The Benefits of Using a Body Double with How to ADHD and Landmark College

The Benefits of Using a Body Double with How to ADHD and Landmark College

Getting homework and other tasks done remains difficult for many of us as we continue to study and work from home. Jessica McCabe of How to ADHD explains how using a “body double” can help hold you accountable. Jessica talks about how she uses this simple technique to help stay on track in this special episode sponsored by Landmark College in Putney, Vermont. It’s the college of choice for students who learn differently!

Check out Jessica’s ADHD videos at HowtoADHD.

Share your thoughts with us! How have you been adapting to learning from home?  Write an email or record a voice memo and send it to [email protected]

Distraction is created by Sounds Great Media. Our producer is Sarah Guertin and our audio engineer/editor is Scott Persson.

Do you know a student with ADHD or other learning difference looking for a higher education experience? Tell them about our amazing sponsor, Landmark College, in Putney, Vermont. Learn more HERE.

Check out this episode!

A transcript of this episode is below.


Dr. Ned Hallowell:
Hello and welcome to Distraction. I’m your host, Dr. Ned Hallowell. Thank you so much as always for joining me. We love our audience and we wish you’d tell our friends about us because we love reaching out to you and sharing the wonderful information as well as good cheer we hope that we do share. This episode is made possible by our wonderful sponsor Landmark College, the college of choice for students like me who learn differently. Joining me today once again is our favorite guests, the lovely, talented, amazingly triumphant in so many ways, Jessica McCabe, from How to ADHD. Jessica, I know you have an idea of what you’d like to talk about. You always do. So I don’t want to get in your way. Let me stand aside and welcome the so very talented Jessica McCabe.

Jessica McCabe:
Thank you for that incredible introduction. Yeah. I wanted to talk about body doubling today, because a lot of us are learning from home and things are even more challenging than maybe they usually are. There’s some great, great advantages to learning from home, or if you’re learning on campus, being by yourself when you’re studying or trying to take a course. Online courses can be great. They can also be really difficult because we don’t get enough accountability. We don’t have anybody else around. We’re not getting the cues that it’s time to work, that it’s time to focus the same way that you do, say you’re in the library and everybody else around you is studying. So you’re like, okay, cool. There’s that social pressure to study that we might not be getting when we’re at home. At home, we’re maybe getting pressured by things like the X-Box that keeps taunting us and being like, do you really need to study?

Jessica McCabe:
So one of the best things you can do is to use a body double. A body double in Hollywood means something very differently than what I’m talking about. In Hollywood, a body double means somebody who looks like you, who looks like the actor who fills in for the actor, maybe does some stunts or whatever, but is there so the actor doesn’t have to do the thing. If we have a body double when we have ADHD, we still have to do the thing. We just have somebody else in the room with us is really what it is. It’s somebody to sit quietly with you while you work. Maybe they are studying the same thing as you, maybe they’re studying something else, maybe they’re doing a completely different task, but the idea is you sit in silence and you have somebody else present.

Jessica McCabe:
And for those with ADHD, that can be really important because it can be so hard for us to stay focused and on task. The attention regulation is a part of our condition and our brains go so quickly that if we see a cue to do something else, we’re quick off and running, doing that thing before we realize, wait, I was supposed to be working on something else. So a body double can help with that. It can also help give us some emotional support to be honest, because there’s some tasks that we build this, as Brendan Mahan from ADHD Essentials puts it, a wall of awful around. We have struggled to do this seemingly simple tasks so many times, and we’ve failed at it in the past that there’s a lot of emotion that we have to get past to be able to start doing the thing.

Jessica McCabe:
And so just having somebody else there can be this emotional support as well in that way. It’s like that for me with paying bills. Opening and paying bills is one of the most difficult things in the world. It’s not that it’s hard technically. I do a lot more challenging things with a lot more ease because I just don’t have that same level of dread, of opening thing. And it’s a boring task and I’ve failed at it before and I’ve ruined my credit and there’s just so much around it that just having my boyfriend sit next to me while I do it is enough for me to be able to tackle that task. Otherwise, I’m going to put it off for forever and ruin my credit again. So knowing what tasks you could use a little extra support for, one thing to ask yourself is would this activity be easier if somebody else was in the room?

