The ADHD Solutions Blog

Closing the ADHD confidence gap

Someone said to me recently, "I can only imagine how your results will soar when your confidence rises to the level of your expertise."

Confidence? Hm? I haven't thought of myself as lacking confidence for a long time. But he could be right. There are still times when I procrastinate, or avoid doing something entirely, because of self doubt. For example calling a nationally renowned psychiatrist to introduce myself. Or  approaching the folks at ADDitude magazine about carrying my blog.

I'm an expert in my field, with years of training and experience. I get accolades from nearly everyone I work with. How could I still be struggling with this? Confidence issues are so high school.

Hm, high school. Maybe that's the answer. I had severe undiagnosed ADHD (early '80s, rural Pennsylvania, we'd never heard of it). My nickname was "Dizzy" even though I had an IQ of... well I won't reveal that. My Mom was constantly asking me, "How can someone so smart be so STUPID?!?"

Naturally I grew up believing I was completely inept.

Let's trace the confidence lifecycle of the typical ADHDer:

Infant: Doesn't do much besides eat, sleep, and poop. She's pretty confident she can handle those responsibilities.

Elementary school: Begins to take risks, begins to notice failures, begins to wonder why she's different than other kids.

Middle/high school: Hits the wall. "Other kids don't struggle like this, what's wrong with me?" If an ADHD diagnosis is made, now she has a label, probably an IEP, and maybe a behavior chart. If the disorder is not explained thoroughly and compassionately to her and everyone she interacts with, self esteem issues are compounded. But happily, when she starts getting the help she needs, her confidence improves.

College and early adulthood: Finds her niche, discovers something she excels at. Confidence soars. But early wounds may still lurk beneath the surface.

How to improve confidence? I'm not a fan of avoiding the "f-word" (failure) to boost self esteem. There's huge pride in failing at something, trying again (perhaps repeatedly), and eventually succeeding. If you only do the easy stuff, you aren't going to feel very good about yourself in the long run.

Here are some ways to boost your confidence as an ADHD adult:

* Set up situations where you can fail safely. A martial arts class, for example.

* Stretch. Do something that's just a little outside your comfort zone every day.

* Visualize your successes, past and future.

* Solicit and re-read testimonials and fan mail, even if they're from your mom.

* Fake it til you make it. Act like you're confident, and soon you will be.

* Dress the part. Wear clothes that make you feel powerful.

* Prepare. If it's information you need, get it. Practice.

Try some of these tips before going into situations that require confidence, such as public speaking. Also call on them to help you take the chances in life that will move you towards your goals.

Alternate your “shoulds” and “wants”

ADHD is a world of extremes.  Some days we can’t seem to do anything productive.  Other days we only allow ourselves to work on the things we should, at the expense of everything else.  Life becomes a drudgery.

There has to be a balance somewhere.  But how to achieve it?

Try alternating your “shoulds” and “wants”.  Whenever you accomplish a not-so-interesting task that needed to be done, reward yourself by working on something you want to do.  Something more fun.  Then choose another item from your “should” list and get that done.  And so on.  As long as you limit the duration of the fun stuff, you’ll probably get more done that way.   Rewards are a great way to motivate yourself.

A variation on this theme works if you’re trying to eat more healthy foods.  For example, I was dying for some apple pie the other day.  So I ate some carrots.  Then I ate the pie.  No, not the whole pie!  Just a small piece.  I ate less of it because I was full from the carrots.   And I ate the carrots because I knew they were the gateway to the pie.  A "should", then a "want".

A balanced life is like lasagna.  It’s all about layering.  If all the pasta was on the bottom, and all the sauce was on the top, it wouldn’t be very tasty.

My new blog at!

ADDitude magazine, one of the world's leading ADHD publications, has asked me to write a blog for their web site.  It's called "Works for Me" and is a mix of advice and personal experience from a coach's perspective.  Check it out!

Social faux pas

Everyone at the martial arts school I recently started attending is super nice and exceedingly patient.  The black belts cheerfully help the less experienced.  However, there is one particular black belt I’ve been terrified of ever since our introduction at my second class.  Not because she's dangerous (she is) but because I humiliated myself in front of her.

