This post is written by one of my ADHD coaching clients, Joshua. He has succinctly captured how and why ADHD Coaching can be helpful. Thank you Joshua. I wish you luck as you enter law school, and I am really impressed by your ability to illustrate how you have made small, subtle changes to work with your ADHD, instead of against it.

Sometimes, what is considered a weakness can turn out to be a great strength. I have lived my entire life with ADHD. For most of that time, I have viewed my ADHD as a major disadvantage, and I refused to take it seriously. I was content with procrastinating as long as possible, getting grades less than my potential, making impulsive and irresponsible purchases, and coming off as rude by not being able to keep focused in a conversation. Seeking to handle these issues in a healthy way had never even crossed my mind.

My brain needed intensity in order to successfully function, so pushing deadlines was my way of getting motivated to finish a project in college. That same desire for intensity made it difficult to give some work any attention at all. If I could not find the intensity for a class or assignment, I chose to do something that could provide that stimulation instead. If the idea of buying something that I did not need popped into my head, I would buy it just as quickly as I got the idea. If a conversation with my fiancée contained anything other than getting to the point, I would wander off to play guitar or piano without even thinking about it.

The negative stigmas of ADHD of always being disorganized, irresponsible, and rude had been reinforced my whole life by teachers and peers. It held me back academically, professionally, and personally. Fortunately, I was still able to do decently well in school, land an excellent job before graduating college, and still maintain relationships with understanding friends and family. Although I did not fully understand it, when I did get that intensity that I needed, I was unstoppable. However, without it, I struggled.

Soon after college, I started seeing that although I managed the struggling, I could definitely do better. An ADHD coach was recommended to me, and I decided that it was time to take control of my ADHD instead of letting it control me. It turned out to be the best decision of my life. I learned why I felt physically unable to do something unless it brought me a specific brain stimulation from intensity. I learned why I was so cold and calculated in my approach to solving problems, and I also learned why it sometimes gave people a negative impression of me. I learned why my neurological makeup made me the way I was, and I learned how to turn the disadvantages into advantages.

Through various mental and meditative exercises, my ADHD coaching helped me to be able to create the intensity that I need to accomplish the things that did not naturally provide that stimulation. My patience and attentiveness have increased greatly. While I once got distracted at work while waiting for the computer to load by going on my phone, now instead I will update my work calendar, respond to an email, or have other work accessible and ready. My self-awareness has greatly increased. While I once went from talking about wedding planning with my fiancée to playing guitar or piano without even noticing the transition, I now mentally observe my impulse to wander off and refocus myself back into the conversation. My impulsiveness is under better control each day because I have become more aware of my mental processes. When I once bought a computer as soon as the thought to do so came into my head, instead I am now quick to discuss the exciting prospect of buying a Play Station with close friends who, by talking to, help me to get a better grip on how unreasonable such a purchase would have been.

For me, ADHD has never been an excuse, but for so long it was a cumbersome hurdle. By taking the initiative to get coached on my brain’s functions, I have not only felt better and more confident in all aspects of my life, but I have the successes to show for it. The advantages that come with having control over my brain’s need for intensity have allowed me to succeed very rapidly in the workplace, and I plan to bring that knowledge to do the same with law school.

While I did not know this at the time, my ADHD coach was teaching me mindfulness, the ability to be present to each and every activity in my day. My Coach was kind of like Mr. Miyagi from The Karate Kid. He taught how to be present and mindful in each and every moment, but he did not announce that. We talked about a variety of things and part of our conversation always revolved, effortlessly, around how our brains worked. Anyway, I feel fully ready to tackle the challenges of law school. WAX ON, WAX OFF!

Tech Cleanse: Keeping Life in Balance

Many people in this world are great at keeping technology in balance.  I am not one of them!  Technology swallows me up to such an extent that it takes willpower to not text and drive.  Don’t worry; I do not do that, but I do feel naked and alone without my phone.  I intend, for example, to spend twenty minutes checking email at my computer and then get absorbed, on a regular basis, in mindless Internet surfing for four or five hours.  I am a casualty of the Age of Technology, and I have struggled the last two decades to keep my addictive cyber tendencies in check.  Yes, I wrote a book on this topic, but no, I am not cured.  I am like a member of Overeaters Anonymous:  I have to use technology to transact my business, but technology often ends up transacting me.

One powerful decision I have made is to do a techfast.  Every so often, I spend three days without technology, which means phone, computer, Internet, and TV.  So if you find me absent from Facebook, this might be the reason.  Doing techfasts  has helped me enormously in my book projects, and in getting this 40-blog series finished.  Techfasts offer a restorative benefit that puts us more deeply in touch with others and ourselves.  Here are some of the benefits.

