How to Survive Small Talk with ADHD

ADHD Strategies, Adults with ADHD    October 1, 2018

small talk and ADHDHate small talk?

Does the thought of making small talk fill you with dread? You’re not alone. Most people dislike idle chitchat because it feels fake and like a waste of time. If you have ADHD it is likely that making small talk is one of your top least favorite things to do.

Over the years I have listened as clients describe the lengths to which they go to avoid having to make small talk. Arriving to class just after the bell rings. Skipping lunches. Turning down invitations for social events because they were preceded by a period likely to include the need for “small talk”. Surviving small talk is not a small problem for many people with ADHD.

Why is this trivial style of conversation so difficult for some people with ADHD? Well, the problem lies in the very definition. Small talk is defined as the art of having conversation about “unimportant” things. Unimportant, aka uninteresting and boring to people with active, creative ADHD brains.

In fact, I like the definition given by the Urban dictionary best when it defines small talk as:

Useless and unnecessary conversation attempted to fill the silence in an awkward situation. Commonly backfires into feelings of loneliness and social discomfort. Usually is initiated by comments regarding the current weather, weather pattern of the past/future few days or major weather disturbances in the recent past. (Insert yawn here). Lucky for those people who find the weather incredibly interesting. And for the rest of us…a topic about as interesting as discussing paint drying.

People with ADHD are not alone with finding small talk meaningless. Studies show that in general people prefer having deeper and more meaningful discussions. Conversation with more substance are linked to increased happiness and well being. Social customs and etiquette aside, we are social beings. Good conversations create greater connection. Simply put, talking about stuff that matters, not trivial matters, make us happier.

That said getting a conversation going is not always easy. On a date, at a dinner party, or even with a loved one, dialogue doesn’t always flow. The good news is it doesn’t have to be this way. Following are 6 ways to turn small talk into conversations that are more meaningful.

  1. Ask open ended questions. Starting a question with a “what” leads to answers that are fuller and expand the conversation. “What” questions encourage introspection and show you are genuinely interested in the other person’s experience.
  2. Be curious. Ask questions that will help you find common topics. Avoid asking the predictable questions like, “Where are you from?” and “What do you do?” Be curious about the people you meet. Find out what makes them unique, what you might have in common, what new interesting thing you might learn. Instead ask “What’s something most people don’t appreciate about your work?” or “What’s one of your fondest memories growing up?”
  3. Ask for advice. For the most part, people love to talk about themselves and their experiences. Studies show that talking about ourselves feels good. In fact it activates the same areas of the brain when eating good food and being with people we like. Note: For the purposes of small talk remember this is about asking the other person for advice and their experiences.
  4. Apply generous listening. Generous listening involves hearing the words the other person is saying and paying attention to what they are not saying. Try to notice when the topic is something the other person is passionate about. You’ll know this when the speed of their speech increases. Their eyes light up. And they seem to be unaware of much else but the topic. Once that happens all you have to do is listen.
  5. Consider the 80/20 rule. The aim is to get the other person talking 80% of the time while you talk 20% of the time. The right questions will do this. Getting the other person talking is one of the best ways to get through small talk.
  6. Give the long answer. Holding up your end of the conversation means you give the other person something to work with. For example, if asked about the weather, don’t give the short answer…this is your chance to embellish. Talk about what you like to do in weather like this. Or talk about your favorite time of year.

Bottom line: You can turn around your previous dread with small talk. By changing your perspective, your questions, and your answers, you can change small talk into something important and interesting.

Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people. – Eleanor Roosevelt

What are some of your best ideas for surviving small talk? I’d love to hear from you.

When Your Father Dies

Adults with ADHD    August 29, 2018

ADHD tipping pointWhen your father dies some say you lose your biggest fan.  Some say your childhood ends.

The thing is — when your father dies, it doesn’t matter that other people’s fathers have died, that fathers have been dying since human time began. What matters is that he was your father. Your one and only father. The loss is unique and yours alone.

When your father dies, people say many things. Things like: Sorry for your loss. Condolences to you and your family. May he rest in peace. He is in a better place. Our prayers and thoughts are with you.

It’s not easy to remember all the words, but you will remember the kindness and know that death is not easy for them either.

When your father dies, close friends and extended family become very important and comforting because they know your story and his more intimately and fully than most.

