ADHD and Flexible Thinking

woman thinking with legs crossed

ADHD and flexible thinking don’t always go together.

It’s a complicated equation. ADHD + negative self-talk + wonky EFs = not-so-flexible thinking.

When I’m thinking hard about something, I do this thing where I stretch my neck toward my computer screen. As if getting closer will help me concentrate better. It never works and I always end up with a stiff neck.

My husband really wants to rework my closet. Last summer I took the doors off and pushed my dresser inside, so now it’s exploding into the room with overflowing drawers and clothing falling off of shelves and hangers. Pretty much the opposite of one of those Pinterest closets we all like to look at.

Hubs showed me the two designs he likes best on his iPad. Obviously, I was doing the thing with my neck, looking at these complicated diagrams. This all looked like a sh-t ton of work to me.

I finally told him what I was thinking.

“There’s no way we can do this in one weekend. It’ll take me two days just to clean out the closet. And I don’t want to tear up the office. Where will I see clients? We also have to find another dresser. This feels like a huge job.”

He gave me THE LOOK.

“You and the mental gymnastics. I swear you can THINK your way out of doing things.” 

For a hot minute I wanted to argue with him.

But then I realized I do a ton of mental gymnastics.

And I DO think my way out of doing things. Quite often actually.

You might struggle with ADHD and flexible thinking yourself.

Some of us really struggle with certain types of thinking:

  • starting, stopping, task-switching
  • comparison
  • black and white thinking
  • self-talk and trying on new perspectives

Research indicates that flexible thinking has a range of benefits, including better overall mood and emotional regulation. ADHD and its inherent challenges make flexible thinking harder.

ADHD and Flexible Thinking

 

Self-talk 

Flexible thinking is impacted by our self-talk. I like to think of my own self-talk as coming from a narrator. In my case she looks like Helena Bonham Carter in The Crown.

She’s pretty, but she’s also judgy and sarcastic and likes to talk trash about every time in my life I’ve made a mistake or felt ashamed.

Whatever form your inner narrator takes, you cannot ever get rid of them.

So you must learn how to live with them.

There are some who like to fight with their inner voice, talk back to it, “slay the demon” or whatever. There are coaches who will teach you to “choose your thoughts.” If you’ve got the time and money go for it.

I prefer to live alongside my Princess Margaret instead of trying to control her.

For me it’s about letting go a little.

I can appreciate that my self-talk is trying to protect me, but I don’t have to listen to her trash talk. I can still move forward and take actions. And if I need help naming a first action, I ask someone for support.

As a side note, I once wrote an article about self-talk.  Maybe I’ll update it.

Perspectives + Black and White Thinking

A painful truth –  if you can’t accept constructive criticism, then you are going to have trouble learning new skills and looking at situations from a different angle.

Put more simply, we with ADHD sometimes have trouble trying on new perspectives.

We don’t like uncertainty or discomfort. If we cannot easily predict the outcome we hesitate to do things. Sometimes we choose to do something less important, but easier to tackle. Procrastivity anyone?

To top it all off, the brain likes to sort experiences into categories. In action this often looks like black and white thinking.

  • It was a great experience, or a terrible experience.
  • You did an amazing job on that project, or you failed miserably.
  • You finished, or you barely started.

 

The ADHD brain has trouble appreciating progress. We want to get from here to there as quickly as possible, so the gray area in between is uncomfortable.

All of this to say, ADHD creates blind spots in our self-awareness. But it’s not entirely hopeless.

You can practice perspective taking, and you can notice your own black and white thinking.

It’s not easy but it is possible.

Starting, stopping, and task switching

You are probably familiar with the idea of hyperfocus.

When we really like something, or find something that excites us, we see nothing but that. It’s like an addiction.  There is definitely some dopamine involved.  You feel really good, and nothing else in the world is as important as this thing in front of you.

The problem is hyperfocus to the exclusion of other important things/people in our lives.

THAT is when we get in trouble.

Hyperfocus is the inability to STOP doing the thing in front of you. It’s like a suction cup on your brain, you need something to jam in there and break the seal. Preferably not a screaming human.

You are not thinking flexibly when you are hyperfocused. Try to convince me otherwise. I dare you.

Task initiation, or activation, is also a common complaint with ADHD.

We all have conditions to starting. Some of these are environmental, and some of them are internal. ADHD lends itself to avoidant thought patterns, and I’m sure you aren’t shocked that these patterns of thought don’t change much over time.

You probably have some very well-worn avoidant thought patterns that you have used for years. If you can identify what they are, and look for the patterns, you can start working on them.

CBT Therapists are particularly good at this. So are coaches.

Task-switching is the other major roadblock for most of us.

I’m only gonna say this once. Multitasking does NOT work. 

Multitasking doesn’t even work for “neurotypical” unicorns. So stop beating your head against the wall.

You know what works?

A sense of completion.

It is actually easier to do one project at a time, start to finish. And your work quality improves.

I call it monotasking.

I try to do three things per day. If I can only do one or two they carry over. And I don’t spend much time worrying about doing things perfectly.

Comparison

I have written before about perfectionism. 

These days I’m thinking more about comparison, and how it affects our mood.

Looking around at other people and then comparing ourselves to what we see is normal. We are social creatures we need to feel like we are part of the tribe. But it does seem like women with brain-based challenges experience a more negative impact.

Things get sticky when we compare ourselves to someone we perceive as better than us in some way.  We put ourselves in what Cam Gott calls a “one down” position. And that is a recipe for SHAME.

I often compare myself with other women who appear to have a better lifestyle, more lucrative career, and a much more confident demeanor. Most of these personalities are white women selling some service, which tracks with the current commodification of ADHD as a business instead of a brain type. But I digress.

I don’t even want to do what these people are doing.

  • I don’t want to be responsible for a payroll
  • I don’t want thirty clients per week because I’d have no time to write
  • I don’t want anyone to go into debt to work with me
  • I don’t like taking pictures of myself and talking about myself much

 

 If you wouldn’t take life or career advice from this person, you shouldn’t compare yourself to them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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