Towards the end of class that day, my brain was completely saturated.  I could not absorbs one more fact.  If you have ADHD, I know you know what I mean.  She introduced herself using what I later learned was her Korean title.  It had about 24 syllables (okay, maybe six).  I couldn’t begin to comprehend what she was saying.  I was finally able to mutter her name back to her after four or five embarrassing attempts.   Then I just looked at her blankly.  Didn’t even give her my name in return.  On the way home, I thought, she must think I have severe brain damage. I’ll be she hopes to never have to work with me again.  I certainly didn’t want to work with her again.

Well, we had to work together the other night. I was terrified.  I’m still slow to figure out what I’m supposed to be doing (you know, typical ADHD difficulty with multiple step instructions), but I was able to follow along pretty well.  She was smiling and patient, as if she had complete faith in me.  After class, she said to me, “I’m sorry, I should have introduced myself. I’m not sure we’ve met”.

SHE DIDN’T REMEMBER!  Oh, what relief!

I’m not afraid of her any more.

Lesson learned:  Sometimes what we perceive as a social faux pas is barely noticeable, or forgotten within five minutes.  It lives on in our own minds much longer than it needs to, mingling with faux pas past and becoming a gremlin that’s hard to tame.   The truth is, most people are too busy worrying about their own stuff to remember our minor mistakes.

Improve your focus with water

You know that water is essential to life.  But did you know that even mild dehydration impairs your ability to focus?  Estimates are that 75% of us are chronically dehydrated, so it's likely that this applies to you.

Don't wait until you're thirsty to get a drink.  By that time, you're already mildly dehydrated.  Here are some other warning signs:

  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • Dry mouth, throat, and/or lips
  • Dark urine
  • Heat intolerance
  • Lightheadedness or dizziness
  • If, when you pinch the skin on the back of your hand, it drops back slowly

Here are some easy ways to keep dehydration from affecting your focus:

  • Keep a large container of water, or a cooler, near your work area to increase the convenience factor
  • Bring a water bottle with you every time you get in the car. Finish it by the time you get to your destination.
  • Set a daily goal, and use a checklist to track the amount of water you consume.   You may be surprised at how little you're actually drinking.
  • Watch your caffeine intake, since caffeine actually dehydrates your body
  • Keep lemon or orange slices in the refrigerator and use them to add flavor to your water
  • Make getting a drink part of your break routine
  • In the winter, use a humidifier or set out bowls of water to decrease the amount of water you lose through your skin

I’m not suggesting that water can cure ADHD.  But staying well hydrated gives you one more way to fight it.

I had one of the dreaded "brain shutdowns" in my martial arts class the other night.  I also had a headache, less energy than usual, and got lightheaded after a few strenuous drills.  Failed the skin pinch test.  Looking back on the day I realized that I had consumed very little water.  Was the brain shutdown a coincidence?  I don't think so.  I guarantee you I'll be well hydrated for the next class.

I'll close with this question from comedian Lily Tomlin:

The formula for water is H2O. Is the formula for an ice cube H2O squared?

Setting an example

My personal trainer is tough.

"Mom, have you seen your workout chart?"

"Yes, I moved it.  I got tired of looking at it on the refrigerator. (pause for a few seconds)  Oh.  Now I can't find it."

"That's what you get for moving something that has a home.  Now you have to do 40 pushups as a punishment".

Drats.  He's right.  Now not only do I have to do twice as many pushups, but I still have to find the dang chart.

I don't mind admitting that I was wrong and he was right... not so much, anyway.  But I do try to minimize it.  I'm supposed to be setting a good example here.  The kid is doing a fantastic job of using his checklist every day with no reminders, and here I am, putting things where they don't belong.  This is good incentive.

Uh oh.  Now I've been caught writing a blog post instead of doing pushups.

Gotta go.

They're Not Controlling You, They're Controlling Themselves

Here's a terrific article by Dr. Ari Tuckman,  renowned author and ADHD specialist:

People with ADHD often feel others are trying to control them.  This includes family members, romantic partners, bosses, coworkers and friends.  Why won't they just get off your back? Don't they have anything better to do?

Attempts to exert control can be obvious, like when your spouse bans you from the checkbook, or more subtle, such as unsolicited advice.  I assume these actions are well intentioned, but that doesn't make them fun when you're on the receiving end.  So why are these people in your life so often trying to influence what you do?  Are they control freaks?  Do they enjoy bossing you around?

