When my daughter recently asked if we could have a fish tank I eventually conceded because it seemed simple enough.
I thought, “how hard could this be?” In my mind it would include a little water, a few fish and some flakes. Then voila! We would have pretty fish to look at.
According to psychologist Noel Burch’s Four Stages of Learning model we all progress from incompetence to competence when learning a new skill.
Like my experience with the fish tank, in learning to manage your ADHD you will also progress through these stages of learning.
In the first stage, Unconscious Incompetence, “we don’t know what we don’t know.”
Clearly, I was at this stage when I agreed to having a fish tank; I had very little idea of what was involved in putting together and maintaining one. Never really gave it any thought…
Similarly, before your diagnosis you didn’t know or care about managing your ADHD. Why would you? You didn’t know you had it.
While you had challenges you wanted to manage better, learning the skills and techniques for managing your ADHD mattered to you as much as… learning to operate a submarine. It was just not on your radar. You were in Stage 1, Unconscious Incompetence.
Than when you received the diagnosis you probably said something like, “Oh that is why things are so hard!!”
And eventually wondered, “Now what do I do?!”
The Emotional Upheaval
After receiving an ADHD diagnosis, most adults go through various stages of feelings in response to the diagnosis.
At first you probably read books and looked for information on the internet. Then maybe you reached out for support from a group, therapist or ADHD Coach. And, when you were ready, you started experimenting with some of the suggested strategies to address your ADHD challenges.
And I bet at some point you became mad, frustrated or even sad that it was so hard. Maybe you were surprised that learning the skills to manage your ADHD was not easier.
The truth is a lot of us embark on new learning experiences in this way because we forget about some of the emotional upheaval we went through when beginning to learn skills in the past.
So, take a moment now.
Remember the excitement, angst, surprise, disappointment, thrill, etc. that you experienced when you first learned a new subject, a sport a hobby… I bet the learning involved a lot of ups and downs along the way.
You’ll likely experience some of the same emotions as you learn to manage your ADHD. Makes sense, right?
My willingness to have a fish tank soon turned to worry. I started panicking and thinking…
- I don’t know how to set up a fish tank!
- I don’t know how to choose the right fish or take care of them!
- I don’t know how to maintain the tank!
- We should never have done this!! It is never going to work!
I’m sure you’ve said similar things when it comes to managing your ADHD. You were (are) probably overwhelmed when you realized how much you didn’t know how to do in order to address your challenges and leverage your strengths.
When you are in Stage 2, Conscious Incompetence, “you know what you don’t know.” And it can be scary, as you realize how much you need to learn.
So, how do you navigate this process?
One Step At A Time
When we first started the process of putting the fish tank together my daughter kept on saying, “Mom, isn’t this cool. Aren’t you excited?” She was curious and totally up for the challenge of figuring out all the steps along the way.
All I could think about was that the list of what I didn’t know was getting longer and longer…
Then something shifted for me. I decided I would focus on just one step at a time. We took our time, and asked for help when necessary.
I gave up the need for the learning to be comfortable or to be in control and know what was going to happen next.
Instead, I trusted that I could learn what I needed to do along the way.
Where can you approach managing your ADHD one step at a time, even if it is uncomfortable?
As I gave into the process, instead of giving up, I began to achieve some mastery. And, after completing each step, I felt a degree of success. This made me feel less nervous and more willing to keep on going.
That is what learning how to manage your ADHD is like. It will be messy and uncomfortable. But, if you stick with it and get the support you need, you will eventually achieve mastery over some aspects of your ADHD challenges and gain some expertise along the way.
You will “know what you know” and in time feel some relief, finally.
Then you will trip, again. Happens. Because that is what learning is like.
As you learn to manage your ADHD you will move back and forth between Conscious Incompetence and Conscious Competence.
Ultimately, you will just be in the flow with some aspects of managing your ADHD. That is, in Stage 4 you will know how to do it and not be aware of the steps you are taking.
Like driving your car. You don’t usually think about how to do it. You just put the key in the ignition and set your destination. Before you know it, you are there.
When it comes to managing your ADHD you may come to…
- put appointments in your calendar each and every time.
- pause before speaking when you are upset.
- choose your top 2-3 priorities for the day.
- organize your launching pad every night.
And, as one of my former clients said about his habit of planning every Friday, “I don’t know. I just do it. It feels weird when I don’t.” He had achieved Unconscious Competence.
Trust The Process
It took a long time for this client to get to that point.
So, what are you trying to learn now?
Can you be compassionate with yourself, and give yourself enough time and space to learn how to do it?
Will you trust the process?