Announcing the Mindfulness Meditation Workshop for ADHD and Anxiety
Saturday, November 5, from 9 a.m. – noon at Nashville Friends House, 530 26th Ave N.
I’m partnering with Lisa Ernst, meditation teacher and founder of One Dharma Nashville, to offer the workshop.
The $60 fee includes a copy of my book. Registration deadline is October 28. Workshop cost is $70 after this date.
As soon as I get my medication right, nothing will obstruct me from achieving my goals. Have you ever said that before giving more attention to fine-tuning your medication than using your brain to accomplish something?
As soon as I get into a daily routine of meditating and exercisng, I will be on the path to success. Have you said that and then wasted time criticizing yourself for “never having time” to meditate and exercise?
As soon as I get my system in place, I will be able to do my job well. Have you ever said that before giving more attention to your system than the actual tasks that your system was designed to support?
Pema Chodron, a wise Tibetan teacher, wrote this in her book, Start Where You Are: “As long as you are wishing for things to change, they never will. As long as you’re wanting yourself to get better, you won’t. As long as you have an orientation toward the future, you can never just relax into what you already have or already are.”
I believe that many—perhaps most—adults with ADHD have brains that are good enough to actualize their vision. No doubt, you can enhance your brain’s functioning with medicine, meditation, exercise, healthy diet, and sufficient sleep. But isn’t that true for anyone’s brain? We should make every effort to sharpen the tool. It helps.
But what happens to you after you have spent a great deal of time and energy sharpening a tool that you don’t use? You criticize yourself. You create a layer of self-defeating mental activity. Then you believe that the image of an incompetent self that you just created is who you are, rather than what you are doing, creating an image.
What good is a sharpened tool if you aren’t building anything? What good is your system if it is not serving you? What good is your medicine if you use it to focus on low-priority activity that is unrelated to your vision. What good is intention to meditate?
Dreading the job of cleaning your kitchen after a social event can feel overwhelming. Feeling overwhelmed makes it difficult to start. Wash just one dish and see what happens next. It is more useful than fussing about a messy kitchen your ADHD brain.
Abandon your chronic wish for a better brain. Accept the one you have and keep moving forward. Hal David and Burt Bacharach wrote about abandoning hope of fruition in a popular song that Dusty Springfield recorded in 1964. Doing is more likely to get you where you want to go than “wishing and hoping and thinking and praying.”
Abandon hope of fruition and do something…one thing…right now. Doesn’t that make life feel more manageable?
Share your successful strategies for substituting action for “hope of fruition.”
So you have this big goal to “get organized,” and you’ve read books, maybe even looked at some YouTube videos to get inspired. Still, when you approach that room, that desk, that garage…you’re stuck. Sometimes there’s so much going on in the space that it truly is difficult to know where to start. Paperwork? Books? Boxes of stuff left over from cleaning out the car? If you choose to open up shoeboxes of receipts, will you just screw things up? That first decision is often the toughest.
I recognize that there’s a certain amount of stress involved too. The other day I was checking out at a store and the topic of me being a professional organizer somehow came up. “Wow, that must be so stressful,” the clerk mused. Her comment startled me. I, of course, reassured her that there is tremendous fun and satisfaction in what I do, but walking back to my car I did some thinking. It’s good for me to be reminded that for many (most?), organization seems unattainable. Not only do people worry about where to start, but if they actually get started on a project, are they going to do it right?
Let’s say I’m with a client who struggles with ADD/ADHD, and they nervously ask me where we’re going to begin. The question assumes I have a mystical way of determining the most advantageous location for starting. Sometimes I’ll suggest we go with immediately taking out anything that falls into a “trash” or “recycle” category (those decisions are usually easiest). Sometimes I’ll take one drawer and work them through a decision-making process for all of the items. Another trick: I have clients take a paper towel tube, look through it, and scan around their space.
Copyright: vizualni / 123RF Stock Photo
This allows them to see smaller pockets of disorganization, and choose a spot that seems approachable. While instinct is involved in how much to tackle in one session, where we start really doesn’t matter.
