Have you ever encountered a friend while you were out, waved and said “Hi”, but they just kept walking without acknowledging you? In the following days, did the thought that they might be mad at you arise? Did you think that for some reason they didn’t like you anymore? This is just an example that most people can relate to, but it is these kinds of thoughts that often keep us in a state of discontent. The problem is that some thoughts have been playing in our mind for so long that we aren’t even conscious of them. When you catch yourself thinking these negative thoughts, it is a good time to question them. For example, if you find yourself in the above situation, you could stop and ask yourself, is it possible that she was so deep in thought that she didn’t even notice me? Is it possible she has something serious going on in her life right now? Then you conclude that maybe you should call to check on her. You call your friend, and she confirms she didn’t see you and had some stress at home that day. Sometimes we miss the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of others because we are too worried about what they are thinking about us. What if you had asked yourself the same questions right at the moment she was passing?
Quite a few years ago, I was certain that my boss wasn’t happy with me. I was struggling with a situation that was outside my control and wasn’t happy that I couldn’t produce the results I had hoped for on a project. Let’s just say it caused me a bit of strife. A few days later I got the fateful call that my boss’ boss wanted to see me. I thought “oh no, here we go.” When I got to his office I was a bit nervous. I sat down trying to remain calm, but all the worst thoughts were coming to the surface. Thankfully, I must have hidden it well. The reason he called me was to announce that I was being given a promotion as well as a new project. He told me that my boss mentioned to him how great of a job I was doing. My problem was just a story that had been playing in my mind that caused my panic, and had been since I was very young. (More about that in another post.) In retrospect, I remember several people telling me how difficult the project was. I also remember some positive comments from other colleagues. If I had only stopped to question the story I was telling myself, then I may have realized that all that worry was for nothing. The truth is that we all have reason to distrust what we think about ourselves or a situation. This is something that has been incredibly freeing for me. At first it made me uncomfortable, but now it has opened up a whole new world to me. I learned that just because I believe something is true doesn’t make it true.
Not long after I had this epiphany, two friends called me. One of them is politically liberal, and the other is really conservative. I would never willingly put the two of them in the same room to talk. I had a similar conversation with both of them about the details of a current political issue and was incredibly surprised that they both said almost the same thing. I realized that unless we question what we believe, we will end up being so invested in what we believe that we won’t even be able to hear the other person. If you have been to a counselor or life coach, you may be aware that most of the progress that is made is the result of the counselor or life coach asking questions, not giving advice. Do you think that learning to question those negative thoughts could possibly help with something you are going through? If it would alleviate the issue, would it at least be worth giving a try?
I was sitting in my office this morning thinking about a work related effort, and had some ideas. I started to get really psyched about the possibilities. It’s that excitement you get when you think you are about to start something really awesome. I started thinking about specific next steps. Almost immediately my mind went to all the reasons this wasn’t going to work, and all the negative reactions that were going to come from my colleagues, and our leadership.
Before I got carried away with these negative thoughts, I was able to stop myself and thought about the reality behind these negative thoughts and about the ideas I had. The first thing I realized is that these negative thoughts had no basis in reality, and were really my unconscious trying to protect me from hard work and possible personal failure.
The reality is that the company and leadership I work for is completely open to feedback, and ideas from colleagues. The ideas themselves were pretty good, but needed some further thought and would have to be approached with tact, and a collaborative perspective.
After thinking this through I came up with a more realistic approach, with a good sense of the realities around the effort. There are two things to recognize here, first I wasn’t thinking through all the details up front, and second that instead of letting those negative thoughts sabotage the whole effort, I was able to take a bit of time to think it all the way through.
I shared this personal story with you because I know that no one is immune from the negative thoughts that sometimes, or often try to hold us back from achieving an outcome. In my case, It is the result of a Mindfulness practice and learning to live more in the present that has helped me to learn to stop those thoughts from sabotaging my efforts. It is also a deeper understanding of our three levels of conscious.
