Scattered and Distracted?  Your Executive Functions might be impaired.


Would people that you live or work with, say you struggle with:

a) Organizing tasks, estimating time, prioritizing, and procrastination?

b) Boredom, sustaining focus, and shifting focus to tasks?

c) Regulating alertness and effort, processing speed?

d) Reading social cues, managing frustration, perspective and modulating emotions?

e) Predicting consequences, utilizing working memory and accessing recall?

f) Impulse control and self-regulation?

What can you do about it??

Could it be ADHD?  Here are some tips to try.

TIP 1: Believe you can stop the impulse.

If you do not think you can stop the action, you are right.  It will feel bigger than you.  You have to not only believe in your heart that you can learn to manage it, but you also have to want to make the effort.  It is slow work.  These are established patterns and likely unconscious patterns and they won’t change quickly.  However, like turning an ocean liner around, it can be done and it will be worth it.  Unhelpful patterns may have felt bigger than you in the past (you “couldn’t help it”), but there is nothing more powerful than the made up mind.  Might not be sufficient on its own, but it is a mandatory component for impulse control.

TIP 2: Role play to practice buying yourself time to think

If you feel a reflex surge (to blurt for example), there is a free, no- charge split second put in there JUST FOR YOU, to buy yourself some time.  There is moment in time where you are actually making a choice (to act or not).  Think of it as a deciding muscle, which you can choose to use, or not.

Next time you are bored (waiting for a bus), recall what it looked like and felt like just before you did a blooper, regretfully acting on an impulse.  Now hit replay and re live that moment again and again in your head being very clear about choosing your response, with a better outcome.  This rewiring an algorythm is no different than an olympic diver or gymnast practicing a pattern in their head.  I’d say it is more in their heart, because it happens to fast that it is a felt motion rather than a thought motion.  Ideas* for buying time (Barkley):

> Before you answer someone, inhale slowly, exhale slowly, put on a thoughtful expression, and say to yourself, “Well, let me think about that.”

> Put a finger over your mouth for a few seconds, as if you’re considering what you’re going to say.

> Paraphrase or clarify and assumption you might need to make about what your boss or family member said to you: “Oh, so you want to know about…” or “You’re asking me to….”

> Imagine locking your mouth with a key to prevent yourself from speaking.

> Slow it down. Practice speaking slowly in front of a mirror. This will give your frontal lobes a chance to get some traction, to get engaged and see the big picture, instead of being swept along in the vortex of your impulses.

Tip 3  Leverage your learning

Do you beat yourself up for making the same mistakes again and again?

Adults with ADHD have weak nonverbal working memory, which means they either don’t recognize or don’t draw well from past mistakes to choose their response. Many of them hit every problem with a hammer, because they haven’t slowed down long enough to look at whether it really is a nail or not.  You must slow down, and ask, “When have I seen this before?  What happened last time?”

It might be extra hard to defer gratification, because they can’t call up the mental image of the prize that lies ahead. Recognise it takes time to access what you learned in the past when you need it in the future.  Like a diabetic, yes, it’s more work to have a healthy, low stress life, but oh so worth it.  There are so many ways you can capture your lessons.  Yes it’s a pain.

Tip 4: Do you prefer carrots or sticks?

Many ADDers are “time blind”; they forget the purpose of their tasks, so of course they are uninspired to finish them. Out of sight, out of mind.

Ask yourself, “What will I feel like when I get this project done?” It could be pride, self-satisfaction, the happiness you anticipate from completing the project. Whatever the emotion is, work hard to feel it, then and there, as you contemplate your goal.

When you sit down to continue working on the project, try to feel the future outcome and use what I call carrot or stick devices such as posting pictures of the rewards (or consequences).

If no one is dangling a carrot in front of you, you may need some convincing to keep up the effort.  When you recall the purpose of the exercise, invoke the felt sense of having it done.  If you are a Carrot person, you will do it because you are motivated by the positive opportunities that will happen and how great it will feel.

If you are a Stick person you will be more motivated by preventing a screw up or other emotionally costly situation (public shame, fines).  It is important to know what kind of projection you need to be focussing on to get motivated.  Each person is galvanized by slightly different aspects.  Know your values = what you really really care about.


Tip 5 Break it down to bite size

ADHD makes the future feel even further away.  Goals which require significant investment of time,  repetition, waiting periods, or in a sequence of steps can prove so elusive that you feel overwhelmed with discomfort.  This is a trigger which causes some ADDers to look for an escape and relief. They might call in sick at work or distract themselves when what they need is discomfort tolerance training.  Figure out which situations are likely to trigger you.  Do you panic with:

– multi-month long projects

– complex projects with too many moving parts?

– working without supervision?


Break down long-term tasks or goals into smaller units. If an end-of-the-day deadline seems remote to you, try half-hour chunks of work. Write down what you need to get done in each period, and run a highlighter over each step as you work on it, to keep your attention focused.

Make yourself accountable to another person. Most of us care what others think of us, and social judgment adds fuel to the fire to get things done.  Make yourself accountable to a supportive coworker, supervisor, or mentor.

Acknowledge and lock it in  with “I am a person who completes things” with this solid evidence. Congratulate yourself; take a short break; call or e-mail a friend or a relative to recognize what you’ve gotten done; give yourself a reward you enjoy a lot—just make it small and brief.

Tip 6  Watch your language

If you made a mistake, do not let nasty experiences from your past take up space in your head and take over your inside voice (precious RAM that you need today).  Don’t give free rent and language to self contempt, shame and other brutality to identity and worth.  Get the help you need to strengthen your healthy relationship to your choices; what you think , feel and do.  This takes effort.  But you can imagine how nice i would be, to be at peace with it so you have less noise in your head. If you happen to make a mistake, do the same with yourself as you would with a co-worker or dear friend:

  • You own the mistake.
  • You identify why the mistake happened.
  • You apologize and make no excuse by blaming others.
  • You promise to do better next time (putting in place the reminders or other tools to make sure of it)

Do these six tips and you will keep your calm confidence, self-esteem, your job as well as your friends.

You can do this.


*Have a look at Ned Hallowell  and Russell Barkley   have to say.

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