Yes, ADHD adults who want to be proactive use the self-talk strategies I describe below. But it’s not because they’re aspiring to have a rosy — positive — outlook on life. Sure, having a positive perspective can help you be proactive. When you’re in a positive frame of mind it’s easier to do what’s important to you.
But what happens when you’re trying to put on a false face? Yes, I know in some context, such as work, it may serve you to do this on occasion. But what if you’re trying to do it everywhere in your life. Eventually, your automatic thoughts associated with how you really feel will seep out.
No matter how many times you say to yourself something like, “I am so grateful for what I have.” And I totally believe in a practice of gratitude! But it’s also important you to feel your feelings and be real. So, let’s get on with seeing how you can do that.
How Self-Talk Helps ADHD Adults Reach Their Goals
Dr. Charles Barkley notes that self-regulation involves (1) any action an individual directs at themselves so as to (2) result in a change in their behavior (from what they might otherwise have done) in order to (3) change the likelihood of a future consequence or attainment of a goal.
As Barkley notes, in order to self-regulate it is necessary to involve multiple mental abilities — executive functions. The example he uses is resisting the temptation to buy donuts at a bakery.
- You need to be aware that there is a problem when you walk into the bakery (self-awareness).
- Then you need to resist the urge to order the donut (inhibition).
- You redirect your attention (regulating attention).
- To do this you use self-talk (verbal working memory)
- You might also visualize your goal (nonverbal working memory or visual imagery).
- And in the moment, you might think about ways you could deal with the temptation (problem-solving). Perhaps use self talk to motivate yourself, too.
Wait a minute! I bet you’re thinking, isn’t memory one of the challenges for adults with ADHD? Yes, it is. Let’s dive it bit deeper into that.
ADHD Memory Challenges Affect Ability to Use Self-Talk Effectively
First, a little bit about why you may have such a hard time remembering information at the time you need it.
One reason is that short-term (working) memory is often weak in adults with ADHD.
That is, you may not hold information long enough to follow through on it. So, you say to yourself, “I need to drop off that folder at Joe’s office before I leave.” Then you turn around to get your jacket, pack up and forget about the folder. All within the span of a few minutes!
Because you do not hold onto information long enough it also does not enter your long term memory. So, it is lost to you until Bill says to you, “Hey, Lisa, I didn’t get that email you said you would send when I saw you in the hall yesterday.”
Challenges with long-term memory are also common for adults with ADHD.
This can mean that you have difficulty remembering your intention to do something in the future. So, as you are leaving the office you have this nagging feeling you are supposed to do something before going home. Not until you get home do you remember you were supposed to pick up the take-out!
Also, you may have difficulty recalling information when you need it. You go to the meeting and can’t remember all the details of the report you want to share.
Bottom line. Your memory, like mine, may be more like Swiss Cheese than a trap door. That is ok, as long as you use methods to help you remember what you need when you need it.
Why ADHD Adults Need to Build a Self-Talk Muscle That Keeps It Real
The adapted quote below from therapist Lisa Olivera is spot on in explaining why it’s so important to keep it real.
There is a myth that positivity is strength. While it certainly can be, I don’t think positivity should be a prerequisite for how strong or resilient you are.
Oftentimes, people who have encountered the worst of this world (racism, poverty, trauma, violence, hate, et cetera) are told to be positive – to take their experiences and turn them into gifts, lessons, or hope.
Forcing positivity is bypassing human truth. Forcing positivity is putting it on a pedestal. Forcing positivity is forgoing holding space for reality.
True strength, to me, is holding space for ALL parts of you. It’s holding space for the positive parts AND the hard parts. It’s letting yourself feel the beauty AND the hurt. It’s acknowledging the hope AND the hardship. It’s letting it all exist.
That is strength.
The next time someone tells you to “be positive”, I invite you to say, “Actually, I’m just going to be me right now.” Because you right now is valid, without needing to put a silver lining on it for the comfort of others. You don’t have to be positive all the time. You just have to be you.
So, if you’re telling yourself, “Keep a stiff upper lip. Slap a smile on it. I have to fake it till I make it,” please stop. Because this self-talk isn’t helping you do what is essential to you, including learning how to work with your ADHD. But you can learn self-talk to help you do just that.
Using Self-Talk to Create a Helpful Mindset
When thinking about self-talk you likely first think of the self-talk related to your negative thinking patterns. Ready to improve your skills in this area? Check out ADHD and Avoiding Negative Thinking Traps – Part 1 and ADHD and Avoiding Negative Thinking Traps – Part 2
These faulty thinking patterns along with other types of self-talk can also contribute to your procrastination. To mitigate this you can learn new ways of self-talk to help you get started and follow through on your important work.
Upgrading your self-talk is also important as a means of practicing more self-compassion. So you can stop judging and criticizing yourself because of your challenges, including those related to your ADHD. When you do this you will have a greater capacity to persist in reaching your goals.
Recognizing the Critical Moment of Choice
But, in that critical moment of choice — the moment you intend to act — what happens when your mojo just isn’t there? You’re just not “feeling it” even if the payoff/reward is important to you. Maybe you even blocked off time in your calendar to make sure you followed through!
Yet, you don’t start because the task is not intrinsically interesting. And there’s something in your environment pulling at your attention because it would give you immediate gratification. So, you default to following the “squirrel.” And tell yourself, “I don’t feel like it. I’ll do it later.” Right.
While you’re aware of it or not, the underlying thought is you’ll feel like doing it later. But, in that moment, you likely don’t decide when you will do it later. And, if you don’t feel like sending those emails today, you won’t be excited about sending them later, either, right? 😊
A slippery slope, indeed.
Using Self-Talk to Follow Through at the Critical Moment of Choice
One way to avoid going down the “procrastination slide” is to use guiding self-talk
1. First, you’ll need to tap into the reward for doing the task. That is what is your underlying value that will be supported by following through on the task. You may decide to do the laundry at home because you want to be an equal partner. Maybe you decide to honor the administrative block you have on your calendar, because you want to be a professional.
2. Then, of course, you’ll need to remember to remember the reward. Not easy with working memory challenges. Luckily, there are strategies you can use to remember what you need. For example, if you’ve blocked off time in your calendar to do a task, you could include the phrase with the task. So, for example, next to “admin time” in your calendar write “(be a professional).”
3. Then, in that critical moment of choice, pause. Using self-talk remind yourself why you are choosing to do the task even if you don’t feel like doing it. So, you might say: “I don’t really feel like doing this and it’s not going to feel comfortable starting, for sure. But I really want to be a professional. And this is just part of my gig, even though it’s not interesting.”
4. I know I just said this above. But it’s important to remind yourself that It will be uncomfortable to start. And Also remind yourself you have the wherewithal to withstand the discomfort! Because you do. 😊
How ADHD Adults Avoid Distractions with Self-Talk
OK, so what happens if you’ve managed to start doing something you don’t really feel like doing. Of course, you may get distracted and go off course. Use the mantra, “I’m doing this and not that. I’m doing this and not that. I’m doing this and not that.” Really, I’m serious. Repeat it a few times. It works! (Credits to Alan Brown of ADD Crusher for this suggestion.)
In addition, use the pomodoro method or your own variation . In short, this entails setting your timer for 25 minutes and then taking a 5-minute break. And I would add my adapted version for ADHD adults, which is too ask yourself these 3 questions when the timer goes off:
- What am I doing?
- What should I be doing?
- Why is that important?
Using this guiding self talk you will more easily be able to get back to your intended task.
ADHD Adults Who Want to be Proactive Use Self-Talk
What are you going to try?