You need to come up with an idea on the spot. Maybe somebody asks you a question in a meeting or you want to come up with an idea for a gift. But your ADHD brain freezes. The seconds tick by and you become more and more overwhelmed. You have nothing, nada, zilch. If you’re in a meeting, you may have this monologue running through your head:
“I should be able to come up with something. This is embarrassing! They’re probably thinking I’m an idiot. Everyone else came up with an idea! Great all their eyes are on me. I can’t wait till this meeting is over! Can they just go on to the next person already!”
But wait, you wonder, “Isn’t coming up with lots of ideas a superpower for ADHD adults?” Yes, it is a strength for many adults with ADHD. And, if this is one of your strengths, you may be confused and question, “Why can I come up with lots of ideas sometimes and not necessarily when I really need to?”
When Do ADHD Adults Come up With Their Best Ideas?
Think of contexts when it’s easier to come up with your best ideas. Maybe you are
- in a place where you feel relaxed, like the shower or running alone.
- The light bulb goes off and you hope you won’t forget the thought before you have a chance to record it.
- by yourself or having an easy conversation and suddenly you come up with a totally great idea. Albeit, maybe unrelated to the topic at hand. Hmm… Ever happened to you? 😊
Notice what all these scenarios have in common. The ideas just come to you organically, right? You’re not forced to come up with the idea, and so you likely don’t feel on the spot. Wouldn’t it be great if you could just wait until an idea came to you? Yep, that would be great. But, of course, you can’t always wait.
You already know you’re ADHD helps you generate ideas. At the same time, you’re ADHD contributes to your challenges in thinking on the spot and can leave you feeling like your brain is frozen in time.
So, let’s get on with exploring the ADHD related reasons for this and what workarounds you can use when you can’t come up with an idea on the spot because your brain feels frozen in time.
How Attention Challenges Makes Hard to Come up With Ideas
You know “attention deficit” is a misnomer, right? In fact, as an ADHD adult, you have an abundance of attention!
So, for example, when sitting in a meeting you may be paying attention to how weirdly you think Bob is looking at you, your growling stomach, the coffee stain on Sally’s shirt, and the worry you have you may lose your job. Because you can’t come up with an idea. Now!
How easy is it to come up with an idea under those circumstances?
First, you need to be alert — ready to pay attention — to what people are saying in the meeting. Then you must be able to focus on what is important in terms of the information in the meeting. And then you need to sustain this attention while being able to shift your attention between various reports — new information.
But that’s not happening very well. Instead, your attention is torn between your own extraneous thoughts. Add, if you’re not able to pay attention to what’s happening in the meeting, it’s obviously difficult to come up with related ideas.
When the Challenge Is Your Weak Working Memory
A weak working memory also makes this difficult. As its job is to hold the contextual information you need long enough for you to process and come up with a coherent idea. But for ADHD adults your working memory is more like Swiss cheese than a trapdoor. That is, your thoughts keep on slipping out before you can put them together to share an idea.
Working memory challenges is one of the primary reasons ADHD adults find it hard to participate in conversations, never mind being asked to come up with a specific idea.
Strategies to Focus, Attend, Hold Onto and Organize Your Thoughts
You’ll need to adopt strategies to work with your weak working memory. It is what it is, right? Similarly, because your ADHD brain is wired to be constantly scanning your environment to get the stimulation it craves, you’re always going to need to manage distractions, as well.
And, when it comes to your ability to focus and attend, some days will be better than others, for sure. But, even on the best days, it is not possible for anyone to focus 100% of their attention on one task. Because everyone has a bit of floating attention (attending to something other than your primary task). But adults with ADHD can have a great deal of floating attention.
Being proactive is the first step.
You might start by picking a location that makes it easier for you to focus and attend. For example, if your office clutter reminds you of everything you need to do, meet in a conference room. Maybe your brain needs stimulation to focus and attend to the conversation. Then going for a walk or meeting in a cafe might be a better alternative for you, if possible.
