Brett is a Certified ADHD Coach and has been helping individuals create change in their life and discover their strengths since 2013. He helps people to understand, accept and embrace their adhd as a professionally certified ADHD coach.
You've seen them: memes that float around social media, shared by your friends and family, that supposedly give you tips on how to improve your life.
"Don't sit on the couch and wait for it," they might say. Or "Do things that challenge you" or "Be brave" or "Make a change."
I don't disagree with them and you probably don't either. (What's to disagree with, after all?)
The trouble is that they're very general statements, and we absorb them in a very general way. We read them, think "Yes, I SHOULD make a change," continue our scroll and forget about it.
In order to make these memes have actual impact on our lives, we need to tailor them to our own personal circumstances. You have to make them real for you so that they identify things you want in your life and changes that you need to make. In this way, they have real meaning for you and aren't so easily forgotten as you move on to the next thing on your to do list.
The way that I suggest you do this is to set real intentions around each phrase or sentence in whatever meme or motivational quote you find inspiring.
For example, "Do things that challenge you" could become "I want to incorporate more music in my life, so I will take guitar lessons because it challenges and interests me."
"Be brave" could become "Meeting new people is scary for me but I want to make new friends, so I will join a dance class."
"Make a change" could become "I'm not happy with my career, so I will take classes that will help me gain new skills so I can get a job that makes me happier."
Inspiration is great, and social media memes and motivational quotes can often pique our interest and make us think about changes we need to make in our lives. What takes that inspiration to the next step is identifying exactly what it is you want to change and setting specific intentions or goals around it to help us measure when we're making progress and actually ACHIEVE the change that we desire.
The weekend is just around the corner, and like everyone, I always look forward to the weekend. However, today I woke up feeling a little overwhelmed and it got me thinking of the different mindsets that the weekend can put you in. On opposite sides of the coin you have, “The weekend’s coming so I can take it down a notch and relax,” and, “Oh my god, it’s the end of the week! What have I done? What have I not done?” And that can cause feelings of overwhelm.
Overwhelm is an interesting thing. It gets you stuck. It can firmly plant your feet in the concrete. When you get overwhelmed, it’s often because you can't separate the many layers of stuff that are in your head. They all seem to sit on top of each other so that there’s no way to delineate and pull things out into manageable pieces.
While this sense of overwhelm is true for all people, it’s certainly more prevalent and problematic if you have ADHD. Like many aspects of the condition, it’s a matter of degrees. ADHD doesn’t create circumstances all that different from those experienced by most people at some point or another, but it’s a matter of intensity, a matter of frequency and a matter of the extent to which they impact your life.
When this sense of overwhelm sets in, the inclination is to just drive, drive, drive and push through it. We’ve been taught that when there’s a lot to do, we have to do a lot. But that doesn’t always work. Sometimes it pays to let your foot off the gas, and give yourself a chance to recharge. You can do this by finding a diversion or distraction. Yes, I know that distraction for people with ADHD can be problematic, but sometimes it can be your friend.
Did you know that when you feel stressed by the multiple layers of stuff in your head, that there may actually be parts of your brain that you are unable to access? I won’t get too much into the amygdala, the prefrontal cortex and the biology of it all right now, but suffice to say that different parts of your brain serve different functions. The part of your brain that is responsible for survival in times of extreme stress is called the amygdala, and it's function is fairly simple. In fact, it can be summed up with three words... fight, flight or freeze.
In those moments of overwhelm and intense stress, that’s the part of the brain that takes over and keeps us alive. It’s very black and white in its decision making; there’s not a lot of room for nuance, logic or reason when it comes to the amygdala. Then there’s a part of your brain that’s responsible for executive function or goal driven, reasoned behaviour. It's called the prefrontal cortex and it is much better equipped to handle multiple options of choice and ambiguity.
One effective way to engage the part of your brain that is responsible for reasoning when your amygdala is taking over is to relax and find a diversion. As opposed to applying more pressure and adding to the chaos, what you need to reengage the prefrontal cortex is calm and relaxation. You might set yourself up an exercise and make a list of 20 great things that are happening in your life; or, you can take a half hour and read for pleasure, watch TV or go for a walk. You can call up a friend and chat about something entirely unrelated to the stressful situation or engage in something creative. All of these things can help re-engage the part of your brain that you need when your are feeling overwhelmed.