When I speak with family members and romantic partners of people with ADHD, I often find they're really trying to control their own anxiety.  They feel nervous when the bills aren't paid or when there's a lot of clutter.  They get on your case hoping to make themselves feel better by removing whatever's making them anxious or uncomfortable.  They don't intend to make you miserable, even when that's what happens.

There are two ways to deal with uncomfortable situations - external and internal anxiety management.  External anxiety management requires that you change the world around you to eliminate the source of the discomfort.  If your spouse is worried about late fees, she will ask you... repeatedly... to pay the bills.  Once the bills are paid, she doesn't need to worry about it any more.  Problem solved. However, while this works well in some situations, it doesn't work well in every case.

External anxiety management breaks down in situations that can't be resolved, or not immediately.  For example, you can't pay bills while you're driving.  We all encounter many situations where we must wait before acting.  The other potential problem is that being too insistent can strain the relationship.  Nagging may get the job done, but nobody is happy about it.  This is common when one person in a couple or family has ADHD - the non-ADHD person does a lot of reminding/nagging, and it's rarely appreciated.

By contrast, internal anxiety management is finding a way to be comfortable with something in your life that you don't have as much control over as you would want.  For example, the spouse without ADHD can decide that she will stop worrying over the occasional late fee because it isn't worth all the fighting.  She's not happy about the late fees, but she recognizes that being upset about them is making her miserable and ruining the relationship.  She decides to let this one go (for the most part) and focus her energy on things she is more likely to affect positively.

For people with ADHD, this means that, although it can look like these other people are trying to control you, they're really just trying to control their own anxiety - using external anxiety management.  It may or may not be effective, but it probably causes more bad feelings than either one of you would want.

Usually, the best scenario is a balanced internal and external approach.  In therapy with a couple or family where one person (or more) has ADHD, I tackle the situation from both sides.  I try to help the person with ADHD be more consistent and reliable, so the other person indeed has less to worry about. But I also work with the non-ADHD person to learn ways to manage his or her anxiety internally.

The non-ADHD spouse can reduce anxiety by picking battles that really matter, and tolerating things that aren't worth a battle.  By working it from both sides, there's less conflict and both parties can better deal with all the usual stuff that comes up in relationships, as well as the unusual stuff that comes up in couples where someone has ADHD!

The next time you're feeling controlled, remember that the other person may just be trying to control his or her own anxiety.  This might help you take a step back, calm down and deal with the situation more productively.  Of course, if you find yourself doing the controlling, consider whether an internal anxiety management strategy might give better results.

. . . . . . . .
Dr. Ari Tuckman is the Vice President of ADDA.  He is a psychologist in private practice in West Chester, PA.  His second book, More Attention, Less Deficit: Success Strategies for Adults with ADHD will be available in May 2009.

How to get out the door on time

All sorts of things conspire against our efforts to get out the door on time in the morning:  inability to estimate how long it takes to get ready, losing track of time, getting distracted, forgetting things that need to be done or gathered, etc.  Here are some strategies to improve your defense:

  • Create a morning schedule with “mini-deadlines”.  Figure out what you need to do in the morning, and when you need to be done with each thing.  For example, maybe your teeth need to be brushed by 7:30, you need to be out of the shower by 8:00, and your hair needs to be done by 8:15.  Having a checklist may help.  You can download a sample from the Resources page on my web site,
  • Check the time frequently.  Keep clocks or timers where you can see them – in the shower, at the sink, near the breakfast table.  Are you on track?  If not, you’ll need to move faster, fight harder to avoid distractions, or skip a step in your routine. Many people find that simply being aware of what time it is and where they are on the schedule helps them stay on task.
  • Adjust your routine.  If you find you’re consistently behind schedule, identify where you’re getting off track. You may need to allow more time for that item in your schedule.   That may also mean skipping something else on the list, getting up earlier, or preparing the night before.
  • Keep your keys, gloves, etc. by the door so you can grab them quickly when it’s time to leave.  Collect the things you need to take with you ahead of time (lunch, backpacks, etc.) and put them by the door too.
  • Don’t do anything not related to getting ready, like going on line for “just a minute” or throwing in a load of laundry.
  • Build extra time into the schedule for unexpected emergencies like cleaning up spills or printing the directions you forgot about.  If your morning is drama free, reward yourself by relaxing a little.  Or leave early.
  • Get enough sleep so you don’t hit the snooze button more times than you’ve scheduled, and you aren’t too groggy to focus.

