Shifting How We Converse with ADHD

Episode 210

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This episode focuses on the idea of understanding, owning, and translating ADHD. Hosts Ash and Cam discuss how the language we use to describe our experiences with ADHD can shape our perception of it, and ultimately, our relationship with it.

Cam talks about a client who, through coaching, began to view their ADHD as something external that can influence behavior, rather than something inherent that defines them. This shift in perspective allows individuals to be more objective and less judgmental about their actions and traits. This client used language like “my ADHD tells me,” indicating a shift towards a more flexible and accepting mindset.

Ash shares a story about a client whose optimism sometimes leads him to overcommit and take on too much. He introduced the term “toxic optimism” to describe this behavior, contrasting it with constructive optimism, which is more sustainable and realistic. This shift in perspective has helped him better manage his time and prioritize tasks.

Throughout the episode, the hosts emphasize the importance of reflective practice. They talk about how adopting a growth mindset and being open to changing one’s perspective can lead to personal growth and a more balanced life. They also discuss the limitations of time and the importance of not being overly attached to rigid ideas of success or productivity.

Overall, the episode is about helping listeners understand their ADHD experiences, embrace a more flexible mindset, and find healthier ways to manage their lives and expectations. The hosts encourage the audience to examine their internal dialogue and consider different perspectives, offering practical advice and personal stories to support this approach.

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Episode Transcript:

[00:00:00] Ash: Hi, I’m Ash.

[00:00:01] Cam: And I’m Cam.

[00:00:02] Ash: and this is Translating ADHD. Cam, you want to tell our listeners what we’re talking about today?

[00:00:08] Cam: Sure, Ash. So, I was thinking about a client last week who was using some language around their ADHD, and you and I had our conversation about how our clients, when they start to. Address their ADHD, the relationship or their relationship with their ADHD starts to change. And this goes back to this whole idea of understand, own, translate.

So the working title today is really Advanced Practices in Translating Your ADHD. And the way that happens is first of all, getting some distance and perspective on your ADHD experience and allowing that to shift and change. So your example was some interesting language around their experience.

And for mine, it was this just to get, it got my, it caught my attention as the coach, right? We’re listening as coaches. And what my client said was this “my ADHD tells me” that I can pick up more balls than I possibly can. And so listeners, everyone knows that we tend to overcommit. This is not a surprise.

The surprise here, or what got my attention was the use of that language. My ADHD tells me that in, in a sense, she is in dialogue with her ADHD. And this is an interesting thing that happens when you start to understand your ADHD experience, when you embrace a growth mindset with curiosity and bring that keen observer, then things start to change.

And it’s not just that you start to match action with intention, which was an old tagline of mine, or, you know, see the results. and the change you’re wanting to see, it’s that things start to open up. This is perspective and again, how time can shift our perception of time. And in this case, this evolution of her relationship with her ADHD that everyone has had that situation of frustration with their ADHD, not understanding it, being beholden to it.

And it seemed like it was more on her terms. Or when I asked her about It was like there was more of this on her terms and it’s okay. Here it is. It’s telling me this and informing. So she has that information now. Does she still pick up more balls than she possibly can work with? Yeah, cuz that’s what we do.

Yet that sort of catching it and naming it as this thing that the ADHD has some impact or influence on versus what’s wrong with me. Why do I always overcommit, and then open ourselves to that seeds of doubt or that dip of uncertainty that we talked about last week when I was talking about one of my clients and again, how they tended to oversample unlimited data and create that imposter syndrome moment.

[00:03:26] Ash: Cam, as you were talking about that client and too many balls, it did remind me of this client that I’ve been working with for quite a while. When he first came to coaching, a total fast-brainer, and really the type of guy who will put his mind to something and learn how to do it, everything else being equal. He will look at a problem and say, I can fix that. And most of the time he can. anything from like home repairs to household finances, he can do it. Everything else being equal.

And so the big dilemma he was coming with is how do I get it all done? And he’s approaching it as purely a task management challenge early in our coaching. If I can just get the task list organized in the correct way, if I can just. There’s a metaphor that he used. I actually like this metaphor a lot. It’s like if I could just know what all the junk cars are in the yard, right? If I’ve got 30 junk cars that all need some amount of work to get running, but I don’t know, or I can’t see all 30 cars, how can I get them running?

