Reframing Balance with ADHD

Episode 214

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In this episode, Ash and Cam discuss the challenges of achieving balance, particularly for those with ADHD. Ash shares a client’s struggle to balance work and personal commitments during a stressful period. They explore the concept of “rebalancing” instead of striving for perfect balance, emphasizing flexibility and managing expectations.

They discuss how individuals with ADHD can create buy-in of some ideal state like balance but not consider what balance can mean for them specifically. This is related to chasing unrealistic expectations – very much an ADHD thing. Ash shares personal experiences of managing overwhelm by focusing on realistic goals and small wins. They conclude that progress is not linear and it’s important to prioritize and adapt to changing needs.

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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 have known this for a long time about me, my beef with the word balance. Hate that word. Hate that word. 

    [00:00:15] Cam: Why do you hate that word, Ash?

    [00:00:18] Ash: This harkens all the way back to my days as a professional organizer, this idea that we can keep all of the plates spinning equally at all times. If we just find balance, then we will never be in overwhelm. Things will always run smoothly. And we kind of did a series on this at the end of season one, talking about how life gets in the way. But sometimes it’s the idea of balance itself that gets in the way. This very, it’s almost an all-or-nothing way of thinking. Things are in balance or they’re out of balance. And if they’re out of balance, I am failing. And so that’s what we’re going to talk about today, listeners.

    And I want to tell you about a client of mine who came last week to a session asking the question, how do I find balance? And what is a reasonable expectation of balance? And here’s where she’s coming from. She’s freshly on the other side of her PMS week, which we’ve done some coaching about, and she is aware throws her off, puts her into deeper emotional dysregulation, and prior to coaching about it, would become this shut down week.

    She just doesn’t know in the valley with her negative thoughts, frozen, unable to attend, unable to match intention with action, lots of guilt, lots of shame. But we’ve been working together for several months now. And she’s starting to have a really different experience here. She puts it on her calendar. She’s aware that it’s coming and she’s able to mitigate those negative thoughts.

    In fact, I met with her today, and we were talking about how different that experience is. She said, you know, sometimes I’ll tell myself, okay, you can be anxious about this for five minutes. Just lean into it for five minutes and then see if you can move on.

    And that’s the place she was arriving to this session last week is I’m having this different experience, but things are still really out of balance. And not only is she coming out of PMS week, it’s a really unusual time in her work team. She’s a software engineer and they’re in a crunch period in a crunch period that the entire team acknowledges as a crunch period.

    Everyone on the team is overwhelmed, not just her. So not just how do I find balance? I really liked the second question of what is a reasonable expectation of balance? And so here she is in this overwhelmed state and she says, when I’m in overwhelm, it feels like if I just put in a little more effort, I can get it done. It’s like the dog chasing the mail truck, right? If I just run a little faster, then I can find balance.

    [00:03:22] Cam: Can I jump in real quick?

    [00:03:23] Ash: Yeah.

    [00:03:24] Cam: So you said something, and I just want to make sure, was it you saying it or the client bringing it around expectation that, that question of what is a reasonable expectation, excuse me, a balance was, did she bring that in her overwhelmed state to the session?

    [00:03:42] Ash: She did.

    [00:03:43] Cam: Okay. That’s worth just noting in itself right there of where she is coming out of PMS, the PMS week coming in this crunch zone of high stress, high demand, high expectations, a sense of overwhelm, but able to come with that question.

    [00:04:03] Ash: With a curious question. Yeah.

    [00:04:05] Cam: Yeah, it was a curious question. So I just wanted to underline that is tribute to the work that you’re doing with her up to that point in your coaching,

    [00:04:14] Ash: Absolutely. And I’m glad that you called that out. So here’s this question on the table, and the thing that’s really got her down, the thing that she feels really bad about not attending to is she’s also a writer and she’s involved in a couple of writing groups that stay in pretty regular communication. This is not something, it’s something that is more than casual, meaning they review each other’s work. There’s some amount of expectation in terms of participation there, and she hasn’t been checking messages all week in these groups. And now it feels like not only is it a mountain to sift through, she’s got to go on apology tour first.

