Push the Pause Button

MC900432687Dr. Ned Hallowell, known best for his landmark book, Driven to Distraction, says that having ADHD is like living with a racecar brain. He says, “It will propel you to win many races in your lifetime,” but goes on to add, “there is (just) one problem – you have bicycle brakes.”

His statement acknowledges the power inherent in having ADHD, but also warns[�] Continue Reading

A Closer Look at Black and White Thinking

We all grasp the concept of black and white thinking – at least on the surface. It’s that all or nothing, love/hate response to people and events in our lives. We come by it naturally. Our parents delineated right from wrong by defining very clear standards. As teenagers, we often established our identities by latching on to one extreme or another.

Fortunately, as adults, we’re capable of seeing many perspectives, which clearly enriches our lives. But during times of stress or heightened emotions we can fall back to the primitive practice of categorizing things as one extreme or another. It gives us a temporary sense of strength and power. How many times have we said, “you never”, or “you always”, only to regret it later? Sure, there are occasions when we need to set firm boundaries, but too often the black or white mentality becomes our “go-to” stance that squeezes out other more balanced perceptions.

More damaging, is when we allow this type of thinking to infiltrate our inner lives. We can get into the habit of viewing ourselves in a very narrow, rigid way. Instead of seeing our small successes, we often dismiss them altogether leading to depression, increased anxiety and poor outcomes. Think of a time you received an average evaluation – whether it was about your overall performance or a specific assignment. Despite some favorable feedback, you probably held onto the criticisms and categorized the entire evaluation as negative. What if you viewed the full picture and saw your strengths along with your flaws. Wouldn’t that allow you to feel more hopeful?

When we live in a world of black and white we miss all those shades of gray, let alone the broad spectrum of colors that deserve our attention. Try to catch yourself when you begin to label people, events, and even personal options, in terms of one extreme or another. You might be surprised at how insidious the habit has become. Consider, instead, the many interpretations and possibilities available – and experience an expansive feeling that can add brilliant color to your life.


Feeling overwhelmed?

When things tip over the edge, it is easy to become overwhelmed. It’s not a pleasant feeling and can include rumination, dread, anger and frustration. To make matters worse, it often spirals into further scenarios such as blaming, getting into arguments and then self-recrimination. Because overwhelm is difficult to address, it’s not uncommon to push the envelope as a way of getting needed attention and support.

Rather than alienating those around you, it’s helpful to be able to calm yourself and regain a sense of balance. As simple as it sounds, having an acronym to rely on can help. For overwhelm, I created BEARHUG. I like that it highlights the need to embrace yourself, even (and especially) at times of frustration. Next time you’re overwhelmed, remind yourself of this acronym and say or do the following:


E   EVERYTHING will be okay

A   ALIVE … keep the perspective that you are alive and safe

R   RE-PRIORITIZE what’s important for the day

H   HANDLE just one item

U   UTTER kind words to yourself

G   GO forward GENTLY

But if you’re really worked up, first request a complaint session. Ask a close friend or relative to listen to you rant and range for 15 minutes, offering no advice or suggestions. It could be just the release you need and you might even find yourself laughing.



Indecision can be troublesome

“Where do you want to go for lunch? I don’t know, where do you want to go?

Sound familiar? Indecision can be troublesome. Not just for you, but for those around you. I am talking about chronic indecision that shows up when making small choices – like ordering off a menu, to large ones – like choosing a new career path. At its worst, indecision can be debilitating, using up enormous amounts of energy and leaving us feeling frustrated or even stuck in our lives.

Women are more likely to struggle with this issue than men because we’ve learned to be accommodating and to include other’s wishes in our decision-making process. Many years ago a relative gave me a refrigerator magnet that said, “I used to be indecisive but now I’m not sure.” I was truly surprised, and perhaps a little offended, because I saw myself as someone who knew what she wanted. But she was right. I often contemplated life decisions endlessly and let other’s opinions count far too much.

I still ponder certain decisions or explore multiple possibilities – for example, when making travel plans. And if I can afford the time, it’s a lot of fun. But when I used to cause the waitress to come back to our table for the third time, it was embarrassing. I now tell myself that whether I eat beef with broccoli or moo shoo pork is less important than the impact on those around me, including myself. I enjoy a greater sense of peace by putting the decision in perspective and knowing that I can easily live with my choice.

So why are we indecisive? Some people like to keep their options open. They postpone decisions long enough to see if something better comes along, especially when neither choice is particularly appealing. Or sometimes two options are equally compelling. There can be a tendency to believe that there is a “right” decision that if not chosen, will have dire consequences. This fear can be paralyzing, especially for someone who may lack confidence, or for analytic types who contemplate decisions in great detail. Some people are hesitant and cautious by nature, and place a great amount of importance on even the smallest decisions.

Those with ADHD can have a particularly hard time with decision-making. Combine distractibility with poor impulse control, and it is easy to see why. Often there’s a lack of clarity about complex decisions, and rather than taking time to gain a better understanding, why not procrastinate? Add the fear of messing-up again, and many people with ADHD frequently avoid making decisions altogether.

So what is one to do? You can let the expiration dates or sold out signs determine your fate – but that’s not always a good policy. Instead, ask yourself:

“Is this a big or a little decision?” If it’s a small one, choose to free yourself from the agony of indecision by training yourself to make a choice in two minutes or less. Take your “best guess” and you may find that your instincts will lead you in the right direction, especially with practice.

If it’s a large decision, remove the urgency. Accept that these types of decisions deserve your time and energy. Determine what you will need to make the decision – more information, the opinion of someone you trust, consideration of alternatives, or even professional guidance – and go about getting it. Consider the impact of making a “wrong” decision, and if it’s minimal, choose to spend less time contemplating it. Pick a final deadline for your decision and commit to sticking to it. And finally, consider this:

There is no perfect choice. It’s what we make of our decisions that matters.

If we can learn to cultivate an attitude that we can find happiness in either choice, it removes the pressure and puts the decision in perspective. Focusing on what we have in life rather than contemplating the “what-ifs”, is usually a lot more gratifying. We can still shoot for the moon and learn to make better decisions, but we also don’t have to kick ourselves when our choice isn’t perfect.


Stop being self critical

As adults, does it ever serve us well to beat ourselves up? I suppose that if you have a tendency to blame, or lack a sense of culpability, the answer might be yes! But for the rest of us, this unconscious tendency to be self critical can be truly detrimental. These destructive thoughts chew away at our sense of worth, damaging the footing we need to stand strong. I am all for personal evaluation and self-improvement, but when our thoughts turns into negative ruminations, I draw the line. When a friend makes a mistake, do we react the same way we would if we made the mistake ourselves? Usually not. We are kind and forgiving, and even make friendly jokes about their shortcomings. We would never berate them or judge their character on this one mistake.

But what about how we treat ourselves? Are we fair and forgiving? When was the last time you said or did something you regretted? Were you able to let go of it and move on, or did you re-play the situation in your mind and beat yourself up? David Giwerc, author of Permission to Proceed, often says, “What you focus on grows.” So do you want to focus on, say, being a fearful person who will never amount to anything – or does the idea of being a strong individual who is learning from her mistakes and getting the life she wants seem like a better message?

Become aware of this zapping demon that sneaks into your thoughts, and maybe even create a visual picture of him, along with a name. Every time he emerges, call out his name and tell him to get way from you! Live your life based on your values and your standards, and let go of the rest. If you make a mistake, think of what you’d say to a friend or close family member, and tell it to yourself instead. View your failures as a REALLY GOOD WAY to learn, and maybe you will even be thankful for them…later.