You’ll find that the results from applying these diversions are amazing! I’ve walked away from situations where I’ve been completely overwhelmed and could not cope with whatever is in front of me at that moment. And lo and behold, when I came back to it the next day, for some reason, the situation looked completely different. It was still the same problem as yesterday but I was able to perceive it differently because I was able to access a part of my brain that I wasn’t able to access before.
When you’re feeling that sense of overwhelm and panic well up, always remember that you’ve been here before and that, no matter how overwhelmed you’ve felt, you’ve always gotten past it. I don’t mean to minimize your experience. The feeling of overwhelm can hang around for quite a while. But generally speaking, if we remove ourselves from the circumstance and arrange to go back to it when we’re in a calmer frame of mind, we usually find ourselves in a better place.
Breathe, pause, and take some time. Find a diversion! Go run that errand you’ve been meaning to run. Pivot to another activity completely unrelated to all of the projects that are overwhelming you. Even when you’re in a work situation and you feel like you can’t pivot or abandon a piece of work, know that it will serve you, your employer and the organization better if you do.
Despite popular thinking, we are not, by nature, great multi-taskers. We think we are, but we’re not. Even when we think we’re multitasking, we’re still only doing one thing at a time. We may do a lot of things one at a time in quick succession, but multi-tasking is a myth.
So, take a breath. Take your foot off the gas. Everything will still be there when you come back to it. Nothing is that urgent. You owe it to yourself.
"You will never change your life until you change something you do daily. The secret of your success is found in your daily routine."
- John C. Maxwell
I used to think I was picky. Things had to be done a certain way, in a specific order, in a manner that made sense to me.
But when I was diagnosed with ADHD, I realized that I wasn't just picky - I had unconsciously developed routines and strategies to help me survive in a non-ADHD world.
I like to say that people who have ADHD love routine as a noun but hate it as an adjective.
So, having routines that help us plan, schedule and remember serves us very well but when those routines become mundane and monotonous, we tend to let them slide. It can be difficult to find balance between developing routines that help you succeed and keeping them interesting enough to avoid getting bored with them. This is exactly why I'm here today - to talk about how to develop routines that serve you.
Through my own experience, and through working with others, I've discovered that the key to finding that balance between developing routines that you stick to is all about developing unconscious habits. One strategy to do this is to look for places where you can eliminate the sense of choice.
Eliminating choice means that it's not optional, you can't put it off for another week; you just have to get it done now.
For example, some people wash the dishes every evening after their last meal of the day. They don't even think about it - they just do it. Others look at the pile of dishes and think, "Hmm, I don't feel like cleaning those tonight. I think I'll watch TV instead."
By reframing your mindset, you make sure you have no option to procrastinate. You might create a rule for yourself that you can't watch TV in the evening until the dishes are cleaned and put away. Soon, you won't need the rule - it will become a habit that you no longer have to think about.
There are other little tricks you can use to help yourself create a routine. You can...
Set yourself an alarm on your phone,
Program Suri to speak to you,
Leave Post-It notes around your home in strategic locations,
Or create a mental association with a separate task that reminds you to do the one you always forget.
For people with ADHD, the trick is to get those new habits to a place where you don't have to think about it, you no longer frame it as a choice and it becomes a regular part of how you function in the world.
It will take some time and you may have incidents of relapse, but that's where it can be helpful to have someone like me in your corner to support your efforts to change and offer suggestions to help you along your path.
Who hasn't heard that expression? Put another way...
"Act as if ye have faith, and faith shall be given."
But no matter how you say it, the strategy behind it is simple. If you don't feel confident, pretend that you are until you gain the experience, skills or tools that you need to develop the confidence for real.
The trouble for people living with ADHD is that "fake it 'til you make it" doesn't always feel like a strategy... it just feels fake.
I've often noticed that people with ADHD seem to have a highly-developed sense of fairness and authenticity, which likely stems from our tendency to see the world in black and white terms. If something is fake, it's not real. If it's not the truth, it's a lie. For the most part, there is very little room for middle ground.