Fidgeting can also help you stay focused by giving your floating attention a mindless task to keep it occupied so you can better tend to the primary task at hand. Of course, what you use to fidget depends on the context. Using kinetic sand during a meeting might not go over big. But a spinner ringer might work for you.
You know taking notes, if you process them, can help you remember information later. But using a specific method for taking notes can also help you organize and remember your thoughts during the meeting, making it easier, perhaps, to come up with an idea on the spot.
When Regulating Emotions Gets in the Way of Generating Ideas
No doubt, emotions can get in the way of coming up with ideas on the spot. Think of the last time you were frustrated or even angry in a meeting or 1-1 conversation. Maybe you said or did something — blurted out or shut down — you later regretted. Because you were flooded with emotions.
Then you might have berated yourself, “How do I keep doing this? I look like a child!” When you were a little bit more grounded you might have told yourself, “I really want to do better! Next time… I should use that STOP technique Leslie recommend it.”
- Stop when you realize you’re about to get hijacked by your reaction.
- Take a breath.
- Observe what is going on in your body and not just your head.
- Proceed once you’ve done all this.
You really want to do better. You want to manage your emotions and be in a better position to generate new ideas in meetings or conversations. And you probably know techniques, like STOP, you can try. Maybe you even tried that one or others. But, despite knowing what to do, you can’t seem to be able to pull it off in the moment.
That is, at the critical moment of choice, you don’t do what you want to do even when you know what steps to take. Sure, you might need to learn a few new skills and techniques. But your main challenge with controlling your emotions is likely not due to a lack of knowledge — knowing what to do. It’s most often a performance issue.
So, let’s look at what you can do to make it more possible to do what you want to do when you want to do it to manage your emotions better.
How You Can Manage Your Emotions Better to Generate Ideas
Being proactive by practicing good self-care is definitely the place to start. Because you know having enough sleep, good nutrition, downtime and playtime can help you Regulate your emotions better at the point of performance — critical moment of choice.
But that won’t be enough. How many times have you felt fine going into a conversation or meeting when, seemingly out of nowhere, you become dysregulated? Maybe more times than you care to count. Even when you’ve had a plan for how you want to respond in those moments.
One of the keys to addressing this is to externalize the cue at the point of performance. That is, you need a strategy for “remembering to remember.” This may mean writing STOP at the top of your notes before going into a potentially difficult meeting. This will help to remind you to use the technique.
Externalizing the reward at the point of performance can also help you to remember why it’s important to you to follow through on your plan — to use the technique. For example, next to the cue, STOP, you might write Be a Pro (professional) or whatever the reason is you want to be able to regulate your emotions better.
Being emotionally grounded can help you come up with ideas on the spot.
When Your ADHD Brain Is Just Not “Cooperating”
Then are those times when your brain just needs time to “thaw.”
You’re using the techniques you know to try to focus and attend to the best of your ability. You’re keeping your emotions in check as well as you can. And, if you keep using the breathing techniques, you’re going to blow the whole house down! 😊
If you’re working by yourself and can’t come up with ideas for the task at hand, your best bet may be to call it a day. If you’re up for it, you might be able to work on something else. Otherwise, taking a break from your work may be the most productive thing you can do.
Because having some downtime/playtime can give your brain the rest it needs. You may find, if you get the respite you need, you will be pulled to do your task the next time you work on it. Rather than resisting it out of frustration because you were forcing yourself to work on it when you couldn’t.
Besides, even when you’re not actively working on the task, it’s probably simmering somewhere in your brain, right? Have you ever had the experience of taking a break from a task and then, when you revisit it, you have all these great ideas? That’s probably the result of taking a break from it, as well as “working on it” when you’re not working on it.
If you’re in a meeting or in conversation with a person, it’s a little trickier, for sure. You could try asking, “These are all great ideas and I’d like to think them over for a bit. Can we go ahead and schedule another meeting to discuss them more in-depth?” That may give you the time you need to organize your thoughts.
How Are You Going to Manage Your ADHD Brain Freeze?
Above are a few ideas you can try. Which one will you experiment with today?