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E32. ADHD, Self Awareness, and Planning for the Worst

Welcome to ADHD Crash Course! Today we're going to talk about when not to be an optimist. If you've listened to me for a while, you know that shifting our beliefs into something that is realistic, yet a lot more positive and optimistic, is important to me. It's important to me personally and in the coaching that I do. When does being an optimist actually jam us up?

When we're unrealistically optimistic, we don't plan for what we need

This is a weird subject. The funny thing about many of the people that I work with, myself included, is that we can often be optimistic when we're planning for the future in these specific situations. We just don't anticipate anything going wrong. We don't plan for what we actually need. Let me give you a few examples of that.

Many of you know that I deal with working memory issues, and that shortest term memory is really tough for me. Oftentimes, something that I'm wanting to hold in my brain for a short period of time does not happen. The tricky thing with working memory, though, is that sometimes it does. I believe this is why so many of us spend a long time not compensating for this. There's times we remember, and there's times, of course, that we forget.

The relative importance of something (how much it matters to us) isn't always a factor in whether or not we remember. That saying that "the definition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting different results"? The tricky part with working memory is that you do get different results. Sometimes you assume you're going to remember the thing, and you remember it, there's no problem. Sometimes you assume (or even know) you're going remember the thing, and it doesn't happen.

Rather than just making the broad assumption that, hey, this is not consistent enough for me to rely on it (the fallout is too big), we keep operating by expecting that version of ourselves to show up.

What I found in my life, and what I've definitely seen in others lives that I'm working with, is that we don't really get control over which "memory us" shows up. I use this example in one of my courses.

If I'm on a boat, on the lake, and I step out of the boat, I don't expect that I'm going to walk on the water. I will need to have a plan for how I'm going to float. I will need a plan for how I'm going to swim. I wouldn't walk out thinking I'm going to go stroll across the water. If sometimes I hopped out of the boat and I could walk on water (I could kind of mosey away), it'd be harder to know, "when do I wear a lifejacket?"

When do I plan to swim? Sometimes that will show up for me. When I talk about not being optimistic, I'm talking about planning for the version of you that's going to forget. That may seem like an extra step if sometimes you're remembering, but we think about it like our insurance. Even though sometimes we very well may show up, we just want to plan for the time that that we're not.

This is so we're not having all of this riding on us. This is so we're not having so much at stake every time when we're expecting that we're going to remember. Part of that is just changing the expectation of yourself, saying, "Hey, I don't know which me is showing up, and that's cool. I'm just going to plan for the one that forgets." Part of that is changing the expectation of the people around you.

Planning for the less reliable version of you can help! Here's 4 tips for how to do that!:

1. Plan for the version of you that won't remember

I've used this example before about how my kids and my husband know at this point, if I'm walking across the room to go do something else, don't tell me what you need me to put on the grocery store list. Don't tell me what you need me to order for your class.

Get that sucker in writing if you actually want it to happen. I mean, you can tell me. You can tell me while I'm walking across the room, and I can think I'm going to remember it. You can expect me to remember it, but then two weeks later, when you need that book for your class, or next week, when you were really hoping that thing was going to be in the pantry for your lunch, it's not going to be there.

You know, we could all be frustrated about that, or we can plan for the me that's not remembering it. That means texting me, or writing it down on our grocery list on the refrigerator. There are different systems that we have for supporting my memory, and even supporting everyone else's memory. This is so that we don't all have to hold that information in our head.

That is not being an optimist (technically) about my working memory skills, and that's okay. That's part of planning for the brain that I have.

2. Plan for the version of you who is less energetic

Another thing that we often can be optimistic about is our energy level. We might put things off assuming that we will have the energy to pull an all nighter, or to knock things out at the last minute. I've noticed this gets harder as I get older. There were times that I could more consistently rely on being able to stay up late, or being able to knock things out. The adrenaline of those things, being late or due, really helped me be productive.

That was assuming that I had the energy to do that. Now if I put things off, sometimes I just can't stay up to complete something that I need to do. I can't really rely on that energy showing up, even with a more emergency situation where I've got to get this thing done. That's assuming a lot that I'm going to have that energy, especially when our energy (all of us) tends to fluctuate.

I'm working with someone who has ADHD and a chronic illness that impacts her energy (in addition to ADHD). Oftentimes, that is easier for people to recognize and for us to work with. It is easier (to know they need to plan) when they know that there is a "different energy them" that's going to show up every day. It's really outside of their control, and sometimes with ADHD, I think it takes us longer to get there. It takes us longer to recognize that our energy is not always in our control.