When your father dies, it feels impossible. How can a man who has defied medicine for 40 years, delivered babies, was a Navy Captain, saved lives, had two last right blessings… finally succumb to something so human as death? Heroes in stories don’t die.

When your father dies, and you weren’t there with him, you might carry that like a permanent hole in your heart. Something you’ll get used to, but part of you will always know it’s there.

When your father dies, and you were with him, you will be grateful you were holding his hand when he took his last breath…and still think of all the things you meant to say.

Things like I love you and thank you one more time.

When your father dies, you’ll realize you want to know more about who he was other  than your father.

When your father dies, you will remember his words of wisdom with a new fondness…advice such as “when all else fails read the directions”, and that “changing a tire and learning to play poker is something every gal needs to know how to do”.

When your father dies, you will see your mother a bit differently. Especially if she is the one who cared for him. You’ll wonder who she will be without him after 62 years of marriage.

When your father dies, you will be thankful for siblings who shared the same childhood and the same memories and stories of your father.

When your father dies, you will be glad that you named one of your children after him, that his grandchildren spent time with him and inherited his intellect, charm, compassion, and determination.

When your father dies, the small particulars of his life grow more significant.

The baseball caps he always wore, the tenderness in his large mitt-like hands, his appreciation for sweets and musicals.

When your father dies, even though at times he was bigger than life, you realize ultimately how frail, and human he really was.

When your father dies, you will become intrigued by the life he built for his children and grandchildren considering the humble childhood he started from.

When your father dies, you adjust your place in the world, in your family. You are now a core family of four, one step closer to your own death and things will never be the same.

When your father dies, you learn how others — friends, relatives, colleagues, neighbors, patients — saw and experienced him differently. Their memories and stories will fill spaces in your own heart and mind.

When your father dies, you start to notice or maybe just perhaps want to notice how much you’re like him. Your love of people and reading. Your curiosity. Your sense of humor. Your impatience. It’s not all good, but it helps to keep him with you.

When your father dies, you will grieve the man who was once at the center of your universe. And maybe, one day you’ll notice your grief has lessened. Maybe you’ll feel relieved and your relief may leave you feeling guilty.

But every now and then, when you hear a John Phillip Souza marching band song, or you see a man wearing a Boston Red Sox hat, or hear his familiar words “if all else fails read the directions” come from your mouth, you will smile, feel that familiar knot in your chest, and perhaps to no one in particular, you’ll say, “Love you, Dad.”

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What is your ADHD Procrastination Style?

ADHD Strategies    August 1, 2018

ADHD procrastinationDo you feel like you are always playing catch up, missing deadlines, or putting off activities you planned to do for things that are less important?  If so, you are not alone.  Twenty percent of individuals identify themselves as procrastinators.

According to researchers, procrastination has more than quadrupled in the last 30 years!  Procrastination has become so common for some that they shrug it off and simply describe procrastination as a way of life.

The problem with procrastination is more than just not getting things done, or only done at the last minute, it is what it does to our lives overall:

  • 40% of procrastinators have experienced financial loss, missing professional opportunities or paying extra in the long run in late fees after putting off paying bills, tickets or taxes.
  • Our relationships are hurt and impacted resulting in higher rates of divorce.
  • The accompanying stress and anxiety contribute to headaches, sleeplessness, lowered immune system function, depression, heart disease, and high blood pressure.
  • Our self-confidence, satisfaction and happiness have a negative impact

 

As a trained Nurse Practitioner and ADHD Life Coach for over 15 years, I can honestly say one of the most common challenges for my clients is procrastination… putting important tasks off…not being able to start a task…thinking there’s more time to complete a task.  One client once said to me as we were exploring her procrastination: “I’m not a procrastinator…  I am a time optimist!” In fact, she was not too far from the truth.

There are many different reasons people procrastinate and I call these your “procrastination style”.  Following are seven procrastination styles, their pitfalls, and simple solutions.  Which one(s) describe you?

The Optimist:  This style of procrastinator truly believes they have plenty of time to complete a task.  You can spot an optimist procrastinator because they seem upbeat, relaxed; even carefree in the midst of a looming deadline.  That is until time runs out.  The pitfall for many optimist procrastinators is that they have a different perception or sense of time than other people.  To them, time is a vague intangible concept.  One way to know if you are an optimist procrastinator is to consider how you currently keep track of time.  Most optimist procrastinators will have few if any external tools, like clocks or alarms in their environment to help them keep track of time.  If they do, often these will not be set accurately, or not in working order.  One time optimist proclaimed, “I love clocks. I have lots of beautiful clocks in my home, I just don’t think they are working.”