The trouble is that the world isn't black in white. In fact, the world is mostly made up of differing shades of grey. And that makes us uncomfortable.
I often see this become an issue for coaching clients when work to initiate the process of change. The need to be authentically ourselves at all costs, can instead cause us to self-sabotage our efforts to grow because we view "faking it until we make it" as disingenuous - in essence, a lie.
But here's what you have to remember: you will never learn to swim if you don't get in the water.
That doesn't mean that you fake that you can swim and jump into the deep end. But you can pretend you're comfortable wading into the shallow end while you learn to float. Then perhaps you move a little deeper as you learn to tread water.
Like any goal you want to achieve or change you want to undertake, you do it in small increments. You take baby steps until one day, you reach the deep end. The difference is that the baby steps have allowed you to get there slowly and develop the skills along the way that you need to stay afloat. You don't need to lie and say you're a swimmer. You just have to be willing to dip your toe into an area of discomfort and pretend you're OK with getting wet.
As an ADHD coach, one of the most important things I help my clients do it to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. The only way things change is to change things, right? And that often means getting away from your comfort zone. That's why working with a coach can be so effective. Because, as an outsider, I can see where you need a little push and help you develop the tools you require to acquire the comfort you need.
ADHD minds are usually running at full speed. From one thought and task to the next, we rarely stop to breathe, let alone think about whether we're focusing our efforts in the right places.
People who have ADHD don't have built-in downtime, which is why giving yourself permission to pause is one of the most powerful tools you can use to effectively manage ADHD.
What do I mean by "giving yourself permission to pause?" Quite often, people are afraid to pause because they're afraid of being judged. Some people may be afraid they'll look anti-social or unenthusiastic if they say "no" to a party, for example. Others may fear being perceived as unintelligent or incapable if they ask for clarification on an assignment at work.
But let me give you a scenario: imagine you are giving someone at work a task that is new to them. When you're finished with your explanation, you ask if they have any questions. Their response is, "I don't have any questions right now but I'd like to think about it and get back to you." Does that reflect poorly on them? Or would you think it's a thoughtful, conscientious response?
This is what I mean by giving yourself permission to pause: recognizing that taking that moment to breathe and think is not a negative thing. In fact, it can be a very positive and powerful habit to cultivate.
Pausing is powerful for a number of reasons.
It allows you to stop and think about what you're doing, whether you should be doing it and whether there are other options.
It helps with time management because it forces you to consider how much time is required and whether you are able commit to it.
It helps manage our emotions as it forces us to stop, think and evaluate our responses. It also gives us time to clear our minds and come down from the emotional highs that lead to impulsive actions.
When you practice pausing, you are giving yourself a choice. It helps you create intent, which allows you to evaluate options and consider what to do next.
I suggest that you work on making pausing your default reaction. Even if you don't have questions, give yourself the opportunity to walk away, think about it, talk it over with someone you trust and evaluate your knowledge, capacity, resources and options. It will take some practice but creating a habit of pausing is a useful tool to use in tackling your daily and longer term challenges.
You know, I've been thinking lately how the suffering artist image has a lot to do with ADHD... The tortured souls... They're destined to suffer for their work since creativity and genius cannot be born out of happiness.
Or, can it?
Think about Adele. Now let me be clear, as far as I know, Adele does not have ADHD, but that's not the point.
Her first album, "19" was released back in 2008? It did fairly well, but it was her second effort, “21” that really launched her career. As is now widely known, “21” was born of a broken heart. It was brilliant and game changing, but she has been quite open about the fact that it was inspired from a place of extreme anxiety and personal pain.
Now, fast forward to her most recent album, "25". I remember hearing an interview when the album was first released in which she indicated that she was very worried that because that pain and heartbreak had been resolved, she was nervous that her song writing would suffer. Because you see, this album came from a very different space - one of happiness and new beginnings stemming from a healthy new relationship and the birth of her son. Both albums were completely brilliant but their creation stories are worlds apart.
(Umm... Brett... I thought you were an ADHD coach. Why are we talking about Adele?) Don't worry; I'm getting there.
So, what we're learning from Adele is this: At first, she suffered for her art. Her heart was ripped to shreds and it catapulted her into stardom. So, how come her 3rd album, written when she was according to her, in the most content and happy mindset ever, didn't flop and kill her career? It's because she cracked the code!
