Welcome to ADHD Crash Course! Today we're going to talk about how you can change your self- talk. I'm going to give you some very specific steps that you can take to change your self-talk, but before I jump into that, why are people with ADHD particularly at risk of developing these funky, negative self-talk habits?
I work with adult women who are diagnosed with ADHD in adulthood, these are the majority of my clients. These are women that have gone through most of their lives with a mis-fit between their brain and the expectations, their brain and their environment and so they very often have a lot of frustrations, failures, disappointments, embarrassments that have to do with having the brain they have without the support.
What do we do when we have these experiences and we don't understand why? We make up stories, we tell ourselves stories. These are stories that have been knocking around in our brains for years or decades, a whole lifetime. These are stories like "I'm lazy, I'm not motivated, I'm stupid, I'm slow. I'm not a good friend."
Now, they may not be accurate stories, or fair stories, or kind stories, but these are very often the kind of stories that we have to untangle ourselves from as we learn to embrace our brains and manage life with ADHD.
Even if you were diagnosed much younger, but you didn't receive the strategies, the support, the understanding you needed to manage ADHD, you might also deal with this negative self-talk, negative explanations about why you weren't able to meet expectations.
Okay, so we have these negative thought habits, what do we do about it? How do we change this? I'm going to give you three steps for changing these habits in your thinking.
Step 1: Notice Your Thoughts
Step number one is noticing. You can't change something you don't notice. You can't change something that you don't see happening. This is easier said than done, right? We're constantly thinking. There was a recent study that showed that we have over 6000 thoughts a day.
You're not going to notice 6000 thoughts a day, but if we're trying to get intentional about this, we can check in with ourselves at certain times. Just notice, don't even try to change it, just notice, "Oh, this is how I'm thinking about this."
Another way of noticing is paying attention to what's going on in your body. Your thoughts and the feelings they generate show up in your body. If I'm angry, I'll feel it in my neck, in my head, and my jaw. If I'm embarrassed, it's the sinking in my stomach. There are physical ways that emotions show up and those are pretty much created by your thoughts. We go back, since it's really hard to notice those 6000 thoughts a day, we go back, we work backwards, just the same way we do with goals. We say, "Hey, I want to notice my thinking. So, I'll notice how it shows up in my body. And from there, I notice the emotion that I have, and from there, I notice the thought that preceded that and created that emotion. It's this kind of backtracking that helps us actually notice what's going on in our thought life.
Step 2: Get Curious
Okay, number two, this is one that I really feel so passionately about that I'm going to try to rein it in, but number two, (first, we noticed) number two is we get curious. This is the heart of what I do with my clients: curiosity. Someone tells me "I didn't do this thing. I don't know why" or " I did this thing. I don't know why it doesn't make any sense." There's always a why. It could be faulty thinking, it could be a bad strategy; there's always a why, we don't want to sabotage ourselves. We don't want to not be successful, or let people down, or let ourselves down.
I think accepting that as truth lets you get really curious. And so, here's how that curiosity plays out. I have a very dear client who a couple months ago, two or three months ago, ghosted me, hard. I was a little concerned about her because this wasn't so typical for her, so I reached out to her a couple of times, no answers, just radio silence, and I just had to kind of leave it at that because she wasn't really in contact.
A couple weeks later, she was in contact. When we chatted, she had a story that she was believing about herself about why she ghosted me. This is an awesome, compassionate, kind, caring, dedicated person and the story that she was telling herself and the story that she told me was just basically "I suck."
mean, she wasn't telling me I suck. She was saying she sucked. That would have been really mean if she told me I sucked and that's why she ghosted me. But anyhow... Wait, isn't that funny? Here I am talking about this, and I just said that would be really mean if she was saying that to me. Let's stop there for a second because that is true for me, too. I would never say the things that I say to myself to a friend, to a client...but we're okay to turn that in on ourselves.
Back to my client (who did not tell me I sucked but said that she sucked.) I was not buying it. I know this person and I know that there was a reason. Because it was not my story, I was more objective about what was going on. We got really curious together, and we uncovered some very obvious, clear reasons that didn't feel obvious to her at the time.
Number one is notice. Number two is to get curious. Assume that you don't have the answers about yourself and get curious about what's going on.
Step 3: Challenge
Number three is: challenge. Challenge the thoughts that are automatic thoughts, if they don't serve you. Cognitive flexibility, the ability for us to really look at things from different angles and be flexible with our thoughts, is a common struggle for people with ADHD. It's an executive functioning skill and because it's a skill, it can be practiced, but you might need to approach it a little bit differently than some other people.