A while back I posted this blog entry on the topic of levels of consciousness. Understanding these three levels of consciousness is the foundation for learning why Mindfulness works. It is creating a separation from the constant thinking, and your conscious mind. It is developing this separation that allows you to stop sabotaging self-talk.
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The misnomer in ADHD is “Attention Deficit”. It is not a deficit of attention, it is a deficit in in being able to put your attention where you want it. It is a matter of executive function, which is to say a deficit in the part of the brain that acts to help us maintain control over what we feel we need to get done. Discipline is one of the greatest difficulties for our faster than normal brains. The real question is how do we overcome the executive function deficit? How do we learn to pay attention? There are many studies showing the effects of a Mindfulness Practice on the physical structure of the brain. The area of the brain behind your forehead is the prefrontal cortex. This is the part of the faster than normal brain that is not the same as someone who is neuro-typical. If you want to increase muscle size and stamina then you will need to go to the gym and put in some work, which isn’t always easy. I will say that beginning my Mindfulness practice, and learning to calm the incessant chatter in my mind was a much easier process than getting results at the gym. It was also much more pleasurable. Within a few weeks I started to notice improvement, not only in attention but in mood. The first step of your Mindfulness journey is learning how to live in the present moment. There are a lot of videos on Mindfulness, but I picked this one because the content is really simple and straight forward. Welcome to your mindful journey. Let me know how this goes for you.
“If you always do what you always did, you will always get what you always got.” — Albert Einstein
Following through on the things I start has been one of the greatest challenges in my life. It is difficult for everyone, but especially difficult for the ADHD brain to persist to the finish line. If it isn’t required to maintain the status quo it often won’t get done. The reality is that goals only get achieved when action is taken. What are some practical things we can do to help ensure we persist in reaching our goals?
Once you have a goal take a fifteen minutes or so and write down what achieving that goal will mean for your life. Read and visualize that paragraph every day. Sometimes we get these great ideas, that we don’t think through before we set out. If you can’t recall the excitement that caused you to set the goal it will be difficult to persist.
Have an accountability partner. Find someone in your life to share your goal with and help hold you accountable. Make sure the person you choose is not a dream stealer. Some people mean well and want to warn you about all the risks associated with your goals. They may mean well, but they will hold you back if you let them. If you don’t have a person in your life to fill that role find and hire a life coach.
View achieving your goal as a Marathon, not a sprint. It is important to realize that any goal worth achieving is going to take time. I have heard it said that people overestimate what they can get done in a day, and underestimate what they can get done in a year. If that is true for everyone then it is certainly true for the ADHD brain.
Make your bed. Discipline is going to be required to achieve any worthwhile goal. Start developing “small” daily disciplines like making your bed, or keeping your room clean. After this discipline has become a habit, (30 days) add another “small” discipline. If you add one new small habit every thirty days your growth with be exponential, not additive.
What if you get off course? If you get off course, don’t beat yourself up, just get back at it. One of the things that hold many of us back is that we don’t cut ourselves enough slack. Keep in mind you are not a machine. You are a perfectly imperfect human being like everyone else.
Before I wrap this post up I wanted to share an insight that has helped me drastically in achieving more of what I want in life. Nothing frustrates me more than having someone chide me with “just pay attention”, or the famous “try harder”. It is true that paying attention would really go a long way in helping us to achieve our goals. It occurred to me that I never asked the right question when someone told me to “just pay attention”. How? That is the question I never thought to ask. Mindfulness is the answer to that question.
Do you struggle with racing thoughts? Are you often attacked by negative emotions that make you believe some form of the idea that you are no good? Is your self-confidence low? Do you often see the negative in things, and rarely see the good? If you answered yes to these questions, you are not alone. Many more people that you think experience these problems. Everyone experiences them at some level. I am writing this post today because eight years ago I had an ADHD life coach who introduced me to Mindfulness. I didn’t do much with it at the the time. During my educational journey to becoming a life coach myself, I discovered something that lead me back to Mindfulness. Once I learned what I am about the share with you, Mindfulness became a powerful tool for me. One that has helped me to catch negative thoughts, and simply acknowledge and let them go. I became aware that all those negative thoughts were not me. I was someone different than those thoughts. This post is broken down into two sections. The first is “Levels of Consciousness” the second is “Mindfulness”. I did it this way because it is learning the levels of consciousness that caused me to see the great value of Mindfulness.