I call this difference in the perception of time, being “time blind.”  Similar to being color blind, optimist procrastinators may not even realize they experience time differently than most.  Optimist procrastinators will also have difficulty accurately estimating time.  For example, optimists will underestimate the amount of time needed to complete a task or be overly optimistic about how much they can complete in a small amount of time.  Optimist procrastinators are known for “five-minute-itis”:  thinking they can accomplish a list of tasks in only five minutes.  They also can experience the passage of time differently.  For instance, if they are innately interested in a task, two hours can seem like five minutes.  However, if they are innately uninterested in an activity, five minutes can feel like two hours.

If this is you, here are strategies to improve your likelihood of success:

  • Increase the environmental cues that remind you of time and the passage of time. Have analog clocks in every corner of your environment, including the bathroom and garage.
  • Track how long common tasks or activities actually take you to complete. Most often, there is a huge “aha” when you discover realistically how much you can accomplish in a given time.

The Preparer: The preparer style of procrastination can be difficult to spot because these individuals seem to be so busy.  Busy preparing, researching, gathering ideas, planning, and perfecting rather than actually tackling the important task…getting it done.  Preparers can spend a whole lot of time getting ready.  Unfortunately, and often surprisingly for even the preparers, these activities end up interfering with the actual task they want to complete.  The pitfall for the preparers is to know when it’s time to stop preparing and time to get down to the doing – because getting it done is more important than getting it perfect.

For preparers, procrastination is a way of putting off the anticipated dreaded moment that it won’t be “right” and more importantly that they won’t be right.

Here is the answer for the preparer procrastinator:

  • Adopt a mindset of aiming for progress rather than perfect. This doesn’t mean lowering standards or putting in less effort, it’s simply a shift in the focus of the outcome.  Preparation is one of the first steps, but so is completion.  Focusing on the progress and moving forward step-by-step means keeping mindful of not only the importance of getting ready, but of getting it done.

The Overwhelmed:  This style of procrastinator can be spotted because they stop before they even get started.  For this style of procrastination, tasks may feel too big to accomplish or they perceive it will take a lot of time to complete.  For the overwhelmed, molehills definitely look like mountains.  Standing at the bottom of that mountain paralyzes them.  In addition, prioritization and planning can be difficult.

The result?  The overwhelmed procrastinator is not sure where to start on a task or what to do after that.  Instead, procrastination happens because they give up, check out, or decide to put it off until a “better time.”  Secretly the overwhelmed hope the task will somehow become clearer, smaller, more manageable or take less time when they return to it.

Here are the keys to overcoming this style of procrastination:

  • Break the task into smaller pieces from the beginning and start…anywhere. Another way to describe this technique is to chunk the project, task, or goal into smaller pieces.  This serves to create more manageable parts to address.
  • Consider that the task might not require as much time as you think it will. Approach the task in bite-sized chunks of time, say 15 minutes increments, rather than trying to accomplish the task in one sitting.  This will allow you to see incremental accomplishments.
  • Elicit the help of others. Having someone else around simply as moral support can help get past the initial hesitation of starting.  Asking others, such as a friend, spouse, or boss, how they would prioritize or plan to accomplish a task can be a quick way to get down to business.

The Over-extender: The over-extenders are very popular, likable people.  They are helpful, willing, and eager.  These procrastinators are quick to say yes, take on more and more, and then end up juggling (unsuccessfully) too many things at once.  Then, when they aren’t able to complete most of it, they blame themselves.  To make up for their own perceived lack they get stuck in a vicious cycle.  They offer to do more, hoping to compensate for the times they didn’t follow through, and again end up completing less.  It is inevitable that something is going to get forgotten, lost, or put off until the last minute.  And around and around the over-extenders go.

The key to turning procrastination around for the over-extenders:

  • Realize your natural limits and that for everyone, time and energy are limited commodities. Know your limits.
  • Identify your priorities and what’s most important for you. Give yourself permission to say no to spending time and energy doing things that don’t align with your values.