Jessica McCabe:
Another great thing about doing it is if you set it up ahead of time, it’s like an appointment. We tend to respect appointments more than we do saying, “Oh yeah, I’m going to totally play guitar today.” We’re not going to respect that as much as we have a performance day, somebody is expecting us to show up and perform for them. Body doubling is something in the middle, where somebody else will notice if you don’t do the thing and you’ve blocked out time for it. The way to find a body double, if this is something that sounds like it might be helpful for you, is there’s several ways. You can ask a friend and it can feel weird to be like, “Hey, can you sit with me while I do this thing so that I do this thing?” But you’d be surprised at how many people it benefits, how many other people are struggling with it, too. Because difficulty focusing isn’t unique to ADHD. It’s a part of a lot of other conditions as well, including sometimes the human condition.

Jessica McCabe:
So it’s beneficial, not just to you, but to the other person too, because you can be like, “Hey, is there something you’ve been putting off that you need help with making sure that you do? Cool. I’m struggling to do this. Let’s sit together and just put ourselves on mute and work in silence.” You can do it over Zoom. You don’t have to be in the same room. You can do it online. There’s also a website if you don’t know anybody that might be willing to do this with you. There’s a website called focusmate.com, where you can set it up. I think you get three sessions a week for free. And you can say, “Hey, at this time I need a partner. I’m going to be working on this. They’re going to be working on this.” And then you just sit in silence and work together.

Jessica McCabe:
If it is a friend, I do recommend having a distinction between when it’s time to talk and hang out and when it’s time to work. The Pomodoro Technique can work great for this where you set a timer for 25 minutes and then when the 25 minutes is up, cool, now we get to talk for five minutes. But then when that 25 minutes starts again, now we’re doing our work. Because otherwise, you’d set up a body doubling session and then you just end up talking to your friend for the entire hour. And there are certain people that it might be hard to do that with. If it’s somebody you haven’t seen in a long time, it might really hard to stop and study when what you actually really want to do is just catch up on everything that you’ve missed.

Jessica McCabe:
So it’s good to know yourself, know what tasks a body double might be helpful for, know who does and doesn’t work for you as a body double. And if you are being a body double for somebody else, recognize it’s not your job to make sure that they get their work done. You’re not there to lay down the law or anything. You don’t have to keep nagging them to do it. That’s their job. You’re just there to provide a gentle nonjudgmental presence, really. That’s pretty much all I got. Do you have any questions?

Dr. Ned Hallowell:
No. It’s such a great idea. Don’t you think a dog can also function as a body double?

Jessica McCabe:
Yeah. In a way they can, which is really interesting. I read once that sometimes they actually bring dogs in to classrooms to help kids with dyslexia who are struggling to read, who maybe feel self-conscious about doing it in front of other people. They’ll have them sit and read to a dog to get the practice, because that dog is not going to be judge-y. That dog is going to be absolutely welcoming. And my dog actually does serve as a body double for me while I’m at work. Part of what I’ve trained her to do is when I’m at work, she comes and hangs out with me and she sleeps or whatever, but I see her sleeping and I know it’s time to work, because at some point she’s going to wake up and need to be taken for a walk. At some point, she’s going to want to play with me. And so while she’s sleeping is a great time for me to sit down and focus.

Jessica McCabe:
So yeah, dogs can make a great body double. And sometimes people who don’t even know they’re being a body double can be a body double. For me, a great body double that I don’t need silence for is if I need to clean up, if I need to clean my room or something, if I’m on the phone with somebody, I’ll start cleaning my room, because usually it’s a horribly boring tasks that I don’t want to do for longer than three minutes. But if I’m talking to somebody, I’m distracted enough that I can clean my room without getting terribly bored. And so they end up keeping me company while I’m doing something that otherwise I wouldn’t do. And so you can do that even if they don’t know they’re being a body double as well.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:
Music can serve that function. Plants can serve that function. There are ways that you can feel input that allow you to do tedious tasks.