So breathe deeply, and take the pressure off of yourself. A little organization is better than none at all, and you aren’t going to goof anything up by trying. If you start from the entry to the room and work inward, you are making progress. If you work through sorting everything that covers the corner of a table, you are making progress. Even if you only open and categorize a few days’ worth of mail, you are making progress – and hopefully learning as you go. And that is really the crux of it – learning what patterns have occurred (there are always patterns), learning how to reconfigure habits, and learning how to move forward in a way that works. That’s the part of organizing that’s important. And just maybe, if you can get yourself started, you’ll be amazed at how far you can go.
Sara Skillen is the owner of SkillSet Organizing based in Franklin, TN. Her mission is to help busy people from all walks of life manage their stuff, their time, and their technology. An active blogger and speaker, her tips and ideas have been featured in Fast Company, Angie’s List Experts, and NOU Magazine, as well as her own blog “Sorting Through the Haystack.” Sara is an Evernote Certified Consultant and became a Certified Professional Organizer® in 2015.
As a Facebook virgin just recently entering the 21st century, I am getting firsthand experience of media brain-lock. So much time is wasted in front of screens. Having to publicize my book made it necessary to learn about social media tools, but I must acknowledge my aversion to them. And I feel guilty for not accepting friend requests from people I don’t know, just as I regret accepting requests from people whose posts are offensive.
A neurologist once told me that conversations are as good as crossword puzzles for maintaining brain health, and even better when the conversations are with people who disagree with us because they are more difficult. I dislike seeing unsolicited expressions of intolerance and support of racism on my screen. I dislike polarizing messages with “likes” from the many friends who already agree with the messenger. Social media segregates us and allows us to avoid openminded interactions with people who might disagree with us.
My pen pal in Germany, a councilman in a major city, told me that one party cannot field a viable candidate there without forming an alliance with at least one other party. He said they have to negotiate through their differences or be irrelevant. Once in office, the groundwork has been laid for cooperation. Cooperation! Wouldn’t it be nice?
More to the point, those of us with ADHD cannot afford to have awareness of our priorities hijacked by our devices. Attention must be managed, or our focused state can become a brain prison. Getting locked up and isolated in hyper-focus is a prescription for lost time, missed deadlines, neglect of our partners, underachievement, and closed minds. Just like the television news junkie all hooked up to his “feeding tube,” Facebook junkies are going to the trough too often and staying too long.
Try leaving your phone off next time you eat dinner or leaving it at home when you go out. Phones once were devices that had to remain connected to the wall. Enjoy an occasional day of media abstinence. Try eating without noise like my father’s family had to before television began isolating us. You might notice the taste and texture of your food, the contours of your spouse’s face, and the humor of your children. Silence is fertile ground for creative thinking, and insights blossom when our minds are still.
Dick Cavett is one of my heroes, a man of integrity, wit, and intelligence. He hosted talk shows in the sixties and seventies, often featuring extended time with a single guest. It is refreshing to learn from a recent interview that he could be inattentive like us, and on live TV! Monday’s New York Times featured an interview with Dick Cavett by Seth Myers of NBC’s Late Night. Read this brief exchange and recall the last time you had a similar experience…
Seth Meyers: How long did it take for you to walk out onstage and not feel like an actor without lines?
Dick Cavett: The first time you’re in charge of an hour and a half of television, you might as well be looking at Mount Everest. It took a few weeks to relax into it, and then it was fun, but those first shows I’d realize the guest’s lips had stopped moving and I had no idea what they’d been talking about. A tip for a young guy like you from an old hand: Have something ready that you can always say that can apply to everybody. Something like, “Do you pee in the shower?”
For the full New York Times interview, click the link below:
To My ADHD Friends:
I look forward to seeing you at our Labor Day picnic at River Park in Brentwood, Monday September 5 from 4 to 7 pm. (Knox Valley Dr at Concord Rd, just east of I65). I will be bringing a cooler, ice, water, and charcoal. Robert Masto is bringing hot dogs and Gwyn! Please email our Yahoo Groups site (email@example.com) and let us know what you can bring. We will need some other meats to grill (there are two grills there), some veggies, salads, desserts, and non-alcoholic beverages. Your children and relationship partners will be warmly welcomed. There is playground equipment, a basketball court, and walking trails nearby.
This is the eleventh anniversary of our group. I’m very proud of the culture we have created – one of acceptance, mutual support, respect for diversity, and mutual sharing of resources and strategies. For me, this has been a labor of love and something I look forward to celebrating with you on Labor Day.
