Managing Your ADHD in the Pandemic

Managing Your ADHD in the Pandemic

Based on the emails we’ve received, lots of our listeners are struggling with their ADHD right now. Dr. H addresses several questions in this episode including getting diagnosed while in quarantine, educational accommodations, impulsive versus compulsive, and the upside of being forced to slow down. And on a lighter note, Ned learns he’s not alone in his ADHD cooking misadventures!

Do you have a question or comment for Dr. Hallowell? 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 (@sarahguertin) and our recording engineer/editor is Pat Keogh.

Episode image by Daniel Xavier from Pexels.

Listen to this episode!

A transcript of this episode can be found below.


Dr. Ned Hallowell:

Hello, welcome to Distraction. I’m your host, Dr. Ned Hallowell. And I want to thank all of you who’ve been reaching out to us with your comments and questions. We love them. We love them. We love them. We really, really do. So today we are going to prove it by devoting the entire episode to responding to your emails and questions that we’ve received over the past few weeks.

My producer, the incredibly talented Sarah Guertin joins me now, virtually of course, and she will read to me your emails so I can respond. I have not seen these before. So what I will be offering is an off the top of my head off, the cuff, shoot from the hip immediate response, which I hope will have some sense to it. So Sarah, welcome and would you like to read me the first email?

Sarah Guertin:

Certainly. Thank you. It sounds like you might’ve just gotten another one too.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:

Yeah, yeah.

Sarah Guertin:

Okay. This first email is from a listener named Maria. She wrote, “My eight-year-old son has been recently diagnosed with ADHD. His struggles were the same as me when I was growing up. As a 35-year-old woman and now professional accountant, I can see ADHD traits encroaching my everyday work life. Examples of this are having difficulty focusing on reading a long technical document and regularly interrupting coworkers. I’m fun to be around, but as I continue to move into more lucrative positions, I’m afraid my ADHD like symptoms will hinder my ability to learn more complex technical issues and to be taken seriously. With COVID-19 rampant, would an online ADHD specialist be able to give a proper diagnosis that can be used to start behavioral therapy and possibly if needed be prescribed medication? Thank you for your help. I love your podcasts. Stay safe.”

Dr. Ned Hallowell:

The answer is yes, an emphatic yes. And that’s something I’ve been learning during this pandemic. Pretty much every day I do just what you asked. I’ll make a diagnosis over Zoom on a new patient. Someone that I’ve never met in-person. The same principles apply. You take a history and you reach a diagnosis. So yes indeed and I would urge you to do that because if you do have ADHD and it sounds like you do, getting treatment for it can make an enormous difference.

And the treatment is not just medication. It begins with education and learning about it, what it is, what it isn’t, learning how it plays out in your life, in your relationships, and a number of different ways of dealing with it, which may or may not include stimulant medication. But the answer to your question, yes indeed. You can call my office in Sudbury or my office in New York, set up a Zoom session and I will get on the line and tell you whether you have this mysteriously fascinating condition or not and then take it from there.

If you want to know how to reach my office, just go to my website drhallowell.com.

Sarah Guertin:

Okay. Next up is an email from Jessica. She has actually reached out to us in the past, but this time she writes, “I love listening to your podcast and I truly appreciate all the different advice and suggestions you give all of us. You previously recommended me to find a job that best fits my personality and a place that I am happy. After juggling my finances and balancing my life, I took an opportunity and relocated from Southern California to Northern California and became a teacher.”

Sarah Guertin:

“I work with students that are in grade six to nine, with moderate to severe special education. I can honestly tell you that. I love my job. I am passionate about working with them. I learned something new every day. They love me and accept me with all of my disabilities. My struggle is standardized tests. I need to successfully complete my CBEST and CSET.”

Sarah Guertin:

And I looked those up. Those are California educator exams, but she says “I have failed the test and I have always struggled with all standardized tests. When I was in high school I almost didn’t graduate because of the same reason. I am constantly studying, but nothing seems to help me. What advice can you recommend?”

