Know Your ADHD: Goldilocks Responses
When I first learned about my ADHD back in the mid 90s I had very topical understanding of the disorder. I definitely identified with many of the challenges but it really didn't go beyond the basics. I find that my new clients have a similar level of knowledge.
Newly diagnosed Global Creatives identify with many of the challenges of ADHD but they really don't have a sense of how their particular ADHD influences and impacts themselves at a nuanced and granular level. We are, of course, much more than our ADHD but knowing our own style of ADHD can help us address blind spots and lean more into areas of strength and talent.
Like heroes of classic mythology, Global Creatives who don't address their challenges are destined to repeat them. ADHD can be readily identified in distractibility, impulsivity and forgetfulness but ADHD also influences how we respond emotionally to situations and people. We can experience a 'Goldilocks' phenomenon with too little or too big emotional responses to incoming stimuli.
ADHD drives behavior and influences feelings
Knowing and accepting how your ADHD plays a role in thoughts, actions and feelings is an early step to better ADHD management.
How does ADHD influence us? It makes us inaccurately assign:
urgency to situations
ambivalence to situations
too much or too little emotional meaning to situations
With urgency it’s in part related to our concept of time. With challenges in our time-depth perception – seeing and evaluating time in the future (tomorrow, next week…) – we default to a ‘now, not now’ approach where things are either urgent or not urgent. There is no middle ground.
With ambivalence it is related to our ability to accurately prioritize actions or events. Like urgency things are very important or not important at all. Out of sight out of mind is another factor that can contribute to ambivalence. One client described this phenomenon as a "false sense of general contentment".
With feelings ADHD will influence us in either over responding or under responding emotionally to a situation. This has to do with the regulation/management characteristics of ADHD.
We get heightened responses AND diminished responses - overly impassioned responses and overly ambivalent responses - a paradoxical experience of ADHD that frustrates those around us and is often maddening for the ADHD individual. And if you are leading a team this behavior is likely impacting not only your productivity and bottom line but it is also eroding trust in you and your organization.
Many people mistake ADHD for a psychological problem. It is more of a cognitive issue. It is a matter of executive function regulation and management of time, effort, priority, activation and emotion among other things.
What to do
Human behavior is driven by thoughts, emotions, beliefs and habits. Start by paying attention to the different drivers of your behavior. ADHD disrupts our ability to be self-aware but with practice one can develop a mindful approach and notice the fascinating connection between these players in the brain. As you get better at this practice of noticing you start to develop what I call a Keen Observer - a powerful ally who notices but does not evaluate or judge.
Distinguish the brain from the mind
Another extremely beneficial mindfulness practice is to notice how these two entities work together (and don't work together). The brain is the hardware, the chemistry and neural pathways. The mind is the beliefs, thoughts and feelings we experience. When we create a sense of urgency in the mind, the brain releases adrenaline which in turn makes more dopamine available for the mind to concentrate and finish a task. As many of my clients have learned there is a downside to relying too heavily on urgency and adrenaline. It can create undo stress, make us prone to ARC (Adrenaline Response Cycle) and will release excess cortisol into the system.
The Keen Observer can be a useful resource for tracking and regulating degrees of emotional response. Inserting an ‘assessment pause’ between incoming stimulus (for example your spouse being upset that you forgot to pay an important bill) and your emotional response (flash to anger or retreat to shame). Instead ask, “What is a response that is measured and appropriate for the situation?”
Focus on the facts of a situation
This can help us to have an appropriate and measured emotional response to the situation. It’s amazing how quickly facts can get lost in a heightened environment.
What do I know?
What don't I know?
What is triggering me?
What is a better response?
Active questioning opens the door to engaging the Keen Observer directly and more fact-based dialogue. Enrolling someone you trust to engage in this dialogue can be effective too.
Embracing your ADHD is really about accepting that your brain works different, to acknowledge the struggles and lean into your areas of strength.