I read in this morning’s Los Angeles Times about students at USC who are first in their families to attend college. “All told, about 20% of the university’s undergraduates, including the student body president, are first-generation,” says LA Times writer, Rosanna Xia. “Most are supported by some kind of financial aid.”
A university provost, Dr. Michael Quick, was a first generation college student, having grown up with a father who was a construction worker. His dad “chased jobs all over the country.” Dr. Quick attended sixteen different high schools. He told the Times that “the college application process was uncharted waters.” He now has a doctorate in neuroscience.
He wants first generation USC students to know how to manage life on campus with more privileged students and those already familiar with university environments. USC wishes to “help students navigate the culture shock of joining such an environment.” Dr. Quick told the Times that the university offers “crash courses on how to use the many resources at the library, and sessions on fellowship opportunities and tutoring centers. Seminars help students think about what steps they need to take toward graduate school and future careers…”
If you are a new college student taking ADHD to a campus, you may feel overwhelmed like first generation students. There are resources at universities that can increase your chances for success, and you should learn about them before you arrive on campus. There are educational consultants who can help you before you leave home.
Some universities offer classes for credit that introduce new students to college-level study skills. High school effort will not be sufficient, believe me! Still, college-level work is manageable and far more interesting than high school.
One nice advantage of the college environment is the likelihood of finding more likeminded peers. The overall population is larger, making for larger subgroups. You can find your tribe. But they are not going to be looking for you. You will have to take some initiative to learn about groups and organizations where you can meet your people.
Look for resources available to incoming students. Visit the university office of disability services and ask about requirements to qualify for services that you might need. If you wait until you are struggling and needing assistance, it will be too little too late.
I was a first generation college student (long before ADHD symptoms got a name), and I was lost for the first couple of years. By the time I caught on, I had to work doubly hard to make up for missed opportunities and to raise my GPA. I wanted to get into graduate school. Leaving home with ADHD was a daunting experience that I was unprepared for. If only someone had told me…
Perhaps I should be more contrite and say, if only I had listened or sought help!
ADHD experts call it “hyperfocus,” a word that spellcheck doesn’t recognize. To anyone who thinks this non-word represents only a positive feature of ADHD, think again. While inhibiting scattered attention allows you to to focus exclusively on one thing, you don’t know what you are missing when your “open awareness” is so completely turned off—instead of paused and accessible. When open awareness is locked out, nothing is on the radar but what is right in front of your nose. When excessively focused, you may be productive, but you will lose track of time and other priorities.
Managing attention involves awareness of the state of attention you are in, and requires shifting between an open state and a focused state as needed. Being aware of your state of attention, and being skilled at intentionally directing it, are probably big challenges for you. Dr. Lidia Zylowska wrote about this skill in her important book, The Mindfulness Prescription for Adult ADHD.
Not all mindfulness exercises are designed to open up your awareness; some are designed to narrow your focus. It’s like the difference between two camera lenses, a telephoto lens that zooms in, and a wide angle lens that broadens the view. Just as a camera needs an operator to switch the lenses, your brain’s sate of awareness needs an operator to switch the state of your attention.
Venture out and observe how many people appear to be in an open state of awareness….besides you, the scanner. How many seem aware of their surroundings? How many seem to be lost in their electronic devices? Try turning your devices off when you would normally have them on. If it feels unsettling, you may want to practice just sitting with that unsettled feeling in order not to be dominated by it, which is a good meditation practice.
I like to walk in a nearby state park early in the morning. If I wait until too late in the morning, I will encounter groups walking together on the trails and talking as if they are in the kitchen rather than in the woods. I pass individuals walking fast with their smart phones in hand and ear buds in their ears. They appear oblivious to the beauty that surrounds them—the colors reflected in the lake, bufflehead ducks diving and resurfacing, and the sound of redwing blackbirds.
Customers at Starbucks are selectively attending to their laptops and mobile devices. I often wonder if they are truly experiencing the taste of their expensive beverages. They seem unaware of one another. They might not notice that their pulses have spiked while drinking their mocha. Their wide angle mode of attention is almost certainly turned off and inaccessible. When I go to Starbucks, I often end up saying to myself, “Where did the time go?” I never say that when walking around the lake.