I've often said that creativity and anxiety are two sides of the same coin. Anxiety stems from inventing stories about what might happen in the future; therefore, it takes a lot of creativity to spark that anxiety. And, of course, we all know that creativity comes from imagination.
The way creativity manifests itself depends on the way you exercise your "imagination muscle." If you're constantly using you imagination in anxiety-inducing ways, you're playing a losing game. But if you choose to see your anxiety as the manifestation of your amazing creativity, you can start to shift to a more powerful stance and find positive, adaptive behaviours to keep that anxiety in check.
Your brain craves dopamine and doesn't care how it gets it. You can feed the craving in one of two ways:
1) Letting the "imagination muscle" create horrible anxiety-inducing stories, or
2) Flexing that same muscle by engaging in creative hobbies like drawing, writing and knitting.
Adele's latest album proves that she learned to exercise her imagination muscle in adaptive ways. Both methods produced similar results (2 great albums!) and fed her brain the dopamine it craved, but I have no doubt that the atmosphere in creating both albums were completely different.
Anxiety is a common issue in the ADHD brain since many of us experience overactive imaginations, but the reality is that you have the power to choose whether you'll use your creative power for good or for harm. Both may satisfy a basic desire in your brain, but it requires consciousness and pause to recognize the difference... pivot, and make the choice that will serve you better long-term. So, is the album of your life going to be "21" or "25"?
I'd love to hear about your take on this. Will you start to give your brain its dopamine fix through creative measures instead of creating anxious thoughts?
When you're surfing around Facebook, do you ever catch yourself thinking, "Everyone else's life is way more fun and exciting than mine"?
They say that comparison is the thief of joy and this is the prime example.
For many of us, Facebook posts can trigger a lot negative feelings about our self-worth. We tend to compare ourselves to everyone else because we have such easy access to the "highlight reels" of their lives. For a lot of users, Facebook is a place to showcase the most exciting and brag-worthy events of their lives and because of this "highlight reel effect" it can give viewers a skewed image of that person's life. By seeing only the highlights, we can easily get sucked into the thought pattern of, "Everything is so much better/easier/more exciting for them."
The next time you're scrolling through your Facebook news feed and feel like everyone you know has a more interesting life than you do, I want you to do yourself a favour. Stop and go back through your own posts from the past 1-2 years. Even if you didn't post very often, you'll likely see something that triggers awesome memories to help you realize that your life is way more fun and interesting than you thought.
Confidence doesn't come from the ability to walk into a room and feel better than or unique from everyone else. Confidence comes from walking into the room and not feeling the need to compare yourself to anyone at all. Your life's highlight reel is no different from anyone else’s; just know that you don't have to compare it in order to feel good about it.
So, how did you feel after going through your old posts? Were you reminded of your own awesomeness and all of the cool things you've done?
Comment below with your favourite memory you found while scrolling through your old posts.
Do you ever just feel STUCK, like your feet are planted in cement? Trust me, you're not alone.
As a coach, people often think that I've got it all figured out and don't struggle with the same things they do. Well, sometimes I certainly do! Recently, I found myself feeling stuck because I couldn't identify my priorities.
This came after a talk I presented at a MoMonday event. I'd spent about a week preparing for this talk and it was the #1 priority on my list. Of course, I wasn't spending every waking hour practicing my speech but there were things to prepare so it was a point of focus for me. The talk was great and very well received but the next day, I woke up thinking, "Okay... so now what?"
Now that this talk was over, I no longer had a cut-and-dry priority. I started to feel a little overwhelmed because my next priority wasn't so obvious to pick out. As I've talked about before, it's hard to distinguish the urgency of tasks in the ADHD brain because of the overlapping effect that takes place. Because our brains layer tasks on top of each other instead of in a neat & tidy list, everything seems to have equal importance (or unimportance).
So, how did I get myself unstuck? I resolved to just pick something.
Instead of agonizing over what should be done first, I decided that, because it all has to get done at some point, I would just pick one thing and go. What I discovered was that by getting started on that one task, I was able to gain momentum which lead me to another task, and then another. I felt great because what I expected wasn't going to be a very fruitful day turned into a very productive one!