And so that was kind of the wall we beat our head against in a number of ways for a while is how do I see all of the cars in the yard? Because if I can see them all, then I can know what the next task was, right? Well, early on in our coaching as a coach has been doing this for a long time, we actually had a pretty explicit conversation in terms of inviting him into the coaching process in a different way. Meaning, can we, rather than trying to tackle this as a task list problem, are you willing to examine some other things that might be in the way? And he was.

One of our jobs as coaches is to notice the wins for our client. And our last several sessions, I’ve really been noticing that this client’s relationship with time is different in a very positive way. It’s funny as a coach how you can sometimes see a client’s dilemma before they can see it, but you can’t get attached to it, right?

So I’ve known for a long time that this client takes on too much in too many directions. He’s doing repairs on his own property, on rental properties. He’s made himself in charge of solving any number of household dilemmas within the family. Again, if it’s a learnable attainable skill, everything else being equal, he can do it. But priorities are getting squeezed out because there’s just not enough time in the day.

And this client’s big limiting belief is if I can just organize the task list well enough, there will be enough time in the day. And that is where this client’s relationship with time has started to shift. He’s starting to understand the limitations of time differently, which was a pretty tough realization for him at first.

It was kind of a downer conversation the first time we talked about it because it was like, Oh, I can’t do it all. Bummer, right? Dang. But one of the last conversations we had about this, where again, he’s recapping what’s going on and I’m appreciating that continued different relationship with time. And now it’s starting to pay dividends in terms of how he’s showing up and priorities are getting touched more often.

He’s distinguishing and delegating much more often. He said, yeah, I think I’ve got a term now for part of me that likes to think I can do it all, that part of me that forgets the limitation of time. And it’s toxic optimism. It’s like, Ooh, that’s good language, toxic optimism.

And then he said, but I think it’s important to call out that I’m still an optimist. I still believe in my ability to do anything that I put my mind to, and that’s a big part of what makes me. And it’s true. There’s such a big part of what makes him. He’s, he was a business owner that sold his business to a corporation. He’s currently working for that corporation and may or may not want to do another business venture in the future. Relentless optimism is why he is who he is and why he is where he is in life.

So this ability in this new language of optimism versus toxic optimism is now a really nice way for this client to distinguish between the strength side of optimism and the challenge side of optimism. Is this optimism that’s serving me or is this toxic optimism that’s pulling me away from what actually matters to me right now?

[00:08:58] Cam: That’s a lovely example there. And that sort of evolution of where a client will start and what they think the coaching is about and what your role is to help them get organized. So they can take care of everything because there’s that limiting belief and limiting language. If I can get my task list organized, then I will be able to get it all.

And listeners, I imagine that all of you are familiar with, you know, some kind of language that is in play, that is eliciting a shame, guilt, fear, anger response. There is an emotional element there that’s in play and there’s not much you can do with that language. It just is okay. It’s pretty simple. Here’s the situation. Here’s what I need to do. And you’re going to help me do this.

And so I appreciate Ash that it’s that, okay, we receive our clients where they are, but that starting to have conversations about other aspects. of the work. I want to go to this idea of cognitive flexibility is that with ADHD, one of the hallmark characteristics of ADHD is cognitive inflexibility. Sort of, we will have a belief and it sort of, okay, it’s ironclad. This is the way things are. And we do that out of necessity for survival. Is that sort of batten the hatches and push forward and it’s about effort and I can get results done, especially for you fast-brainers out there. It’s I’m going to, I’m going to, you know, find my way. Speed is like my number one thing, right? Optimism, speed, and, you know, quick attainment of these goals. And don’t look back. No rear view mirror here at all.

So, listeners, it’s this the topic of today is that there’s is a softening and there’s this appreciation and this sort of grace giving oneself empathy. Going back a couple of weeks, I shared my the client who I shared where It was, he was a fast brainer. He talked about how he got things done was by ego and energy.