Now, on our side is our techniques that we can use and that can help our energy. I have a free training on my website about sensory strategies. This is my background as an OT. You can use sensory strategies to hack and increase your energy. There are things that you can do (I definitely would use that as a tool) if that's interesting to you. You can sign up, it's free on my website. Others had some great feedback about it, and how it's really been helpful as people have applied it.

Even with those strategies, if you just don't have it that day, those strategies might help you bring your energy level up to a more functional level. It doesn't mean you can pull off this all nighter, like maybe you're expecting. Sometimes we're optimistic about our energy and we're not realistic about the fact that some of that's really out of our control. That fluctuates probably more with someone with ADHD than it does with a neurotypical brain.

That's just something that we work through with our brain types. Planning our day and planning what we need to do with the assumption that we're going to have a lot of energy is oftentimes optimistic in a way that's unrealistic, and sets us up for failure. You want to plan for a more balanced version of your energy. Maybe you can plan for your low energy.

3. Plan for things to take more or less time than you expect

Another way that we are overly optimistic, and this is so common for us, is time. A lot of times with ADHD, when we're looking at time, and we're trying to plan for time, we plan for time that goes seamlessly well. When we're making our plan for how long it's going to take us, let's say to get out the door in the morning and get to work, we plan for kids that find their shoes. We plan for cell phones that no one has to call in order to locate. We plan that your phone ringer is on, so when they call it, you're able to find it.

We plan for zero traffic, and zero forgotten homework assignments that we're running back in the house to grab. We plan for things to go about as well as we can imagine them going. We don't buffer in extra time for all of those things that add up in a significant way.

Let's say you're trying to get out the door at 8:30, so you can take 30 minutes to drive to work. You've been a complete optimist, and you've not buffered in any of those things I just described. You could very well be getting out the door at 8:50, still needing to take 30 minutes to drive to work. For example, in our area (in the Atlanta area) if you leave 20 minutes later, you could have a totally different traffic situation. It's usually worse when you're dealing with a city's traffic.

If you're a little bit later, you could be adding 15 extra minutes or 20 extra minutes to your commute. Then suddenly, you need to be at work by nine, but you're actually rolling in at 9:30. This is because you were overly optimistic about what that morning would look like, or what could get in your way.

4. Plan for "friction" that can prevent you from building new habits

Another area that we can be unhelpfully optimistic in is when we're trying to build a new habit. I've done an episode about habits. In that episode we talk about friction, and how friction can really prevent us from keeping with our habit, or starting our habit in a day to day way.

If my plan is to get up and work out, and I can't find my running shoes, that extra friction with a brand new habit can be enough to derail you. If you've done that every day for lots of days, weeks, and months, then you're kind of grooved in there. You're grooved into that habit and automaticity, and you're potentially going to keep looking for your shoes.

I'm just starting that habit and I've not planned for, "Okay, what could jam me up, and how do I want to plan for that?" Well, if I'm planning for that, then I'm going to have those shoes next to my bed. I will have thought about that negative thinking, in a way. I will have though about what will go wrong, or what could go wrong.

A lot of what I train my brain to do on a habitual basis is generating the positive, thinking about the possibilities, and reworking some of that negative bent energy that we all have. When it comes to supporting my brain and planning, I often plan for the less optimistic version of how I show up, because it's a really much better support to me.

It doesn't leave me feeling frustrated that I'm late. I don't know why I can't get this habit going. I just don't do habits. I forgot that thing again. Oh, I'm so undependable. None of that is true, but that we believe that's true. We think that's true.

When we are overly optimistic and don't plan on supporting the brain we have, we're expecting the most reliable version of our brain and of ourselves to show up. It certainly does show up that way sometimes, but we don't have control over this. We can maximize supports and the things that we know we need for that best version of us to show up. That can really help us build trust in ourselves in our ability to show up the way we want to during our day.

That's it for today. Of course, most of what we do, we want to be optimistic. We want to see the possibilities as a great part of planning for our future as well. When it comes to taking our vision (what we're excited about), and applying it in a really practical day to day way, we want to plan for what's going to go wrong. We want to plan to support ourselves in every way we can.

We maximize our chance of actually meeting the goals that are important to us. Thank you so much for joining me today.


Interested in learning more about my group coaching program, Embrace Your Brain? Considering 1:1 coaching or have other questions for me? Please feel free to contact me here.

Learn how to use sensory input to change your energy and focus! Register for my FREE Sensory Strategies for ADHD workshop here.


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