Jessica McCabe:
Yeah, that’s true. I think the key with body doubling is basically just knowing that someone will notice for the most part, generally speaking, someone will notice if you’re not doing the thing. Somebody knows what you’re supposed to be working on. And when you see that person, it acts as a reminder of what you’re supposed to be working on. And so you can set up other cues for yourself, too. When I put on this certain music playlist, I know it’s time to study. And if you get distracted and then you realize what’s playing, that’s a cue, that’s a reminder, oh right, I’m supposed to be studying. The same way that a body double in person can, you look at them and you’re like, all right, I’m supposed to be working on this thing. So there’s a lot of different ways to set up cues, but body doubles can be a great way to give yourself the cues that it’s time to work on what you’re supposed to be working, as well as that sense of positive feedback, I guess.

Jessica McCabe:
Even if they don’t say anything, you know that they’re seeing that you’re working. And so then that feels good. And you can set up at the beginning of the session, “Hey, this is what I’m going to be working on. This is what you’re going to be working on.” And at the end of the session, you can say, “This is what I got done.” So then you get a little bit of, I get to feel good. Somebody got to notice that I did the thing.” And that could be [crosstalk 00:09:20].

Dr. Ned Hallowell:
I think it’s also, Jessica, the force of what I call the other vitamin C, vitamin connect. And I think just having a human in the room fortifies you, strengthens you, reduces your fear, makes you feel more in control. Particularly these days we’re living with such disconnection. When you have a person there, aside from the fact that they’re watching or what have you, I think just the force field that emanates between two people, we know, it’s a scientific fact how powerful it is. And when there’s no one there, social isolation, most people don’t realize this, but social isolation is as dangerous for your health as cigarette smoking.

Jessica McCabe:
Yeah. It can be a great way to give yourself a little connection as well. One other thing that I do with body doubling is I have trouble stopping work on time. And so my boyfriend and I started doing this thing where one of us picks the other one up from work, quote, unquote, we’re in different rooms, but we’ll pick each other up and then we’ll walk around and spend time together.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:
That’s great.

Jessica McCabe:
And so we’re getting body doubling, because we’re both making sure that we get exercise, we’re making sure that we get outside. We’re making sure that we stop working. And that peer pressure and that connection that we get is really wonderful, because it makes it so that we get the things done that we want to get done. We get the connection we need, we get the walk, we get the exercise, which can be so important for ADHD. And it makes it easier. It really does. It just makes it easier to have somebody else be there with you when you do it.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:
Absolutely. Absolutely. Well, as always, you are a treasure trove of wisdom and gems, always put in such a charming and pleasant way. That’s it for us today. You can learn more about Jessica McCabe at her website, Howtoadhd.com. And if you would like to support her work, she has this wonderful way that you can do it. You go to the website called Patreon, P-A-T-R-E-O-N, like a sponsor. Patreon.com/howtoadhd. Go to Patreon.com/howtoadhd. That’s a wonderful way to support Jessica’s work and other people who need that kind of help.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:
And if you’re someone who learns differently like me, like Jessica, please check out our sponsor [email protected] That’s [email protected], Landmark College in beautiful Putney, Vermont. It’s the college of choice for students who learn differently.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:
And please remember, reach out to us with your questions and comments. We thrive on them. We need them, by sending an email or a voice memo to [email protected] That’s [email protected] And remember to subscribe to Distraction wherever you get your podcasts. And if you’re on Apple Podcasts, please leave us a review. We love getting reviews. That really helps the show.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:
I’m also now on Tik Tok. You can go to Tik Tok and find me with the username @Drhallowell. That’s @d-r, no period. Just @d-r-h-a-l-l-o-w-e-l-l. Please let me know what you think.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:
Distraction is created by Sounds Great Media. Our recording engineer and editor is the extremely talented Scott Person. And our producer is the equally extremely talented Sarah Gurton. I’m Dr. Ned Hallowell thanking you all and Jessica McCabe. Look forward to seeing you next time. Bye for now.

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