This is going to be one of those stories where I admit to avoiding, dodging, deferring, and resisting something that turned out to do me a world of good. Stay with me!
You know there’s a lot of confusion about adult ADHD and ADD. People don’t believe adult Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder exists. A lot of ADHD experts don’t like the term. It’s inadequate. Specifically, that it’s not just a deficit. It can be difficult to find reliable ADHD resources.
Attention is Only Part of the Problem
The idea that we suffer from a deficit of attention is a bit like saying someone with a broken arm has a problem with lifting things. Yes, that’s a part of the problem, but there’s a lot more to it than that. Who among us with ADHD only suffers from a deficit of attention? There are problems with emotional and physical sensitivity, or over-sensitivity. (OMG!) Time management. Planning. Procrastination. Prioritizing. There are a long list of ADHD symptoms, and not all of them apply to every person, but it’s not a deficit of attention. Many of us can hyper-focus. “You can’t have ADHD, you can focus just fine when you’re interested!”
I will hyper-focus when something engages my mind, but it is rarely what I’m supposed to be doing, want to be doing, promised to do, or desperately need to accomplish.
And even then, not always. Stuff still gets missed.
A Better Paradigm: Executive Function
That’s why I love the new view that is being talked about more and more: ADHD as a problem with Executive Functions.
Executive Functions. It sounds like a spy thriller. But I think it’s brilliant.
To get a sense of what Executive Functions are, simply consider what the top executives do at a large company. Let’s say it’s a company that makes toilets. (It’s just an example, ok?). The top executives don’t make the toilets, they don’t mix the porcelain, test the flush handle, or even work on design, engineering, sales, marketing, delivery, or a thousand other details.
That’s not their role. What do they do?
The Big Picture
Not having worked in a toilet factory, I’d guess executives would:
- Create and maintain a corporate vision
- Long-term planning, including setting production goals
- Set standards. Does the flush handle have to be made to last 500 years? Or just 10?
- Set deadlines
- Track the time, money, and resources being spent
- Coordinate different departments so that the porcelain bowl, metal flush handle, and rubber bladder thingee (that might not be the correct term), arrive at the same time, and the box, with the label and instructions, is ready and waiting
- Manage billing, invoicing, paperwork
- Deal with suppliers, bankers, and shareholders
- Approve designs, artwork, advertising campaigns. (“Flushed with success!)
- Check progress, following up and providing feedback
Disorganization, It Starts at the Top
Now imagine all the workers at this company, each diligently doing their job— casting the ceramic bowls, or creating the advertising campaign. They do great work. But the executives are NOT doing their job. They’re not managing things.
So, nothing is coordinated. Timing is off. Money or raw materials run out. Energy is wasted. Things are missed. Mistakes are made. Stuff goes wrong and there’s a struggle to fix it at the last minute. No decisions are made. Paralysis sets in…
Soon enough, despite everyone’s hard work and best efforts… it’s chaos. Overwhelm. Misery. And, low morale.
Eventually the whole toilet company goes… well, down the toilet.
It turns out that there are parts of your brain that handle the Executive Functions. The main area is the Pre-frontal Cortex. Tap your forehead. It’s just under there. It’s the last part of the human brain to evolve, and it’s what makes humans capable of so many amazing things.
How does this apply to adult ADHD? Well, the executives in my Executive Function are just not managing well.
Trust is a Big Issue
When your executive functions are dysfunctional, what do you do? Suffer, or find solutions.
In my early days writing for stage and radio, I had to create systems to keep track of scripts as they moved from a funny idea to a finished performance. It took time and energy that I felt could have been spent writing more comedy. But it had to be done.
When I began working in television I discovered a magical person: The Production Manager. This person took on the role of the show’s ‘Executive Function.’ He or she tracked and coordinated so much of what you see in the credits at the end of a show.
They don’t come up with the funny ideas, but make sure they actually get produced. Smoothly. They work with everyone to create a production schedule. They keep it humming along smoothly. Leaving me to just be funny. Wooooo hoooo!
At first, it was unnerving to have another person making all these decisions. I discovered I have, well, control issues. (Who me? Really?)
But… deep breath… I learned to let go. And they never let me down. Because they don’t think like I do. They love routine, structure, meetings. They can keep things in mind. They love the balancing act that requires constant shifting. A production schedule isn’t set in stone. It’s always evolving.
ADHD and Work
When I launched my own television series History Bites, I was the Producer and Director. I still had a strong team to support me, but work was taking everything I had. And then some. It was about then that I discovered coaching.
I’d like to be able to tell you that I instantly knew an ADD Coach would be the answer. But I didn’t even know what the right question was. All I knew was that I was overwhelmed with a thousand decisions. I couldn’t afford to spend an hour sitting and talking with someone. I didn’t have time to add anything more to my schedule.
Looking back, I can see that was a bit like driving around the North America at full throttle searching desperately for a particular destination that I had no idea how to find, and complaining, “I don’t have time to stop and check GPS.”
What Can An ADHD Coach Do?
Remember that list of Executive Functions? Managing time and resources? Checking progress, following up and providing feedback? Motivating and supporting? Keeping focused on goals? Yadda, yadda, yadda?
OMG! These are precisely the things my ADHD coach helps me with! My doctor is not my coach. She monitors my health, and works with me on medication.
My ADHD specialist, a psychologist who knows this disorder first hand, is who I turn to when I’m stuck, or working through emotional stuff. What my coach does is to help me create strategies and generate actions that work for me each day.
Every Superstar Has A Coach
The coach sees what I cannot. Just as a vocal coach helps an opera singer, or a golf coach helps the world’s best golfers improve their swing. Business leaders have business coaches. Entrepreneurs have mentors. Once upon a time artists, carpenters, masons, sculptors, and chefs apprenticed under masters.
My coach gives me straight talk, with much love. She reminds me of my priorities, checks in, nudges me when I go off course, and makes me pause to celebrate and acknowledge my victories so that they don’t slip by unnoticed.
I say all this because, when my wife Ava first suggested we try coaching, my reaction was tepid at best. “Oh, great! Another expense. Another to-do. Another thing to fit into my schedule.”
TotallyADD.com doesn’t have a Production Manager. So coordinating everything had fallen on my shoulders. There were a thousand things I wanted to do. A thousand things I could do. But some of the crucial things were not getting done.
The biggest gift my coach provides me is prioritizing, and keeping me focused on what is most important. Often in the face of my stubbornness. Or distractibility.
Who Will Tell You The Truth About Your ADHD?
Coaching has made a huge difference in mastering my ADHD. In ways I never would have anticipated. (See, I told ya I would get to this part of the story!)
A lot of adults with ADHD that we’ve spoken to have the doubts and questions I had about coaching. Some never even realized ADHD coaches exists.
Our coaching video explains the hows and whys of ADD Coaching. You’ll be surprised at the the many ways coaches work—in person, by phone, on Skype. You can create solutions and strategies customized to your needs: daily short calls, bi-weekly long calls, group calls, quick check-ins…
As ADHD coach Barbara Luther says, “There’s no one else in your life that’s going to tell you the truth, really truly, and listen and hear who you are, who you are becoming and what you really want—AND keep you working toward that. That’s the coach’s job.”