  1. Reflection. Creativity and imagination are aptitudes born of and enhanced by time to reflect.  Being plugged in, we lose this and thus deprive ourselves of the chance to come up with our best ideas.  Reflection also allows us to become more mindful, which is a gateway for greater peace and balance to life.
  1. Brain health. Often, screens with video games, TV shows, or movies, and many websites have very fast moving images. The speed of the images does not mirror the pace that our human brains are wired to move or process. In the same way that pornography doesn’t mirror the natural pace of a relationship, a good deal of our time in front of the screen does not mirror the natural pace of engaging with the world or learning something deeply.   The brain has an internal “gardener” that prunes away neuronal networks that are not used, and allows the ones that are more frequently used to flourish.  Research is starting to suggest that the cerebral networks needed for real-time, face-to-face communication skills are suffering.  Are we creating a nation of cyber drones?
  2. Avoidance. You might be running from something and not know it.  In my work with people across the country, and lately the whole world, I have found that many screen-oriented people are escapists; their screen time keeps them occupied to the point that they are able to ignore anxiety, depression, and a variety of dissatisfactions with life, whether work-related, or deriving from unhappy relationships.  The screen offers a cheap and easy means to stay “checked out” of discomfort.  The result is that many people have screen lives that keep them from ever resolving their difficulties and thus from having a truly happy life.
  3. Laziness. Children and teenagers can become frustrated with the steps and time required to develop mastery. They will ask, “can’t I just go to another game?” In a video game you can always start over and often you are able to go to a level you are comfortable. There are even “cheat codes” that can be used to “fake” mastery.  Obviously, the other issue is that as our screen time goes up, our physical activity often goes down.
  4. Balance. Taking a tech cleanse allows you to more effectively understand why you spend so much time in front of a screen.  And, since part of the tech cleanse involves doing other activities, you may find that there are many pursuits that you find much more rewarding.  As well, you will be giving yourself a chance at a more optimal and contented existence, one filled with a variety of interests, and people.

Ten Steps to Balance Technology

  1. Build up to a week. I recommend a week-long tech cleanse.  If you struggle getting to that point straight away, consider starting by having a tech-free Saturday or even a tech-free weekend.  Weekends are especially good times to start because you do not need your phone or computer for work (or least most people do not!).
  2. Brainstorm. Before you begin a tech cleanse, you have to understand that you rely significantly for screens for a great deal of information, entertainment, and distraction.   You will not be successful at the tech cleanse unless you brainstorm a multitude of other activities you will do in place of your screen time.  Come up with a big list.
  3. Challenge. It can be highly beneficial if you make some of your tech-free activities be challenging.  Stretch yourself and see the week as an opportunity to become a more adventurous, daring, and accomplished person.  Always wanted to go skydiving?  Have you wanted to start writing a book?  Is there a project you have been putting off for a long time?
  4. Support. Let your friends and family know what you’re doing.  I recommend having someone with whom you check in at least once a day to let him or her know how you are doing.  Do not try to do this alone.  When we are excessively plugged into screen time, our connections with others often suffer.  Let this be a week where you reach out to other people, especially those with whom you have not been spending time.
  5. Mindset. I have found that most people during the tech cleanse will find themselves bored.  There can also be a great deal of anxiety and negativity.  It is important to have a positive mindset, one grounded in the intention that the tech cleanse is being done to improve oneself and the quality of life. It can be helpful to keep coming back to that intention during the week, because there will be temptations to “sneak” some screen time.
  6. Tech-free zone. In the modern world we need a cell phone and most jobs require computers. To the extent possible, use those devices only when necessary for work.  When you get into the car from work, stop using your cell phone.  Do not use a computer at home.  While I recommend strict adherence to this principle during the cleanse, consider having at least one tech-free day per week.
  7. Schedule. Armed with your list of activities, projects, and adventures, come up with a schedule for each day so that you know every day is filled.  I have had many people use this schedule as a checklist that they check off every day.  This has proven to be most helpful at sticking on the plan.
  8. Journal. Because you are unplugging from the ubiquitous distractions of the cyber world, you will find that ideas, sensations, emotions, and perhaps even underlying issues will emerge.  Keep a small notebook with you at all time (not a digital recorder!) and write something several times a day.  This is a very fertile time.  Write down what happens and you will preserve many golden nuggets of awareness.  Remember: reflection is the mother of imagination!
  9. Exercise. Consciously break the sedentary trend and make sure you exercise every day during this tech cleanse.  This will help your brain function optimally, especially when you eat in a healthy and balanced way as well.
  10. Transcend. Whatever your spiritual path is, use this week to go deeper.  I have had many people start their tech cleanse with a meditation retreat, yoga workshop, or religious intensive.  There are deeper levels of consciousness and connection to the transcendent, however you define it.  Use this week to deepen your spiritual journey.  Incidentally, deepening your spiritual journey open you up to reflection and mindfulness.  These qualities always lead to a happier and more peaceful life.

Kevin’s Top Five Family Technology Tips

  1. Have at least some tech-free time as a family. Don’t allow smart phones at the dinner table, for example.
    2. In addition to tech-free time, have tech-free zones. Many families I work with choose to use the family room for this purpose. Cell phones, video game consoles, laptops, iPads, and computers are not allowed in there.
    3. Set a maximum time allowed on video games and the computer. I recommend no more than two hours a day.
    4. For each minute spent on the computer or video game, require a corresponding minute of exercise. This will allow you to combat the tendency for technology to createsedentary and obese children.
    5. No TV’s, computers, or video game consoles in the bedroom.