I know a 13-year-old who just entered the juvenile justice system, a revolving door for many minority kids with neurological differences. My hope is that this kid’s dual diagnosis of ADHD and a mood disorder will be his ticket to appropriate mental health services. His needs will not be met in juvenile detention.
I have known other African American kids with undiagnosed ADHD who have gotten into trouble at school, labeled precipitously as defiant—and seldom as hyperactive and impulsive. After repeated experiences of being misunderstood and feeling disrespected, they sometimes learn defiance in defense of their dignity. I read recently that more black kids are being diagnosed now, but they are seldom getting the help they need.
Many years ago, I went to a middle school to help with an eighth grader’s individualized education plan (IEP). Teachers at this meeting were responsive to the mother’s concerns, and they constructed a thoughtful plan. As this productive meeting was about to end, the principal dropped in—a black principal—and he contributed just one thing: that this student’s only problem was “laziness.” Fortunately, no one there seemed to agree with him. He had not been part of the discussion about the student’s experiences and needs.
The following year, in the ninth grade, this same student “talked back” to a teacher who had embarrassed him, calling him out in front of his classmates. He was suspended for his reaction to her hurtful action. I asked him what was wrong with this picture: “A teacher speaks disrespectfully to you, and she gets to remain at school and get paid; then you react disrespectfully to her disrespect and get sent home.” He replied with a smile, “Terry, I hate it when you are right!” Those were his exact words.
Those are not words of a kid who values disrespecting a teacher, but a kid—a brilliant kid in my opinion—who was uncensored and sensitive to being disrespected. He longed to be understood and valued. An important person in his life explicitly favored his little brother, something his teachers probably didn’t know. One day a teacher “felt threatened” by him. He was a big kid with a big voice, and like his mom, he was assertive. The teacher was afraid of him. He was defiant and she wanted him expelled.
This impulsive young man had a gift. He was a budding artist, funny as any standup comedian I’ve seen, and a creative hip-hop lyricist. He needed encouragement but got mostly criticism from people he wished to please. He was like a flower needing food and water to blossom.
As an eighth-grader, one of his paintings was displayed at the Cheekwood Museum after placing third in a statewide art competition. In the ninth grade he was expelled from high school. He learned to dislike school. Imagine that!
I have some ideas for living well with a poor working memory. First, allow me to park those ideas temporarily while I share a definition of working memory.
From MedicineNet.com: “Working memory is a system for temporarily storing and managing the information required to carry out complex cognitive tasks such as learning, reasoning, and comprehension. Working memory is involved in the selection, initiation, and termination of information-processing functions such as encoding, storing, and retrieving data.” You will find an excellent and more detailed explanation of working memory at wikipedia.org.
Working memory is an active, present-time process. Like very short-term parking, it allows you to briefly park information—while you shift your attention to other relevant information—and then bring back the parked information as needed to complete the task at hand. You use it when you cook from a recipe or assemble an item with complex instructions.
Did you remember that I have ideas to share about living well with a poor working memory?
Working memory also allows you to coordinate multiple tasks. You might need to pause a conversation when leaving a restaurant to look around for items you brought with you without losing the thread of the conversation. Since your working memory doesn’t work well, you should know that it is socially acceptable to ask the person you’re talking with to “hold that thought” while you scan the environment for your keys and phone. This allows you to use the other person’s memory instead of relying on the unreliable—yours.
To employ a consistent ritual for departure from a restaurant, you will need some kind of prompt to exit your selective attention (from your conversation) and turn on your open awareness (to your surroundings). Standing up to leave could serve as your cue to scan the immediate environment and check your pockets or your purse. I check for lumps in my pockets (keys, wallet, phone) before departure from home or from any place I visit. Still, there is no guarantee that you will remember to use the strategy because of your attention inconsistency.
So, here is a complimentary strategy to further increase the chance that you will not leave something behind. When departing a restaurant, take your time and walk very slowly and deliberately to your car. This strategy worked for me last Saturday. I was leaving a restaurant to go a nearby Barnes & Noble bookstore to sign copies of Living Well with ADHD. My wife and her brother were already getting into my car while I was ambling behind, continuing my conversation with a friend. I was half way to the car when our server came jogging toward me from the restaurant with an object in his hand, yelling to me: “Sir, you forgot your phone!”