[00:11:34] Cam: He’s like, Oh, that cocktail ego and energy. I just was like, I was getting things done, but I didn’t realize how much collateral damage. I was just running people over with my ego and energy. And this, he too kind of moved in this direction of, and I’ll say, Ash it starts with that pause. That pausing, disrupting, and pivoting to, again, are there different ways to do this?

What are different ways to measure success? I was just talking with, actually, that same client, who was having the dip of uncertainty and oversampling, and in his head was, success is this. And it was absolute. It was not very flexible. And that’s one of the really interesting things that for a creative bunch, we can be so uncreative around these things that we have in our head around getting results, having success, achievement.

So his inquiry for the week was to really kind of think about how else can success show up. And he started to move in the direction of having an impact. And that’s a really interesting thing is moving from achievement or performance to more of impact. Impact is not dependent on was I productive in the last hour, right? Cause that’s another thing that my clients will lament or be frustrated with this success is being productive eight hours a day.

Listeners, how many of you kind of fall into that? Or that sense of this is what success looks like.

[00:13:26] Ash: This is where I will remind listeners, I’ve said this statistic on this show before, but it’s been a long time. The average American office worker is only productive for three hours a day. But with ADHD on board, we look at others, we look at ourselves and we have all the storytelling that we tell ourselves, and we almost hold ourselves to a higher standard. Our view of what success looks like gets really rigid.

I had a client this morning that showed up, and what we’ve been working on is this dichotomy of she has a full-time job in tech, but she wants to be a writer, and she’s been writing and submitting the whole time we’ve been working together and since before we started working together.

So a lot of our work is about finding balance between these two priorities. And when I asked her a few weeks ago how she felt she was perceived at work, she said, I’m really lagging behind the rest of my team. People come to me the way that they come to others. I’m not given the same kind of responsibility that others are given. I’m doing really poorly. And I’m worried about that. Well, she just got her performance review and it was, you know, I believe her language was astonishingly positive, complete with a raise and a bonus. So, my client is so deep in her own challenge and definitely on the reactive mode urgency hamster wheel, right?

With these competing priorities, there’s a writing deadline coming up. So that gets priority, which puts work behind. So now that gets priority. And so that is a very real challenge. But it’s not one others are seeing as she thought they were, because she’s still doing what needs to be done. So the interesting conversation we had today, or part of the conversation we had today, was, Ooh there’s an opportunity here in this new place because now it’s not about what anybody else thinks.

You know what they think. They think you’re killing it. Now it’s about you having a better experience balancing these two priorities. So getting off of the ARC urgency hamster wheel, because that’s not a fun experience for you, but it’s no longer about these expectations of others that were largely stories in her head, really quite a breakthrough moment.

And the second part of that conversation actually became with my writing, I don’t have those measures. All I get are form rejections. Because very few literary agencies send out personalized rejections anymore. There’s just too much volume, particularly with the advent of AI.

[00:16:37] Cam: Right.

[00:16:38] Ash: So how do I know if I’m improving or not?

And by the end of the session, we had several ways: A. we had my client’s confidence that in the three years that she’s been seriously writing, yeah, I’ve really improved. She’s working with a novel that she wrote two years ago that she wants to submit for a workshop. And she’s like, just looking at that, I can see how much I’ve improved.

That’s part of my hesitancy and using that piece of writing to apply is because I know how much I’ve improved. And then from there, it was okay. How can you start to measure improvement? Or how can you know that you’re making progress? And she came up with a few things. One of which was when I sit down to write each day, which she’s already doing, she’s already being successful there.

Just set an intention for a skill I want to focus on. Another was go back to a project once a month from a month ago, go look at some of my writing from a month ago see if I think I’ve made any progress. Revisiting something that’s near enough in time that I know the effort I put in. I know what questions and challenges I was facing.

Now a month down the road with fresh eyes, do I see this differently than I did before? So just like your client adjusting this expectation of success. Right? Success is not acceptance or rejection. Rejection is the norm in the writing industry. Unfortunately, it’s just such a part of the process that you’re going to get rejection after rejection.

