A television doctor once advised the Seinfeld character Frank Costanza to use the self-talk phrase “Serenity Now” as a strategy to manage his high blood pressure. The joke was that he screamed it in an angry voice with bulging veins! This is a funny way to use self-talk and if it makes you laugh you are halfway there to improving your mood. With all due respect to Mr. Costanza however, I decided to develop a somewhat more targeted approach.
Over the course of 15 years as a clinical psychologist I asked clients what they found to be the most helpful, and the least helpful tools we used in sessions. Based on their feedback, I created a top 38 list of helpful tools. That didn’t quite roll off the tongue like Serenity Now, so I came up with a more practical list of Six Super Skills (try saying that five times fast!)
Six Super Skills for Building Executive Functioning:
- Finding Gifts
- Setting Goals
- Stepping Stones
- Boosting Motivation
- Managing Mood
- Finding Focus
Notice how each of these skills will also help you manage your mood. For example, as you Find your Gifts, you gain self-respect and that will boost your mood.
Setting Goals invites a “future orientation” which creates …wait for it… “serenity now” by recognizing that you can create hope for your future if you don’t like where you are now.
Chunking goals into smaller parts allows you to take one small step, and feel like you are a champ for just getting started.
Boosting Motivation by asking the benefits of taking that small step helps you focus on completion, rather than on that “Just Not Feeling Like It Now!” moment.
Finding Focus includes exercise, and stress management, both of which will manage anxiety, and regulate mood.
As you can see, each super skill has benefits that interact with other goals you have for yourself to increase your ability to solve problems.
Every time you solve a problem you gain more executive functioning power.
Finding Your Gifts – Alanah’s Story
Alanah (not her real name), read one of my books and wrote to me to say that she was informed that she was removed from a project. Why? She was constantly “allowing other things to take priority.”
She was drowning in disappointment, shame, and anger for falling into this trap of failure. Alanah constantly replayed the situation in her mind, and wondered what happened, and how she could have prevented it.
A history of procrastination, insistence on perfection, and an inability to summon motivation unless working under extreme pressure, ensured that she would once again experience a perfect storm if she didn’t change course.
Alanah then set a goal to better manage a project when it became challenging or mundane.
Through reflection, and knowledge of the gifts of ADHD, she wrote out the following ten reasons she could succeed in the future:
- I am creative. I stopped focusing on how things should be and started looking at what innovative approaches I can take to overcome obstacles.
- I love to talk. I have a network of mentors that I can reach out to for support and to brainstorm ideas when I get stuck.
- I have learned to trust myself. I have reduced my negative self-talk and learned to not base my self-esteem on failures or successes.
- I can work under extreme pressure. I can create deadlines for myself to try to control my excessive procrastination.
- I incorporate fun. On a daily basis I find ways to reward myself by making time to do activities that bring me happiness and energy.
- I’m learning to be okay with boredom and discomfort. I have always run away from these emotions and now I can work to recognize them and accept them.
- I invite failure. I understand and am okay with failing multiple times before I learn to master something.
- I practice prioritizing tasks. I write down my daily tasks and weekly tasks to sort what needs to be prioritized.
- I visualize. I try to envision myself starting and completing the project even through the difficult parts to reduce any anxiety, fear, or worries.
- I reflect. I think of my past accomplishments and how I have been able to persevere through challenges in the past.
Self-Talk Strategies Build Super Skills
Alanah used this list, and turned it into an inner self-talk script to replace her fearful, ashamed inner voice. In a moment of self-doubt and frustration, she could tell herself, “I can change my future by being creative and remembering my past successes.”
It is through self-talk that the super skills are delivered to you at regular doses on an as needed basis throughout the day.
The words that we say to ourselves each day matter – they create the substance of the life that surrounds us.
Try this thought experiment:
- Imagine a problem you are trying to solve.
- What is your first thought about how to solve it?
- Now imagine yourself as more confident than you are now.
If it’s hard to imagine yourself as confident, think of someone you know who is super confident (Jerry Seinfeld or even Captain Picard!) and think of what they would say about how they would solve it.
Just by imagining yourself as more confident you can sometimes come up with new solutions and feel more motivated to get started.
Flexible Thinking Now!
Instead of trying to foist “Serenity Now” on yourself like Frank Constanza, you may have more luck with telling yourself “Flexible Thinking Now!” (Remember you don’t have to yell it, even!)
It’s not reasonable to feel serenity in the face of a real set back such as the one Alanah had. Managing mood doesn’t mean repressing, suppressing or screaming affirmations out loud. Rather it means finding a balance that accepts negatives, and amplifies reasons for hope.
By using the first super skill of Finding Strengths, Alanah found that she had many resources to set goals and create future success. She was able to see how she could create a different result in the future by using her creativity to problem solve, her social skills to build her network and building her confidence by choosing to focus on past successes.
About Lara Honos-Webb, PhD
Lara Honos-Webb, PhD is a clinical psychologist licensed in California. She is the author of the following books which are available on Amazon The Gift of Adult ADD, Six Super Skills for Executive Functioning: Tools to Help Teens Improve Focus, Stay Organized, and Reach Their Goals (2020), Brain Hacks, The Gift of ADHD, The Gift of ADHD Activity Book, The ADHD Workbook for Teens, and Listening to Depression.
Her work has been featured in USA Today, Newsweek, The Wall Street Journal, U.S. News & World Report, The Chicago Tribune, and more. Honos-Webb completed a two-year postdoctoral research fellowship at University of California, San Francisco, and has been an assistant professor for graduate students. She has published 26 scholarly articles. Her website is www.addisagift.com