Levels Of Consciousness
We all have thoughts coming at us all the time. Sometimes they are coming at a furious pace, and other times a little slower. Sometimes they are encouraging, and other times they are telling us we are no good. I was exposed to Freud’s Iceberg Theory several times before it really impacted me. Imagine your mind as an Iceberg. The surface of the iceberg above the water represents our conscious mind. It contains all the thoughts that we are aware of at any given time. Just below the water’s surface there is another area that represents the subconscious ( preconscious ) mind. This is where the answer to queries like 2 +2 = 4, and other facts and memories are stored. When someone asks you a question that you know the answer to the answer is called back to consciousness. The largest area in the conscious structure is the unconscious mind. This is the area of the Iceberg well below the water’s surface. This is where unconscious memories, events, and emotions are stored. The majority of these items were stored prior to your tenth birthday. This is also where most of our values, opinions, and worldview come from. The unconscious mind is the source of the thoughts that constantly come to mind, and the sometimes negative emotions that accompany them. When I was three years old I lost my dad, which had a tremendous impact on me. The problem is I don’t remember much about my dad or even missing him. My mom recalls that I cried for days, and was a complete train wreck. All those emotions are still stored in my unconscious mind, even though I can’t remember their source. Just before working on my life coaching certificate, I took a college counseling class. Our professor, to whom I will always be grateful was an experienced trauma counselor. She knew that many of her students were interested in the helping professions, because they had deep hurts themselves. For this reason the vast majority of the lessons were accompanied by homework that was designed to help us pick our own lives apart. I had heard Dr. Jordan Peterson say in a several talks that “People don’t know what they are up to”. I didn’t know exactly what he meant until I understood the impact of our unconscious mind on our daily actions. If you want to overcome issues in your life it is important to recognize the thoughts are causing those issues. It is not an easy task to recognize much less change the negative thoughts and emotions as they enter your mind. This is where the power of Mindfulness can come to your rescue.
Mindfulness or mindful meditation can be practiced in a number of ways. There are a lot of great resources on Mindfulness. Lot’s of TedX talks on Youtube. For those of us with ADHD being attentive or mindful doesn’t come naturally. The most common way of practicing Mindfulness is just to turn off all distractions like television, smartphones etc.. You can sit or lie quietly in a comfortable position. Relax, take a couple deep breaths, and just purposefully become aware of your environment. You can do this with eyes open or closed. Notice the sounds in your environment. Maybe the sound of a running refrigerator, birds chirping, or the sound of a ceiling fan. If you have any thoughts enter your mind just gently acknowledge them and go back to put attention on your breathing or sounds around you. I takes a while to quiet the mind, that is why they call it practice. I will typically do this about 20 minutes or so twice per day. Even if you only do two minutes a couple times a day you will notice a difference. Once you learn to quiet your mind, you will catch thoughts as the come. When you do just acknowledge them without judging and go back to whatever you are focusing your attention on. Many people use their breath as an Anchor to go back to. Another way to practice Mindfulness is to take a simple task, and for a minute or two try to quiet your mind and perform the task paying attention to every small action. An example of this would be what I am doing right now. Normally I type instinctively and pretty quickly. Right now I am paying attention to every letter I type. I am doing it deliberately, and slowly. Paying attention to every space and character and not thinking about anything else. Spending time alone in nature with no distraction is another great way to increase Mindfulness.
Go back and watch some of the YouTube videos linked above. If you would like to find out more about Life Coaching, go the contact page and send me a message. I do a thirty minute online consulting session free of charge.
