What comes up for you when you hear the following common phrase, “don’t believe everything you think?” It is probably something along the lines of, “Yep, heard it before. Got it. Everything I think is not necessarily true.”
But have you thought about the specific implications in your life of holding on to faulty thinking? As you read below, consider whether your negative thinking:
- takes up an inordinate about of your time and energy.
- keeps you from engaging in more productive activities.
- gets in the way of your self-care, such as sleep.
- leads you to take actions that do you a disservice and are out of integrity with how you want to act.
- gets in the way of making changes in your life, like managing your ADHD because you feel that the changes are too big and impossible.
Once you understand the ways you engage in faulty thinking, you can choose to work on changing the way you think, and be free of its grips.
So, you don’t stay stuck!
Cognitive Distortions and ADHD
True, while the degree to which people engage in faulty thinking varies, everyone engages in this type of thinking at one time or another.
But, as an adult with ADHD, it will be helpful in addressing your faulty thinking to be aware of how your ADHD symptoms may influence your thinking
1. Impulsiveness can lead you to latch on to and act on the first thought that enters your mind.
2. Working memory refers to the capacity to hold information in your mind to guide your current and future actions.
Challenges with working memory can make it difficult in the moment to hold onto and manipulate multiple perspectives about a person or situation. This may lead you to think very narrowly, rather than broadly about all the possibilities.
3. First, remember, your emotional experiences as an adult with ADHD are not inappropriate! The difficulty with regulating your emotions, however, can make it difficult to inhibit emotional reactions brought on by a thought in the moment.
That is, rather than internalizing and moderating your feelings in the moment so you can decide what to do with them later, you may act on them. Only to regret it down the road…
4. Another hallmark of Adult ADHD is an underdeveloped ability to engage in helpful and positive self-talk. But this skill is key to being able to explore your thoughts and perceive situations accurately and choose what action you want to take. The good news is you can build this muscle with practice.
Of course, there are other ways your ADHD symptoms may impact your thoughts.
But the four above are key to understanding how your ADHD may give your thinking a different flavor compared to others with “run of the mill faulty thinking.” 😉
Knowing these various ADHD challenges can help you take them into account and address them as you begin to also challenge your automatic thoughts.
Black and White Thinking
Also referred to as all-or-nothing thinking, it is truly helpful when we are in dangerous situations, as it can elicit the fight or flight responses we need to be able to act in a split second. In a crisis you want to be able to make a decision in the moment to do either “this” or “that.”
But, really, how often are you in a survival situation where black and white thinking is necessary? Not very often, I bet.
The danger in absolute thinking is it leads you to think in terms of “must” and “should,” and then take actions that may not serve you. But, with practice, you can begin to think more expansively and perceive reality more accurately.
While impulsiveness, challenges with regulating your emotions and a poor working memory may lead you to see limited options in situations, you can work to address these challenges, as well, so you can see the whole panoply of possibilities.
Here are a couple of examples to ponder.
1. “He’s a Jerk.”
Jeremiah would not help Cory with her report, and she thinks, “I can’t believe he won’t help me! He’s jerk!”
So, if he is a jerk, Cory might decide she must be on high alert so she doesn’t let him take advantage of her. Whenever she sees him she is cool to him. And maybe he starts being rude to he. You see where this is going…
Alternatively, Cory could reframe her thinking to reflect another possibility. “I really wanted his help, and he has helped me in the past. But I know he is really busy now. We all have to say “no” sometimes… ”
2. “I’m a Screw-up.”
Kip forgets to proofread an email before sending it to an important client. When he looks at it later he notices a few typos. His immediate thought is, “There I go again! I can’t ever do anything right on this job.”
Of course, if Kip thinks he can never get anything right in his job, he might also think he should just give up. He might even decide they must have made a mistake when they hired him. And with these thoughts he has little motivation to try to improve. So, instead he starts to give up….