    [00:05:00] Cam: The apology tour. Listeners, anybody identify with the apology tour. Great language.

    [00:05:07] Ash: I certainly do. And so breaking this apart, we came to a couple of interesting conclusions. Number one, pretty early in the session, she said I don’t know how I could have done anything differently in the last week. So I was asking her questions to just reflect on what, in hindsight, what was possible here.

    And the reality is, I think I did decently well. I don’t know what I could have done differently. So then we get to what’s bugging her. Being behind on these communications. It’s like, what’s the opportunity here? If realistically, you couldn’t have kept up on these communications. What do we do with that?

    And here is the answer that we came to is, you know what? At work, when I’m overwhelmed, I put a status message in the work Slack that lets people know that I won’t be very responsive or I won’t be attending to the bigger group messages. So if you need my attention for something, reach out to me individually. Otherwise, know that I’m not going to be following the threads for a while. And that works.

    So that got her wondering. Could I do the same thing with my writing groups? Could I set the expectation? That the next time go on my apology tour, but also set the expectation that the next time that this happens, I will post a status message so that everyone knows that’s where I’m at and I’m not just disappearing. And that makes it so much less painful to re-engage because now I get to re-engage without having to do all of the apologies first. I can just sit down and catch when time allows.

    [00:07:04] Cam: Right. And also that internal emotion around shame or guilt, right? That you talk about that mountain to sift to it’s that feeling going on that apology tour, but just feeling the dread of that or the shame around it or how I’ve disappointed people – those internal stories that just get reinforced in those moments of doubt or underperforming.

    [00:07:32] Ash: Coupled with the should of, I need to get to that. I need to get to that every day that goes by. It gets bigger and more painful.

    [00:07:40] Cam: Right. And informed by this ideal of balance. Like I’ve right? And the scenery in the backdrop is this nirvana that we can go to this place of some kind of balance. Where we’re managing and there’s no overwhelm and I am in this midst of balance.

    [00:07:59] Ash: All the boxes are ticked. All the messages are answered. All the emails have been read. All the do’s have been done. That place doesn’t exist. It just doesn’t exist. Even in the best of times, it doesn’t exist.

    So hear me out. We went from balancing to rebalancing in times of overwhelm. This is a rebalance. This is being at choice on the front end. Putting the status message, which allows her to let go of that as a should. Let go of guilt and shame that would come with it because her counterparts are on the same page. They know what that status message means, and so it effectively. pauses something on her plate, puts that plate on auto spin, if you will.

    She doesn’t have to manually keep it spinning for a while. It frees up some time, bandwidth, and energy, and emotional space. So, you see what I mean by rebalancing? Instead of balancing, it’s like, what can give and how can I be proactive about that, which we’re really bad at doing at times of overwhelm, because what was the story at the time of overwhelm is not just, I need to get out of overwhelm, but I need to get out of overwhelm and I need to find balance. How do I find balance?

    [00:09:25] Cam: And you start with, or infused in that whole conversation is inviting them to be curious about their own interpretation of what that means, the definition of balance. I love the term rebalance. I want to go back and comment on a few of the things that are happening here around the coaching and how this can be so effective with people with ADHD.

    [00:09:46] Ash: Absolutely. Go for it.

    [00:09:48] Cam: Yeah, that starting with the looking back the hindsight and looking back on, you know, well, what was possible to look back on the past week and where could it have been shifted? You’re reviewing without judgment number one and then to pivot forward into the opportunity.

    So there’s that awareness piece, developing that awareness muscle, looking back and looking forward without judgment. What you’re saying, Ash, and what I’m learning is how much energy is in play, right? That, that the brain is this, it’s all about energy conservation. of how to get through the day with the least amount of energy expenditure.