One of the things that I suggest for my clients who are having a hard time talking back and fighting their thoughts is that they make the goal smaller. If you believe that you are this unreliable failure and that you are so flighty and flaky, and that you're just never going to amount to anything, (I hope you don't believe that. But let's say you do), and you pull up a list of positive affirmations that says, "You're amazing, you're a winner, you're going to be a success!", your brain is going to call BS. Your brain is going to say "That sounds way different, totally opposite from what I believe to be true. I'm uncomfortable, and that's yucky and I don't accept it."
Stretch the thought
Your brain needs a bridge from what you think about yourself right now to what you will be thinking about yourself in the future. The bridge between "I'm horrible at my job, I'm going to get fired. Today, I'm going to make so many mistakes because I'm a failure." is going to be "I can do an okay job, I'm going to be good enough today in my job, I'm going to most likely keep my job at the end of the day."
Now, that might sound like "meh". And if you can bump it up, good, bump it up! But if that's all that feels possible, start there. You'll start building some flexibility in thinking, "Is there any other way to explain this? Is there any other way that I can think about this that's a little bit different than the way I'm thinking about it?" and that takes that pressure off.
You don't have to turn around and be an inspirational speaker, you just need to be changing the story a bit. If you in some way disrupt this story that feels so true, that will move you from automatic stories to a place that is not automatic, to more objective thinking, to more balanced thinking, and ultimately, to more positive thinking about yourself.
Ask for evidence!
Another way that you can challenge negative thoughts that you're having about yourself, is to ask yourself for evidence. Our negative thinking about ourselves is typically really emotional, distorted thinking. These thoughts can be based on fortune telling, (thinking we know what's going to happen, because something happened in our past), these thoughts can include thinking that we know what others around us are thinking, emotional thinking (assuming because we feel a certain way that has to be the truth). When you have this kind of thinking, challenge it, ask for the evidence, ask for the facts and use that to push back against these thought habits.
I'm going to give you one more example before I close out today about what this looks like from my life. Last week, last week was fall break for my kids, that meant we had no school and kind of low structure. A lot of times we travel during that week, a lot of families in our area travel during that week, but we didn't.
We stayed put and we just kind of had this really mellow, chill week. Also, during that week, I committed to play a tennis match for a team. I completely forgot about this match. You know when you feel like you have something that you're forgetting, and you're like, "Oh, I should probably check my calendar for something." Yeah, this was not like that.
I just woke up that morning, "What should we do with ourselves? Let's go to the Greenway and bike and walk!" I look at my phone and I'm getting a call from the captain of the team. And I'm thinking, "Oh, why is she calling me?". Then I realized... it's Thursday. And had that sinking feeling that I get when I've dropped the ball.
You may think, "Oh, well, it's really not a big deal. It's a tennis match." And in the grand scheme of things, it's not, but it was a mistake that didn't just stop with me. The consequences rippled out to other people. Without boring you with too many details, in these teams, the people that are playing have to play in order and if I'm not there, they had to pull other people to cover my spot, which meant there was nobody to play their spot. It also pulled somebody out of a partnership. So, somebody showed up, and they didn't get to play because their partner was covering my spot.
Then the team lost a point because of it. The opponents that showed up, two people showed up that didn't get to play. It was really embarrassing because it affected other people and I really struggled with my thinking about this. Feeling like "Seriously, I'm such a flake. I'm so flighty. I can't believe I dropped the ball here." and I was just bummed, but I had a choice.
I could keep going with the story that I was telling myself about being a flake and being flighty, or I could choose to push back on the story, and I did push back on the story. What did that involve? It involves looking realistically, objectively at the situation.
Part of that is admitting, "Yeah, this was something that rippled out and caused consequences for other people and that is a bummer", but another part of that is looking at this objectively and saying, "Hey, here's the circumstances going on. We're on fall break, I'm out of routine, I'm not checking my calendar and using the strategies that I normally use to organize the day and to keep from forgetting things." Another objective thought about this is that these kinds of mistakes can happen to anyone, just because I made a mistake like this does not mean all the things that my mind was so willing to jump to.
I do think that when you live with ADHD, especially when you have lived with unsupported ADHD for a long time, you end up a little hyper vigilant about your mistakes and really beating yourself up about them. I was able to move past my little tennis match debacle and I have faith in you, I know that you can do the same for yourself.
So, wrapping up... today, we looked at the steps we can take if we want to change our negative thought habits about ourselves. The first one is noticing; just being able to pinpoint when this is happening. Number two was getting curious, being curious is the opposite of being judgmental. When we're being curious, we're suspending judgment because we're collecting more information, we're figuring it out.
And number three is challenge. Challenge the stories that are automatic. Challenge the thoughts that pop into your head simply because they've always been in your head. It's worth pushing back. If you can't push back with a 180 opposite, push back with a little "stretching" of that story, a little changing of that story. Anything you do here is moving you in the right direction!
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