I am not a big on setting New Years resolutions. I believe our resolutions won’t likely be successful, if it is only the time of year that inspires them. I do however think that if you have some days off during the holidays, it is a great time to review your goals. If you don’t have formal, written goals then it might be a good time to do that. As I was reviewing and adjusting goals this year, I realized something. Over the last three years I have made some significant progress on my goals. I figured out why. When I used to set goals I focused completely on the outcome, and then would try to figure out what tasks would need to be done to achieve them. Of course the real work of achieving goals is pretty tough, so I found myself not wanting to do the hard work to reach the goals. This lead to disappointment. In the last few years I must have subconsciously realized what I am going to share with you today. What I realized is that I have learned to find more fulfillment in the activities that help me achieve my goals. The primary fuel that will help you achieve your goals is discipline. Sometime during 2019 I read a book called “Make Your Bed” by William H. McRaven. It talked about starting your day with a win by making your bed. I started the habit of making sure our bed was made every morning. Then I started paying closer attention to other small habits. During 2020 I started two more new habits. Habit 1 was to read my devotions every morning. Later in the year I added at least ten or fifteen minutes of exercise every morning. The key is that these activities became goals themselves, and were small, and achievable. Don’t get me wrong, it took a while to develop the habits. When I did develop the habits I felt better about myself. As I look at my goals now, I notice that no matter how big the goals I am always focused on the next step. That next step is to just add to the disciplines I already have. If you really want to achieve big goals, and you don’t already have daily disciplines, then those might be the best goals to start with. During 2020 I took a college course, completed a lengthy Life Coaching certificate course, worked fifty to sixty hours a week in my job, and am on my way to transitioning into my retirement career. I was also able transition my job from what I used to see as a soul sucking job into something much better. I started creating disciplines and focusing how my job helped my colleagues, and helped me to be more disciplined. As you prepare to make 2021 better than 2020 set small discipline goals to start. It feels good to win. Make your goals small and focused on discipline. The achievement of those goals will become fuel for your larger goals. Also notice the thing I didn’t talk about. I didn’t talk about how terrible 2020 was. That is a focus for another post, but I do want to say “focus on things you can control”. Hope this helps.
I always chuckle when I hear a CEO or any other successful person proclaim they are self made. While they may have lead the effort, the amount of work they did themselves is a tiny fraction of all the work that was done to get them where they are. In the same way you are going to need other people in your journey. People like life coaches, and those that will love you and support your journey to a better life. When I started my journey I didn’t really have either. I did eventually get a life a coach who helped me to get the ball rolling. That was the real beginning of my forward momentum. If you look in the right margin of the bapcinco.com home page, you will see two of the things that my life coach introduced me to. Mindfulness, and Green Time were both tools that helped me to get to where I am today. If you are in a position where you can’t afford coaching, look for someone around you to share your journey with. Someone who will support you in your efforts and hold you accountable. Make sure they are really a positive person who has your best interests in mind. This process might take bit, but you will be surprised who might step up to help you out. A lot of clients think a life coach is going to somehow make their journey easy or be able to do things for them. A life coach is there more than anything to guide you in coming to the conclusions that will move you forward. In the end of the first post in the Foundations series, I talked about “knowing what you are up to”. There are reasons that you act the way you do, and for the most part we are all a bit clueless about what we really up to and why. A good certified life coach will listen closely to you and help you uncover the unseen motivations, and traumas that impact you. Once you know what is impacting you, your coach can then help you to put together a plan for overcoming your challenges. Do a Google search in your area for ADHD life coaches, and counselors. Try to find someone with reviews and high satisfactions scores. I know she has quite a lot going on, but Casey Dixon was tremendous help in getting me headed in the right direction. As you begin the process of finding someone to help support your efforts, get a piece of paper or a word processor and start thinking about and writing down what you are looking for a life coach to help you with. If you have goals and you haven’t written them down, do that too. There is some power in putting your goals on paper. Once you know you really want to change, and you have someone to help keep you accountable, the progress will begin. I am so convinced of the value of coaching, I am currently working through a life coaching certification myself.