    But when we are all over the place, our expenditure is off the charts. And we don’t predict very well into the future. And so we get, keep getting these jump scares from things that don’t go the way that we predicted. And then we have an emotional experience and a huge emotion energy expenditure.

    So this whole energy redistribution. Is looking back looking forward and then playing it out in a way to anticipate their future needs, right? Hey, can we do a status update to really telegraph expectations to others to inform them of that? And that, and again, is taking a look at energy conservation going into their future. Brilliant.

    [00:11:27] Ash: And for this client starts even before that with the PMS is predictable for me. Let me put that on my calendar so that I can anticipate that coming and anticipate the needs that go along with that period of time, which that part she had done. And so here she is walking in, having a better experience than she had before, but still feeling out of balance.

    [00:11:51] Cam: Great point. You know, the other thing this does is everyone who talks about or feels has that experience of now, not now you are addressing now, not now with your client here. To break out of that binary approach of there’s everything here and now, and then there’s everything else versus this ebb and flow of expectations and how there is the hormonal shifts of PMS.

    There is the crunch time and then life as it interrupts, as we did last year around those, the life’s disruptions and how they get in the way and really knock us off our course. Above all of this is this conversation around balance and really looking at, and coaches, I hope you’re listening to this and recognizing that it’s not just about getting her through her day. It’s also helping her be flexible with this concept of balance. How can it work for me? Fascinating. 

    [00:12:55] Ash: Yeah. And this idea of rebalancing with this client actually shook some stuff loose for me as well. As you well know, and as I’ve alluded to in a few episodes on this podcast, I’ve been In a perpetual state of overwhelm since last September. Right now, there are simply more things to do by orders of magnitude than I could possibly knock out.

    There is no getting to equilibrium for me in the near future. There’s just too many things on my plate, and I can’t do anything about that. But keep trying to move forward. Right? And so, I’ve kind of taken this concept and viewed it as a daily or weekly opportunity to rebalance, to look at my day, to look at the context and to rather than stress about all of the things, find the thing that I can move forward. The thing that I can engage with, the thing that there is time, energy, bandwidth, motivation for.

    What’s the opportunity today to rebalance a little bit, to move things around, to shift my thinking, to find the space between all and nothing that moves me forward a little at a time, which in a prolonged period of overwhelm for a person with ADHD is incredibly hard to do.

    This same series of events, if this was my life when you and I started coaching, I would be right back where I started when we were coaching on the couch. And I’ve never ended up on the couch, but it’s been a struggle sometimes to do more than what I have to do. And so breaking through the, ah, caught up or not caught up there, not there and finding that space between of what does it look like to move something forward, anything forward.

    Most of these things don’t have time deadlines other than my own frustration with them. A lot of it is stuff around my house that hasn’t been attended to, stuff in my yard, stuff in my business, stuff in my life. None of it is urgent. None of it is urgent, and nothing bad will happen if it doesn’t all get done tomorrow.

    So rather than I have to move this all forward, I had to plug away. I have to, as my client said, if I just put in more effort, I get it done. If I could just make myself work harder, I’d get it done. Slice off a little piece and just do that little piece. That gets me closer.

    [00:15:36] Cam: I really appreciate you bringing your own experience in there, Ash. And I’ve been there before in that sense of that, that overwhelming overwhelm, and it’s just unsure where to begin, where to break in, where to start.

    And also that distinction of that it’s these things that are really a choice. It’s not urgent. It’s these things that you notice that you’d like to do, that you want to do. And so, so let me ask you a question is, what are you doing there around your own, what’s your own work around rebalancing? 

    [00:16:10] Ash: For a while I had gotten into a pattern, and this is what I’ve seen in my clients before of not allowing fun. If I can’t put in the effort, then I can’t do fun. That’s just not allowed. And so it’s like, I can’t leave my house until I’ve done something in my house.

