For the last 23 years I’ve been working with coaching clients who want to improve executive function skills.
What are executive function skills, you ask? Here’s a list from the Guare & Dawson Model.
Metacognition — Being able to observe yourself and be aware of your own thinking. Build self-monitoring and self-evaluation skills.
Planning/Prioritizing — Create, then follow, an effective planning process that fits your needs and style. Prioritize responsibilities easily based on your most relevant criteria.
Persistence Toward Goals — Sticking with it. Being accountable. Avoid getting derailed by shiny objects.
Organization –Establish and meet the standards for your own optimal level of organization.
Task Initiation vs. Procrastination — Build the mental muscle to dive into the task instead of putting it off. Particularly the boring or unpleasant tasks.
Focus — Everyone and everything is vying for attention. Identify the criteria for what earns your attention. Stay laser focused on things that make the cut and don’t get sidetracked by all the other stuff.
Time Management — Invest time in ways that matter to you and your work. An artful blend of professional and personal time lays the groundwork for doing our best — because we’re at our best.
Emotional Intelligence — Being aware of yourself and your own emotions, interacting with others kindly and professionally, embracing differences, managing stress and being prepared to confidently make important decisions.
Impulse Control — Resist the urge to fire off the email to the idiot in the office. Think carefully before saying “yes” or committing to an aggressive deadline. Say no to eating the remaining nine doughnut holes because they’re almost gone anyway.
Flexibility and Resilience — Roll with the punches. Get back up after a knock-down. Gracefully pivot instead of wildly spinning in circles when a loop has been thrown.
Speaking of Pivots…
(Hang tight, the connection between above and below is coming.)
A few months ago, I read an article about a very disturbing way of thinking, that 95% of the time, is related to ADHD. Gobsmacked, because the heartbreaking description read like it was pulled directly from my brain, I wondered, is it possible I have ADHD?
Turns out it’s not a possibility. It’s a certainty. A four-hour-assessment that delved into my history as far back as grade school and then reviewed by a licensed psychiatrist, confirmed it. The last three-plus months have included feeling relieved, frustrated, sad, curious, hopeful, and excited to start doing things differently.
- I told some same-age girlfriends about the diagnosis, and a few shared they’d recently been diagnosed too! How about that?! This is happening a LOT in adult women. (Next two bullets explain why.)
- I’m ADHD with Inattentive Presentation, which means my hyperactivity is primarily mental. My brain pays attention to everything, but that’s invisible to others.
- That’s why little girls often don’t get diagnosed with ADHD. Since many times they’re not literally bouncing off the walls, the other signs go unnoticed. (Boys can also have Inattentive Presentation, but as children it’s more often girls.)
- Masking is common. Especially in adults. Masking is essentially working hard to hide the challenges we face as a person with ADHD. I masked because I didn’t know there was a reason for my challenges. I just assumed I needed to work even harder, be more committed or try another solution. Masking is a drag.
- It’s almost impossible to focus on boring things. But if it’s interesting, hyperfocus is common. I never lose focus when I’m working with a coaching client. Our work together is far too interesting.
- Stimulant medication doesn’t do the same thing for folks with ADHD that it does for the neurotypical. It helps my brain slow down and focus on tasks — even the boring ones.
- Pills aren’t a cure all, but mostly, they should be the first course of action. It’s a personal choice and they don’t work for everyone. But saying people with ADHD shouldn’t take stimulants is like saying diabetics shouldn’t take insulin.
- Remember those executive functions from the beginning of the article? Pills don’t build those skills. Typically, people get diagnosed, get meds and then work on those skills.
- That wasn’t my path. I spent 23 years developing, honing, and coaching those executive function skills before being diagnosed and getting the help from meds. I’m proud of that accomplishment. Like anyone else, I have some natural strengths and talents that made a difference in my development success. But the ADHD added a wrinkle that required my relentless determination no matter how challenging the effort.
- There are many ways to be neurodivergent and every one of them has upsides and downsides. There are downsides for me for sure. But I’m certain my ADHD makes me more committed, compassionate, resilient, empathetic, and insightful. Hope that doesn’t sound braggy — but those are seriously important qualities for a coach. I chose the ideal career path.
Why Share This with You?
- Hiding truths is exhausting and inauthentic. More of that awful masking that I now choose to ditch.
- If people make judgments about my skill or intelligence, it’s because they don’t have enough information about ADHD. Michael Phelps, Simone Biles, Richard Branson, Emma Watson, Dave Grohl and Justin Timberlake have all been diagnosed with ADHD and do just fine. It’s the first and only thing we have in common. I’ll take it.
- It’s a relief to have an explanation for why hundreds of things were so difficult, went the way they did, or made me feel a certain way, even going back childhood. Everything finally makes sense. It’s as if I‘ve been given the lid to a 1000-piece puzzle.
- Sharing my stories may help someone recognize themselves or someone they care about. If I hadn’t read that article, I’d still be unaware. It’s a bummer that that I found out this late in life. But better late than never.
- Those executive function skills are important for everybody. ADHD or not. I’ll keep writing about how to develop and hone them. But be more expansive, keeping in mind how people with ADHD see and experience the world