that. Is it a story? Is there some truth to it? It could be that logistically it’s not possible, whatever it is. There could be other factors. But it’s like, back to what we tend to do – those of us with ADHD – is very quickly we will throw up a story, and that it informs our decisions are where we put our attention and where we put our efforts.

[00:25:42] Ash: Well said. So listeners, until next week, I’m Ash.

[00:25:46] Cam: And I’m Cam.

[00:25:48] Ash: And this was the Translating ADHD podcast. Thanks for listening.

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