    And that doesn’t work. That’s just doubling down on the negative reinforcement. And that puts you into a freeze place. And so my work is just keeping it day to day, week to week. If I think about the big picture for too long, it gets really stressful really quickly because there’s just too many things and things that drive me crazy as an individual.

    My therapist actually pointed this out to me, and I’m glad he did. Having my home and my yard, my space, my sanctuary be a certain way is important to me. I take pride in my spaces, number one.

    Number two, you know, the visual clutter and just the sight of undone things makes me nuts. It just creates all of this mental clutter, but it’s too big. It’s too many problems. It’s too many things, number one. And number two, I have to keep reminding myself that none of those things are urgent. My house is not going to fall down tomorrow. There’s not like leaking roof or structural issues or anything that needs immediate attention.

    So just take it one step at a time. And the other thing I’ve had to do is, and this is an interesting one for me because I’m so, I don’t want to say tough on my clients, but tough love on my clients about support. What does support look like? What does it look like to bring in other people? You don’t have to do it alone.

    And I was definitely falling into a pattern of I have to do it all. I have to do it all. So stepping back and looking for support. My neighbor kid. Right now, I bought myself a really nice lawnmower, an electric lawnmower. It’s so nice. I like to mow my own grass, but you know what? My neighbor kid will do it for 20 bucks. He’ll do it for 20 bucks, and right now that is an hour or two a week that I don’t have to spend mowing my own grass for an expense that I can afford, right? Especially since my lawnmower is not even working. So rather than getting mad and like, Oh, I got to get it fixed right now. I got to take it in, ’cause I’ve got to take it in. It’s a whole thing. It’s like, that’s a good enough solve for now. And the lawnmower is not a priority at the moment. It’s in the shed, it’s fine, I will eventually take it in. But I’m not there yet, and I can pay the neighbor kid to mow my grass for an indefinite amount of time.

    The other thing is asking other people for what resources they have. I’m not handy. I previously relied on handy people in my circle. I don’t have handy people in my circle anymore. Namely, my dad, who was a carpenter, was my handyman, right? So, asking around, using my network, finding what I need. And then take, again, taking it one thing at a time, you know, I don’t have to hire a landscaper and a contractor and a this and a that all at once right now today. What is the one thing that I can get moving, right? What is the one person I can call and the one project I can move forward.

    So, this constant checking in with my own limiting beliefs. And again, kind of taking it day by day, week by week right now. Not, you know, not getting too attached to what it looks like to have it all done, just getting attached to what does it look like to move it forward a little bit today. And sometimes it really is a little bit.

    This weekend, I had an extra hour, and I have this stupid basement stairs have rubber treads glued to them. And the glue is all loose and gummy because that’s a hot spot in my house because there’s a side entry door there and it gets hot in the summer. So there’s one that it is dangerous because at any time it could almost slip, and you could fall. And I’ve been constantly kind of putting it back in place when it slides so that it doesn’t do that because I can’t just take it off because there’s a bunch of sticky glue underneath it that you don’t want to step on.

    So rather than how do I solve for all of these treads, I took the one tread off and got some adhesive removal and remove the adhesive from that one stair with the one tread. And now I know how to do it, so I can deal with the other ones that are having the same problem but haven’t become as dangerous.

    And I know how to do it because I did the one first, right? Rather than looking at it as how do I take these off? And then how do I solve for the stairs being slippery from there? Just take it off the one stair and take, just taking it that far made it feel so much more tackleable from here. Because if I’ve got a spare hour, I can do another one and another one. And then when they’re all off, I can worry about repainting the stairs with sand so that I don’t fall and bust my butt down my stairs, which I do not want to do.

    I’m noticing this sort of going big, going small around these dilemmas in the sense of the going big of what matters, what really matters here. Does it matter that I get these things done? Is it matter that I get these things done now? So it’s prioritization.