Dr. Ned Hallowell:

Well, if you have ADHD, which could very well be if you’re having trouble on standardized tests, medication could make all the difference in the world. So I would suggest you go get an evaluation. And again, as I just said, you can do that online during the pandemic and find out if you fit the profile.

Then if you do, you’re entitled both to extra time on the test, on the standardized test as well as if medication is helpful, medication to help you pass it. I had a patient this year, a wonderful doctor who had taken the board exam, which is sort of the equivalent of what you’re trying to pass four times and failed every time. And when we diagnosed her ADD and got her on medication and got her extra time on the test. This time, the fifth try, she passed with flying colors. And that’s not an uncommon story.

So we ADDers often have tremendous trouble with standardized tests, but the combination of extra time and perhaps medication could really make a huge difference for you. So I would get an evaluation and see if this would do the trick for you. Because this is a good chance that it would. Just go to drhallowell.com and we can set something up.

Sarah Guertin:

Okay. This email is from Chuck in Georgia. He wrote, “the instant pot story has me laughing and feeling better about my ADD cooking. I’m 55 now, and I’ve become a good cook and baker over the years, despite some failures.” So obviously he’s referring to that episode you released about your instant pot story.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:

Uh-huh (affirmative).

Sarah Guertin:

But he says, “In college, I was making Kraft macaroni and cheese. I boiled the water and put the pasta in the water to boil the pasta according to the recipe. After boiling the noodles for the time stated on the package, I opened the cheese packet, added the cheese and stirred. I waited a few minutes and the macaroni just wasn’t coming together like it was supposed to do.”

“What I hadn’t done was pour the water and pasta into a colander before returning the cooked pasta into the pot, and then adding the cheese. I had poured the cheese into the boiling water and was waiting for the cheese and pasta to, I don’t know, cook down.”

He says, “If you enjoy this story, feel free to ask about my chicken curry and the wok or my bean burgers. Thanks for your ADD tips, advice and encouragement. They helped me. Thanks even more for Landmark College. My step son is a student there and really developing academically and as a man.”

Dr. Ned Hallowell:

Oh, that’s wonderful. I could see, in fact, I have made Kraft macaroni and cheese, and I almost did just what you did. I almost forgot that you got to drain the pasta before you put it in the cheese. So I could totally identify this. You’d pour in the cheese and then you’re watching it, hoping that it’ll turn into something that looks like macaroni and cheese, but all you’re getting is macaroni and cheese soup. That’s very, very funny.

I just did a little video I was talking about the downside of ADD, and I told the story on myself where I always have grapefruit juice and coffee for breakfast. And I take milk in my coffee. So I had the coffee cup there and I had the glass for the grapefruit juice and I had the grapefruit juice container and the half gallon of milk.

What did I do? I poured the grapefruit juice into the coffee and it’s just why would I do that? Well, I just wasn’t thinking as they say. But then I said the solution is structured. So from now on, I’m going to have the coffee cup and the glass for the grapefruit juice far enough apart, so that I’d actually have to think before I realized what I was pouring.

And now that won’t be foolproof, but it’ll be a step in the right direction other than my point was, don’t try to change yourself, change your system. It’s a lot easier to change your system than it is to change yourself. But thank you for your lovely story. I can just see the Kraft macaroni and cheese and turning into soup. Okay and thank you for your kind words about Landmark. What a great place that is. So do we have another one coming, Sarah?

Sarah Guertin:

We sure do. This next one is a little bit longer and I had to shorten it a little bit, but it’s from a woman named Rosemary. She wrote, “I grew up with a mother who was a hoarder and subsequently with the public attention to the problem of hoarding over the last 10 or more years, I came to understand that my grandfather was also a hoarder.”

“My sister and I grew up in conditions where the houses we lived in were always full of garbage, cockroaches, cat, feces, and mice when we lived in places where cats weren’t allowed.” Yeah, she says, “We moved to frequently due to evictions. Hoarding is treated as symptomatic of an anxiety disorder. I suffered from generalized anxiety disorder for several years following my husband’s death and cognitive behavioral therapy helped me a great deal.”