A consistent, realistic routine is your best ally for reducing your morning chaos and getting where you need to be on time.

ADHD Coach credentialing is finally here!

Until today, no independent credentialing existed for ADHD Coaches that have been practicing for less than five years.  The closest thing out there was Life Coaching certification.  While Life Coaching and ADHD Coaching have a lot in common, there is one fundamental difference:  Life Coaches aren't supposed to solve problems.  Clients are seen as naturally creative, resourceful, and whole.  Life Coaches help people find their own answers.  Which is wonderful, and I do that a lot.  But ADHD Coaching by definition includes education and recommending solutions.   I know a very prominent ADHD Coach who actually failed the ICF certification exam because she solved a problem for a client!  That's a real conflict.   I opted not to pursue Life Coach certification because  I feel it would be unethical to withhold advice from a client in order to get certified.  And being in business for three years, there was no other credential available to me.

Today, my problem has been solved.  The Institute for the Advancement of ADHD Coaching (IAAC) announced the launch of the only ADHD credentialing program available to ADHD coaches internationally.   This is the culmination of five years of effort from some of the top names in the ADHD Coaching industry.  They began a pilot of their credentialing program about a year ago by offering a Senior Certified ADHD Coach designation for coaches with five or more years of experience.

From their web site:
The mission of the IAAC is to advance the field of AD/HD coaching through the development and delivery of credentialing and certification for AD/HD coaches worldwide, in pursuit of excellence in our profession.
The Institute for the Advancement of AD/HD Coaching (IAAC) has been formed to define, protect the integrity of, and support the profession of AD/HD coaching in the world and to provide continuing education, credentialing, certification and ethical standards for AD/HD coaching.

I'll be applying for the credential in the next week or so since I meet all the criteria.  It's a very rigrorous process that involves an oral exam, a written exam, and verification of my coaching experience and education.   It'll take several months to complete.  So wish me luck, and keep watching this site for more good news!

Beware of wolves in coach's clothing

I recently enrolled in a six month program with a marketing coach.   I was very excited about the combination of marketing expertise and coaching.  As a trained and experienced coach myself, I expected this to be an individualized, supportive partnership that would be focused on my needs.   I would have someone to guide me, help me focus my efforts, help me figure out where I’m stuck, uncover self limiting beliefs, keep me motivated and hold me accountable.  And, of course, I'd be able to tap into her extensive knowledge of marketing.

Boy was I disappointed.

Coaching is a popular concept these days.  And because coaching does not require a license, anyone can use the term.

What I got from this person turned out to be more like a series of audio books with email support.  A canned set of tips and techniques “that have worked for thousands of people”.   Her approach was basically, "Read these 34 documents and email me with questions".  Yes, the information was good, but it was overwhelming.  I already knew most of it and I couldn't figure out where to start with the rest.

It wasn't coaching.

Coaching is so much more than skills instruction.  A coach reaches out to where you are right now, and leads you to where you want to be.  Coaching is personally relevant.  Probing.  Thought-provoking.  Creative.  It's about about getting into action.

According to the International Coach Federation:
"Coaches are trained to listen, to observe and to customize their approach to individual client needs. They seek to elicit solutions and strategies from the client; they believe the client is naturally creative and resourceful. The coach's job is to provide support to enhance the skills, resources, and creativity that the client already has."

I have lots of experience, insight and knowledge about ADHD. Part of my job is to educate you, yes. But mostly my job is to get you to use that information.  To apply it to your own unique situation.  To find solutions that work for you.  To get you to change.  Apparently, not everyone works this way.

Lesson learned:  Just because someone calls herself a coach doesn't mean she IS a coach.

If you're in the market for a coach, make sure you and the prospective coach are in agreement on what the term means.  Don't make any assumptions.  Coaches love questions, so don't be afraid to ask.

Thankfully, I had negotiated a satisfaction guarantee with this "coach" and was able to get out of my contract.   Others in her program probably weren't so lucky, or may have left with a really bad idea of what coaching is all about.   I wish I had some way to let them know what coaching really is.


Subscribe to The ADHD Solutions Blog