The Forgeter: This style of procrastinator simply forgets or mis-remembers a task they wanted to complete. The forgeter is characteristically confidant, capable, and intelligent. They are used to and proud of being able to keep track of their “to-dos”, schedule, responsibilities, and deadlines in their head.  The problem?  The forgeter’s life gets so busy and full they no longer can rely on their memory to keep track of it all.

Our memory evolved to protect us from danger by helping us remembering things that might harm us.  The forgeter is simply trying to use their memory for less threatening tasks.  Something it wasn’t designed to do.  And so, smaller, less threatening, but important tasks get forgotten and go undone.

Here’s the solution for forgeter procrastinators:

  • Realize that your memory is an evolutionary tool to help you remember things that would be dangerous for you verses a tool to remember mundane tasks. Simply put, our brains were not made to remember the plethora of minute details, tasks or deadlines common in this current age.
  • Use an external memory system (EMS)…even if this feels like it undermines your intelligence to not be able to remember everything on your own. Systems can include everything from newfangled electronic to a simple old fashion pen to pad or planner approach.

The Distracted: Those with the distracted style of procrastination have perhaps the best intentions of all.  They want to get started, work on, and complete a task.  They know the task is important.  The problem is that something else, more interesting catches their attention…a sound or something that catches their eye, or hunger, thirst, even a creative idea.  And then innocently, and without even noticing, the distracted veer off from their intended goal.

The key for the distracted procrastinators is to:

  • Find a way to reduce the possibility of distractions so you can stay on task. This includes everything from attending to physical needs to rearranging the environment to reduce the likelihood of erroneous distractions occurring. One way to think about this strategy is like an athlete preparing for a big event.  Prior to the game their focus is on being physically fit, well fed, rested.  Just prior to the event they mentally reduce outside distractions using headphones, keeping eye contact to a minimum and getting clear on their intentions.  They do this each and every time in order to not get distracted and be able to perform their best.

The Bored: It’s hard to image that boredom can be physically uncomfortable, even painful.  However, those with the bored procrastination style know exactly what this means.  It’s like slogging through mud with thousand pound boots on in your brain and not being able to escape.

For the “it’s boring” procrastinator, it’s essential to

  • Get a bit creative. Know what’s interesting to you and sprinkle that in to stave off the boredom.  Work at a bustling café, use color to spruce up a boring spreadsheet, listen to music…do whatever it takes to spice, sparkelize and shake things up.

The Crises-worker: The crises-worker style of procrastinator thrives under pressure. These procrastinators are convinced they do their best work at the last minute. Crises-workers will even describe experiencing clarity of mind and a type of brilliance that happens when they procrastinate just long enough.

To understand the crises-worker procrastination style, it helps to look beyond the “putting things off until the last minute” behavior to what is happening physiologically in the brain.  When the crises-worker delays getting started until the last minute their body goes into a stress response cycle.  Under stress our body responds the same whether it is the stress of an impending deadline or because a wild bear is approaching.  When stressed, adrenaline is released into our blood stream by our adrenal glands.  The adrenaline triggers the release of dopamine in our brain. This is a physiological adaptation to help us think clearly.  The increase surge of dopamine can now activate the executive function.  And voilà, like magic the crises-worker can now focus and get things done!  The magical design of our bodies to keep a calm head under stress.

The pitfall for the crises-worker procrastinator is that the human body was not designed to depend on stress to get things done.  Inevitably the body will stop being able to respond in its normal manner and/or other life responsibilities suffer.

Solution for the crises-worker procrastinator include:

  • Adopting healthier ways to activate dopamine and utilizing other natural ways of maximizing their productivity.
  • Exercise and foods such as caffeine and chocolate can increase the release of dopamine in the brain.
  • Identifying when they are naturally most productive, for instance in the morning or evening, and then planning to focus on less interesting tasks at those times can be helpful.
  • Medications, such as stimulant medications, target dopamine receptors and increase the amount of dopamine available for the brain.

As an ADHD Life Coach, I have a fierce determination to help people enjoy their authentic brilliance, appreciate their uniqueness and live life as it suits them best.  I want people to experience as much fullness and satisfaction as they can in their lives.

Procrastination not only robs us of money, but of time and happiness.  You are not born a procrastinator.  Procrastination is a behavior you learned to compensate for something else.  Something you may not even be aware of.  The good news is that once you understand your procrastination style, what your underlying real struggle is, you can apply some simple strategies to turn your to-dos into ta-da! And you can turn from a procrastinator to a pro “activator”!

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