By just starting what's in front of you, you will help yourself get unstuck by creating momentum. All you need to do is remove yourself from the need to figure out what's most important and just do something without getting mired down in the detail. Eventually, your next priority will come along and will become very obvious.
We all know that feeling. You go to bed satisfied that you had a great night. You talked to some cool people, had interesting conversations and enjoyed yourself. Then, the next morning, you wake up and hit that rewind button... "Did I talk too much? Was I too opinionated? Did I look like an idiot?"
With the holidays upon us, we're likely to find ourselves in more social situations so let's make them as painless as possible. The anticipation of social events can be anxiety-producing because of our tendency to hit that rewind button over and over again, making the situations seem worse each time we do. We need to learn to strike a balance between staying true to who we are while avoiding ADHD-induced social blunders such as dominating conversation and interrupting others.
The thing is that for some people, their rewind button has that worn elevator button look that comes from years of overuse. What I've learned is that it does us no good to keep hitting that button. First of all, you're the only person with access to it. It is very unlikely that anyone else is spending their time thinking back on your specific actions from the night before. Secondly, research shows that we usually don't remember things correctly, anyway! We're torturing ourselves with the stories we're replaying in our minds that are being exaggerated with each playback.
Remember that game "Telephone" we used to play when we were young? Everyone would sit in a circle and one person would start the game by sending a message through the loop. As the message was passed on from ear to ear, it got more and more scrambled until it wasn't even recognizable in the end. This is exactly what happens when we keep hitting that rewind button. We interject our interpretations and biases into the story until it's something completely different than the actual event.
When coaching clients who are struggling with their rewind impulse, I often tell them to try and remove themselves from the story and to tell it from a third-person perspective. If we're not a character in the story, we're more likely to get an accurate portrayal of what actually happened because it's not subject to our own biases.
So, at your next holiday party, I want you to remember this: Don't squash the real you for fear of the replay. When your impulse to hit "rewind" flares (and I guarantee it will!) take a deep breath and remember that your memory very likely exaggerated bits and pieces of the actual event. Stop and remove yourself from the situation and tell the story from third-person perspective. If you're still struggling to calm your anxiety, call a friend who was there. That friend will likely tell you that you're remembering it wrong and put your mind at ease.
You don't need to change who you are just because ADHD sometimes makes social situations awkward. Don't let your mind play tricks on itself.
I was recently issued a challenge that I was hesitant to accept.
I'm a part of a coaching group (yes, coaches get coaching, too) and, last week, we were focusing on building positive habits. One of our tasks was to get up, get dressed and go outside for a walk first thing in the morning. Sure, this sounds easy enough but if you live in Newfoundland I don't have to tell you that staying in bed is often a much more appealing idea.
I decided to try accepting this habit-building task for a few reasons. First, I was invested in this course (both financially and mentally) so it wouldn't have been fair not to give it my all. Second, because I was enticed by novelty and challenge, two of the four elements that tend to engage the ADHD brain (interest, challenge, novelty and urgency). Normally, if someone suggested I hop out of bed on a cold morning and go straight for a walk, I would have called them crazy but that's exactly what I did. I felt challenged because, for so many years, I believed I wasn't very good at rising to challenges and told myself not to even bother trying. Now I'm ready to try and prove once more that this isn't true.
What I found during my first morning walk was that it was quite easy to do and it actually made me feel great. The fresh air helped me wake up, the quiet time helped me get clear on what I wanted to achieve throughout the day, and I started to see things in my neighbourhood that I've never noticed before.
When you're trying to develop a new habit, pulling from lots of different mindsets and motivational reasons helps to make it stick. When you figure out your "why" for doing it, you're way more apt to make the change stick. While the attempt to build this new habit isn't directly related to my ADHD, it can give me a more purposeful way to start my day and it's a mindfulness exercise that can help me gain clarity on what I want to get done. The fresh air helps wake me up and I just feel better afterwards. So, it feels like a no-brainer.
And of course, a little accountability helps, too. Now it's your turn!
We're coming up on a new year which is a great time for change. What kinds of change do you want to make in your life? Think about your motivations for making this change. Then, please share in the comments below how you plan to make the habit stick. I can't wait to hear about it!