    [00:22:01] Cam: It’s also countering the now, not now approach, is that I have all this stuff I’ve got to do – that sense of urgency or immediacy that is presented in now, not now time perception. So what matters? Going big, but then going small or specific in the sense of what can I do about it?

    And that’s overcoming that universal question of why is it that I don’t do what I know I ought to do. What is going to address my needs that I have at this current moment in time? As we head out today, I want to share something, Ash, that I saw, and I’ll try to find a link for it.

    But I was looking at another coach. They’re not ADHD coaches. They’re entrepreneur coaches, and they were doing a study on the effectiveness of coaching. And they were measuring in three areas. And those three areas I’m noticing today. Right? So for coaches, it’s are you working in these three areas?

    Number one, listeners, whether you’re working with a coach or not to be looking in these areas. And this is going back to your own client of the work she did around I need to get to balance, and I need to spin plates. And what is the reasonable expectation around balance.

    So that question right there is exercising this cognitive flexibility, and that’s that first thing that they measure, is as you’re working with clients. Are you helping them with cognitive change? How they are looking at situations? So this is the perspective work we do. This is questioning the, your own thoughts and beliefs and poking gently at them. That they are not absolute. They are not the truth. That is a way to step back and look and consider and your client did that around balance.

    Consider what is balanced for me. I have so many clients who are focused on like the perfect day and I got to be, I have to be effective, and I have to optimize every single day. I need to be effective every single day. That is a really narrow definition of balance. Effectiveness or productivity. And then they get caught up in that same thing of always chasing and always being on the hamster wheel.

    I’ll just finish out. These other two is you mentioned fun, right? I’m like, what about fun? And so the second one is wellbeing, self care support. When you say you’re really hard on them for, like, support, I am too. It’s like, what are you doing to take care of yourself and those that matter around you? Right? So wellbeing is number two.

    The third is performance. In the sense of, what are the goals we’re trying to attain? What are the goals we’re trying to achieve? So there is that piece of, what are we trying to do? People come to us to try to create informed change. But coaches often so focus just on the performance, and they’re not looking at the cognitive piece, which is ADHD too – mindset and also sense of well being.

    Just wanted to throw that in as this sort of other areas to pay attention to how can you bring more well being or emphasis. There is your idea of balance bumping into your ability to practice well being.

    [00:25:30] Ash: Cam, I’m glad you shared those. And the last thing that I will share here is I think our clients, and I think to a degree myself in these last several months until recently, we expect progress if it’s a line graph to just always be moving up, be better today than I was yesterday. And the reality is there are going to be dips along the way. Dips because of our context because they just are. We can’t always be better than we were yesterday. It’s not possible. So daily progress is not the only measure of success.

    So when I say I try to slice something off every day, that doesn’t mean I do slice something off every day, but it does mean that I’m slicing off more than I was before. And again, that was something my therapist pointed out to me.

    I met with him and the whole theme of our conversation was why am I not farther along? And by the time I got through catching him up from the last time we had met sometime late last year to a month or two ago, it was kind of obvious to me that, wow, I have made a lot – I have made a ton – of progress over that longer period of time.

    So you talk about go big, go small, right? If I stay small too long, I can run into the same problem as if I stay big too long. So occasionally it’s good to zoom out and not look at all of the problems, but to look at since September, you’ve made progress. So much more is going better and continues to get better over time than where you were.

    Listeners, keep that in mind, too, progress isn’t necessarily about day to day. It’s over a period of time. What is the difference you’re seeing over a period of time? And if today didn’t go the way you wanted it to go, tomorrow is another opportunity to work towards that longer-term progress.

    [00:27:38] Cam: I think that’s a great place to finish up.

    [00:27:40] Ash: I agree, Cam. So listeners, until next week, I’m Ash,

    [00:27:44] Cam: And I’m Cam.

    [00:27:45] Ash: And this was the Translating ADHD podcast. Thanks for listening.

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