What if could replaced this thought with, “I am having a hard time with some parts of my job, but there are some things that are going well. Maybe I can get help to get better at…”
As you begin to see situations and people in shades of grey you will also become more compassionate toward yourself and, as well as others.
In this type of thinking you assume what other people do or say is a reaction to you or something you did. Adults with ADHD may be more prone to thinking, “It must be me… I’m the one who screwed up.”
And, true, sometimes it is a reflection of something you did. We all make mistakes!
But, if you don’t reflect on the actual realities of each situation, you might end up taking responsibility for things that have nothing to do with you!
I’m sure some variation of the following examples is familiar to you.
1. “The Boss Hates Me.”
Dan’s boss, Chen, sends him an email, letting him know he only has 20 minutes for their 1-1, rather than the usual full hour.
When Dan gets to the meeting his boss is rushed. Dan leaves the meeting, wondering what he did wrong and convinced his job must be on the chopping block. All afternoon he is distracted thinking about what happened… He can barely get any work done.
What if Dan instead thought, ” Wow, Chen is really pressed for time. I wonder how the rollout is going on the new software? I know he was worried a few weeks ago that it might not be ready…”
2. “My Client is Going To Fire Me.”
Lucia’s client missed their scheduled meeting for the second time. She is convinced that her client must not want to work with her. Though she can’t point to anything specific, she is also sure it is because she screwed up, again.
Lucia could consider all the other reasons her client is missing their meetings. Of course, she needs to ask her directly, “I wanted to check in with you because I noticed you missed both of our last meetings…”
If you are in situations like this, the trick is to wait until you can get all the information before coming to a conclusion. We just have to remember that the word really does revolve around the sun, not us. 😉
Disqualifying the Positive
There are, of course, many reasons why you may develop a particular pattern of thinking. As an adult with ADHD you may have learned to focus on what you are doing wrong because of the feedback you’ve received along the way from various people in your life.
And somewhere along the way you also stopped acknowledging all the ways in which you have made the mark. That is, you filter out the positive information that more accurately reflects the totality of your experience, and focus instead on the negative.
Can you see yourself in some of these situations?
1. “My Colleagues Hate My Ideas.”
Asa is giving a pitch to her team for a client project. Todd, Isaiah and Miriam are enthusiastic about what she has come up with, and give her specific feedback about what they like. Then Eric interjects that he does not think her idea will fly with the client – it is too generic.
Asa ruminates for the rest of the day about what Eric said, and is upset for giving a lousy pitch.
What about the other positive feedback?! When Asa heard the negative feedback from Eric, she did not incorporate the positive feedback when deciding her pitch must be lousy. Maybe her other teammates just don’t know any better. Their opinions didn’t seem to count.
If you tend to do this, practice giving equal weight to all the feedback, not just the negative. Consider the whole picture.
2. “I’m Going To Get Fired.”
In Makena’s annual review his boss acknowledges how valuable Makena is to the team because of his leadership, “wicked” creative ideas and willingness to pitch in when needed. You might think this is a reason to celebrate, right?
His boss also mentions he would like Makena to work on getting his reports in on time. We all have room for improvement. Makena was worried his boss would bring this up because he is often late meeting deadlines.
So, when he gets home Makena mentions to his partner, Steve, that his boss is really disappointed in him because he is always late getting his work in! Makena continues to ruminate about this, thinking, “If I can’t turn this around, I am really going to be in trouble!”
The next day he was so anxious he missed the deadline for turning in his report, again.
Something was clearly lost in translation. Makena filtered out the positive feedback from his boss and focused on what he was doing wrong. As a result he had a hard time working to address his challenge.
If you are prone to this type of thinking, consider how it is holding you back. How might you feel and act differently if you could say, “I’m doing really well in “X” and “Y” and, yes, I need to work on “Z.”
In ADHD and Avoiding Negative Thinking Traps – Part 2, I’ll cover additional types of negative thinking, as well as more specific strategies to change the way you think.