“More recently over the last two or so years, I’ve basically diagnosed myself as falling under the umbrella of what’s called ADHD. I haven’t been formally diagnosed. I am hyper-focused when it relates to my research or other things I find interesting, but I get years behind on taxes and paperwork is a nightmare for me.”

“I’ve always been very impulsive and extroverted, although I think I’m mellowing with age, currently I’m 49. In some, has anyone thought about a connection between hoarding and ADHD? I know that people with ADHD could also have other co-morbid problems. Maybe in my family, ADHD and anxiety have combined in certain ways that led to hoarding or problems that on the surface look a lot like hoarding, any thoughts?”

And then she followed it up with just another quick question. She’s also wondering about the difference between impulsivity and compulsivity saying she doesn’t quite understand the difference because when she gets an impulse, she often feels compelled to act on it.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:

Hmm, that’s interesting. Let’s start with the last question. Impulsive is simply acting without thinking. So you see an apple on the teacher’s desk and you snatch it without a plan, as opposed to someone who has a conduct disorder, they plan to take the apple when the teacher isn’t looking. So it’s a question of volition and that’s contrasting impulsive behavior versus a conduct disorder, low conscience, that kind of thing.

Now compulsive, compulsive is sort of akin to an addiction and you are compelled. You feel compelled to not step on the crack or avoid the number 13,, or not open an umbrella inside as in obsessive compulsive disorder, OCD, the compulsions or these irrational feelings that you have to do something. They’re not impulsive. They’re not spontaneous out of nowhere. They just rise up and they’re usually irrational, superstitious like stepping on cracks or not stepping on cracks.

So you’re quite right. You, you do feel compelled and it’s against reason. You’ve you feel compelled not to step on a crack, even though “that stepping on a crack is no problem.” People step on cracks all the time, but in your mind, your imagination plays a trick on you. And you conclude that it’s extremely dangerous to step on a crack. And so you’re compelled not to.

Impulsive, you suddenly do something without thinking. Compulsive, you are forced to do something out of irrational needs. Now you can also not have it be OCD-like. You can have compulsions like compulsive gambling, which is close to an addiction, sort of cousin to an addiction. Compulsive gambling, compulsive drinking compulsive use of the internet, compulsive shopping.

If you’re on your way to developing what could be called an addiction. So a compulsion in that sense is like a bad habit. It’s hard for you to stop gambling. You’d like to, but it’s hard for you to stop, or it’s hard for you to stop drinking. You’d like to, you’re a compulsive drinker. Or you’re a compulsive user of the internet, which applies to an awful lot of people these days.

You would like to do it less, but you can’t seem to willpower your way to doing it less. And so you are compulsive in that sense. So there are different meanings of compulsive. Now, as for your possible ADD, yes, ADD and hoarding are often found together. And the good news is if you get your ADD treated, you might find it a lot easier to get past the generalized anxiety disorder.

And while the CBT, the cognitive behavioral therapy helped you after the death of your husband, which is very sad, by the way, it sounds like he was pretty young if you were only 49. I’m sorry to hear that. That must’ve been pretty tough for you. But if you are the cousin to hoarding, generalized anxiety disorder, sometimes it goes away when you treat the ADD. Because one of the reasons for anxiety is feeling out of control and people with add often feel out of control.

They don’t know how they’re going to screw up next. They’re waiting for the next mistake to be made or the next reprimand to come their way. And so it creates a very anxious state to live in. And oftentimes when you get the ADD treated, you feel more in control, which immediately reduces your anxiety. Same thing, by the way, a lot of people are diagnosed with depression don’t really have depression. They’re just bummed out because they’re not doing as well as they know they could do.

And when they get their ADD treated, their performance improves markedly. And so what had looked like depression goes away because it wasn’t really depression. It was simply a feeling of bummed out because I’m not where I ought to be. You do that for a while and it can look for all the world like you’re depressed, but you’re not really.

Because once you get your ADD treated and your performance improves both the anxiety and the depression go away. This leads to one of the common mistakes that gets made is that someone goes to see a doctor who’s not familiar with ADHD and gets diagnosed with depression and anxiety, and gets put on a SSRI like Prozac or Zoloft. And that is not what they need.

