Thoughts can either help or hinder ADHD adults. Use these 2 tips to make sure your thoughts don’t get in the way of reaching your goals
- Getting hooked by your thoughts may get in the way of doing what’s important to you.
- You can’t get rid of your thoughts.
- You can defuse them.
- Try the 4 questions and turnaround strategy by Byron Katie as well as Acceptance and Commitment Therapy techniques to not get hooked by your thoughts.
Loving What Is by Byron Katie
The Happiness Trap by Russ Harris (based on Acceptance and Commitment Therapy)
The Work, Byron Katie
The Happiness Trap, Russ Harris (based on Acceptance and Commitment Therapy)
What were you thinking just before you started listening to this podcast? Were those thoughts helpful, serving you in some way? Or could they have been getting in the way of doing what’s important to you?
You’ve tuned into Scattered, Focused, Done – Reimagining Productivity with ADHD, a podcast for ADHD, adults, like you, who want to learn how to adopt the best strategies, tools, and skills, to be able to get your essential work done in a way that works with the way your brain is wired. I’m Marla Cummins, and I’m glad you decided to join me today on this journey to re-imagining productivity with ADHD. So you can get what is important to you done and be who you want to be without trying to do it like everyone else.
When you think about your ADHD related challenges, you likely first think of your need to get better organized follow through on your commitments, control your emotions, communicate better, et cetera, right? True. When it comes to managing your ADHD, you likely need to upgrade your skills, learn new strategies and adopt new tools in these areas and others. But there’s another area that can help or hinder you in managing your ADHD that you probably haven’t given enough consideration to upgrading. And that is your thoughts.
As these thoughts, as you know, create your reality and maybe a result of internalized beliefs you have from growing into adulthood with ADHD. But really how often do you ponder how your thinking impacts your ability to be successful? That’s what I’m going to invite you to do as you listen to this episode. Because, as you know, you really should not believe everything you think. Yes, I know you’ve heard this before.
But because your thoughts could either help or hinder you in reaching your goals, it’s especially important for ADHD adults to consider. And alter their thought patterns, if need be to be able to reach their goals successfully. So let’s get on with it.
The first step is to remember your thoughts are really just words, sensations, and images, not reality. But when you take them as reality, fuse with them, they can cause you pain. Yet, this episode is not about helping you get rid of your thoughts. You can’t do that. Just like you can’t stop thinking about the pink elephant in the middle of the room. Right. Rather, my goal is to help you learn how to lessen the impact of your thoughts. So you can take effective action, which is to act in alignment with your values and goals.
Whether you were diagnosed with ADHD as an adult or in your younger years, you’ve likely heard some variation of the following messages throughout. Why can’t you pay attention? You’re moving too much. Stop, slow down. Let someone else have a turn. Stop talking. Don’t you care? And because these were not balanced, perhaps, with positive messages, the negative messages inevitably won out. So over time you internalize these, eventually resulting in some of the negative and distorted beliefs you have about yourself today, generating automatic thoughts. “Like I can’t succeed. I’ll never be able to do anything, right. I’m always screwing up.”
These negative messages also may be contributing to your cognitive distortions or thinking traps such as black and white thinking, overgeneralizing, personalizing, catastrophizing, et cetera. And, if you’re interested in learning more about these, you can check out my two-part series, aptly called ADHD and Avoiding Negative Thinking Traps. But we know these thoughts are like butterflies. They can flit through your mind so fast you don’t even notice them. Unless you start paying attention.
And that’s what I want you to do. Start paying attention to your thinking. So you can work on changing these thoughts and the beliefs that generate them. And then replace them with thoughts and beliefs that serve you and allow you to reach your goals with greater ease. Right now, I bet you have a story about your ADHD that is not serving you. And the thoughts that come from the story are definitely getting in the way of making the changes that would help you manage your ADHD and reach your goals.
For example, two common stories I hear are “planning is something that everyone should know how to do. It’s just common sense.” Another one is “I know what I need to do. I should be able to follow through.” And at the core of these stories is the belief you should be able to plan and follow through on your own without help. Sure, being independent and self-sufficient can be good in some context. But while I bet you are willing to help others, you may not ask for help as often. Because you think you should be able to do it on your own.
How’s that working out? As an adult with ADHD, you know, planning and following through may not be your strong suit. But this script, the story, whether conscious or unconscious could prevent you from, from reaching out for help from family, friends, or professionals when you need it. Because you have the thought that planning is something you should know how to do. Because it’s just common sense, right? While persisting toward reaching goals is a common challenge for ADHD adults, the stories and thoughts you have might be making it even harder.
Not convinced yet whether your thoughts get in your way? I know one of your goals is to procrastinate. So let’s consider this hypothetical situation with Sue. Sue does not feel that she is particularly successful in her career.
She also has a wicked case of the imposter syndrome. So, one day when her boss asked her to make changes to her report, she thinks to herself, “He never likes anything I do. I can’t please him. I’m going to fail at this job and get fired.” And then after she thinks this, Sue avoids working on the report, even though it’s due tomorrow morning. After all, what’s the point when she believes she can’t do anything right? Why try, right? And she also just wants to escape her uncomfortable feelings and thoughts. I bet the sounds vaguely familiar.