But if I’m not getting feedback, what can I do? What can I do to feel like I’m making progress? It was redefining progress from this black and white, where something gets accepted or it doesn’t to Yeah, I can see improvement over a three year period. And now how can I take that knowledge and apply it forward and be more intentional about how I work toward improving

[00:18:50] Cam: That was really fun to listen to, and I, there’s a couple thoughts I want to share around that. One of the main coaching competencies under the Coaching Mindset is developing a reflective practice. And this is for coaches to develop a reflective practice. And that is highly transferable. We do it through modeling, but we also do it through teaching, and back to when our clients come, we invite them to start to develop this reflective practice.

But if you’re just reflecting into the negative thinking, it’s no help. And so you go into our negative spiral. We’re just going to reflect on, Oh, I’m a loser or, you know, success is picking up as many balls as possible. Or, you know, I just need to get organized and then I can do everything. That’s not a reflective practice.

It’s the other thing you said, Ash, was this with that client in particular, kind of looking at being in process. Again, writing is this iterative process of you write, and then we need some kind of form of feedback, objective feedback. Last week with my client, that oversampling of his inner critic was not giving adequate feedback of, to the actual experience.

I can’t tell you how many times I hear clients say, yeah, I’m doing a terrible job. I’m way behind. And then the performance review comes in and it’s like, it is much better than their own perception or their own sense. So this reflective practice and just this sort of practicing of kind of breaking into the work, doing the work, getting feedback, and this back and forth where You’re able to kind of move through and get this new learning that you can pull forward.

So I was just appreciating that with that client right there that you shared.

[00:20:53] Ash: Cam, I just want to chime in with the flip side of the good performance review. I can’t tell you how many times – and I love to work with clients who don’t know what they want to be when they grow up – so I have this type of client often where performance at work isn’t so good, or maybe they’ve been let go from previous jobs.

And when we examine the current or past situation it, yes, ADHD was there and it was in the mix, but it was never their whole story, right? And we’ve talked a lot about situations like that on this show before, be it interpersonal stuff, be it unreasonable expectations, be it just a really bad fit for that client, right? Where the only motivation you can find is negative motivation because there is no positive motivation to attach to to improve.

[00:21:53] Cam: That’s a great point. So I think we can keep going here, but I think that we’ve, we’re about done here today. So, listeners, the opportunity here for you is to pay attention to your internal dialogue. And can you start to get some space? Think about Asher’s example of his client with the optimism versus toxic optimism.

That’s perspective. That is reflective work to reflect upon. My client with, you know, my ADHD is telling me this situation. That’s again, to get some distance upon some objectivity. So if you feel like, Dan, your language is it’s pressure, high stakes, it’s this or that. It’s I have to do this in order to get over here. And these are my only options that you have limited options to kind of take a step back and consider, is there another way to look at this? I often talk to new potential clients about they’re coming and they want different results.

I’ve shared this here before. It’s like, I need different results. Yeah, that’s why in part you hire a coach, but to bring in these ideas of, okay, what about different results, but also resourcefulness and resiliency, the ability to bounce back quicker the ability to access resources when you’re not feeling resourceful. And so when they hear that, it sort of gives them, Oh, again, an added dimension. a door that just opened that we didn’t even see before. And that’s an interesting thing that happens with ADHD is that this matter of we often will only look at what we’re seeing the step back and look around and there are different options there. 

[00:23:57] Ash: Cam, the last thing I’ll say before we wrap here is as you start to engage or continue to engage with a reflective practice, something I often say to my clients, particularly when we’re dealing with a tough or emotional topic, but it’s a good reminder. It’s just because you say it doesn’t mean we have to be attached to it.

So, as you’re thinking about what it could be, as you’re starting to put language to it, that doesn’t, you don’t have to get attached to finding the right answer. Sometimes, trying on some language and seeing what feels true, what doesn’t feel true, can be really helpful in giving yourself permission to do so.

So just because you think it or say it doesn’t mean we have to be attached to it. Doesn’t mean that it’s the truth. Just get it out and then examine it, which is so often what we do in coaching. Our clients articulate, and then we examine what it is they have to say. What’s real and what’s true here?

So until next week, I’m Ash.

[00:25:00] Cam: And I’m Cam.

[00:25:01] Ash: And this was the Translating ADHD podcast. Thanks for listening.

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