Trying to avoid uncomfortable feelings is not uncommon for many ADHD adults. While not uncommon for many people. but of course not doing her work is going to bring about the scenario that Sue envisions. Again, you can’t get rid of your thoughts. But once you’re aware of the thoughts that are getting in your way, there are strategies you can use so they don’t hook you and keep you from doing what’s important to you.
One is Byron Katie’s four questions and turnaround strategies. If you’re not familiar with her, you can check out her books and other material on her site, the work.com. So let’s see how Sue might answer the four questions regarding her thoughts about her boss, again. Again, remember she thinks to herself he never likes anything I do. I can never please him. I’m going to fail at my job and get fired.
So step 1 in the four questions is to ask, “Is it true?” And Sue might answer, “Yes, it could be all true.” So then she would go on to step 2, which is to ask the question, “Can you absolutely know that it’s true?” And Sue, in this hypothetical situation might answer, “No, I just started this job two months ago and I haven’t had a lot of feedback. But he hasn’t told me he doesn’t like my work.
And I think I’m doing okay. I’ll know more at my 90 day review. And also so far, my colleagues have told me they really appreciate my work.” So then after answering the second question, she would go on to the 3rd question, which is, “How do you react? What happens when you believe that thought?” And Sue might answer, “I feel like giving up, like I want to crawl in a hole. And I stop doing my work.”
So then she would go on to the fourth question, which is, “Who would you be without the thought?” And Sue might answer, “I would not feel like I’m going to fail every time my boss asks me to change something, I would be able to continue working. And I wouldn’t feel so stressed and overwhelmed. I would remind myself that if he didn’t like my work, he would just tell me.” The four questions are useful for sure by themselves.
But you could also go one step further and use Byron Katie’s turnaround strategy. To do this you turn the thought around to explore whether the opposite is true or even truer than the original thought. Not every thought you have may have a turnaround. But, when it does, it can be pretty powerful. Consider how Sue could turn around the thought she has about her performance and her boss’s feelings about her work. The opposite of “He never likes anything I do. And I can never please him” could be, “I never like anything I do. I can never please myself.” Another turnaround could be, “he does like some things I do. And I do please him.” Sue, in fact, could find plenty of examples of her work she doesn’t like and doesn’t meet her standards. So as she projecting how she feels about herself onto her boss? Huh?
Sounds like that may be part of what is feeding her thoughts. She also found examples of work of hers that our boss does like. Again, if your interest is peaked on how to use Byron Katie’s work, check out the work.com. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy is another place you could look to for strategies to diffuse, not get hooked by your thoughts so you can stop struggling with them, stay in the present moment and accept, acknowledge your feelings and thoughts. Rather than avoiding them.
If Sue were to use the ACT diffusion exercises, she might, one, tell herself “I’m having the thought that he never likes anything. I do. I can never please him. I’m going to fail at this job and get fired.” She could even go further and tell herself,” I notice I’m having the thought he never likes anything I do, et cetera.” And then she could take the thought and sing it to the tune of happy birthday. May sound silly, I know.
But try that with a thought you’re having right now. Go ahead and see how the thought loses its power to hook you. She could also say the thought out loud in a cartoon character voice, like Mickey Mouse. And the last one I’ll share with you is she could take 10 deep breaths as slowly as possible. And then she would notice the sensations as she inhales and exhales.
As you practice and experiment with some of these strategies, you’ll begin to notice how the thoughts that do not serve you have less of a hook on you. But, I’ll say it again, in case you forgot, remember the goal is not to get rid of your thoughts. Though, the more you practice the strategies I suggested and others, you may find they visit less well. While you certainly don’t want your thoughts to hook you, they may, of course, be sending you a message.
Maybe you do need to take some action. But, before you do that, make sure you interpret the message of the thought. So you can act on those that really are true, or at least have some truth in them. So you can take the action that’s right for you. So, in Sue’s case, maybe she does need to have a conversation with her boss. Maybe it is true she needs to upgrade some of her skills and strategies or tools to be more effective. But, whether that is true or not, avoiding her thoughts and feelings and shutting down is not going to get her there. And it’s not going to get you to where you want to go either, right?
Yes, the thoughts may not entirely go away once you can name them, the ones that don’t serve you at all, send them on a nice long trip. I’m thinking Tahiti. When they come back, just put them on the next flight. Maybe the Bahamas are nice, too. And then keep the thoughts that are going to serve you, help you be in integrity with your values, as well as reach your goals.
That’s it for now. I’m really glad you joined me and stayed until the very end. If you’re interested in learning more about my work with adults with ADHD, please do check out my website, marlacummins.com. Of course, if you’ve learned a thing or two from today’s podcast, which I hope you have, please pass along the link to anyone else in your circles, you think might also benefit. And, until next time, this has been Scattered, Focused, Done, and I’m Marla Cummins, wishing you all the very best on your journey to reimagining productivity with ADHD.