It’ll help them a little bit, but what they really need as far as medication goes is a stimulant medication, which will help them focus, which will reduce their anxiety and reduce what had looked like depression. But wasn’t really depression.

Again, it comes back to how important it is to get the full and complete diagnosis and not treat symptomatically the anxiety and the perhaps depression.

So yes, go get yourself diagnosed and I hope the explanation of compulsive versus impulsive made sense to you as well. Thank you so much, Rosemary. Please keep writing to us. Do we have another one, Sarah?

Sarah Guertin:

We do. This one comes from a listener named Cynthia. She wrote, “My nine-year-old son and I are both ADHD experiencers. I have found your podcast to be excellent and wanted to respond about vitamin connection during quarantine. My hope is that society will appreciate the value of real flesh and blood interactions after this time. I am a musician and piano teacher and I’m hopeful people will appreciate music and making it with others more after this.”

Dr. Ned Hallowell:

Oh, I think there’s no way in the world that we won’t. I think we’re all missing human contact. I think we’re all missing what you get face-to-face that you can’t get. I’m doing my whole practice now via Zoom and thank God for it because I couldn’t do it at all were it not for that. But it’s not the same thing as being in-person with someone.

The depth of contact as one of my colleagues said to me the other day, the depth of contact is so much greater in-person than it can be virtually. Still, the virtual connection is good enough to get the work done, but it isn’t the same. And I think you’re right, this a shelter at home and quarantine is teaching us the value of what I call the human moment, as opposed to the electronic moment.

The human moment is just so much richer and fuller. The electronic moment will suffice, but it’s not as full and rich as the human moment. We have another one, Sarah?

Sarah Guertin:

We sure do. Got a couple more for ya. This is from Lauren, who also happens to be an ADHD coach. She wrote, “Hi there. I just listened to your short podcast about how not being around people is tiring.” What we were just talking about. “My ADHD 16-year-old son was telling me this last week. He doesn’t have many close friends in high school so I trying to understand what he was missing.”

“He said, it’s just being around people, seeing them and interacting at any level. He has been more tired, yet not able to sleep very well. It is interesting and makes sense. The funny part is he also says his morale is better at home without the social stresses of fitting in, in school and whatnot. Such funny contradictions, yet they make sense at the same time. Thanks for your insight and encouragement of your podcasts.”

Dr. Ned Hallowell:

Well, thank you. Thank you, Lauren. Yeah, it’s tiring. Not being around people is tiring. My wife said to me the other day, “Why am I so tired?” And it’s because we’re not getting vitamin connect. We’re not getting the human connection. She has me and I have her, but it’s just the two of us in the house. We connect. She’s a therapist also, we connect with our patients or clients over Zoom or telephone, but it is tiring.

I think it is because we don’t appreciate how important vitamin connect is. We don’t appreciate how important those human moments are. And it’s also interesting you said your son’s morale is better at home because the social stresses at school can also be a bummer. So you give with one hand and take away with the other. But when we come out of this, when we can get back to whatever we get back to I think one of the things that we’ll be celebrating and rejoicing, what a great thing it will be to be together.

I mean, an important part of my life and my wife’s life is the church. We attend Episcopal church in Cambridge, Massachusetts called Christ Church. We’ve been going there ever since we got married 32 years ago and it’s a big deal. I love going. People often talk about going to church is a burden.

No, for me, it’s a real replenishment. I loved the music. I loved the liturgy. I loved the stories from the Bible. I love the sermons and I love most of all the community. We don’t have that anymore. We have a virtual church, but I can’t on Sunday morning, go sit in that beautiful space and hear that beautiful music sung by living heart beating humans.

And my wife and I, we both really miss it, even though the church is continuing in its own way. We miss that community. And I’m also a big sports fan, season ticket holder to the Patriots. And we just lost our great Tom Brady, but I don’t know what it’ll be like if we have to play games with no one in the stadium.

When it’s taken away, you really notice how much you appreciate something when you can’t have it. And I think the human connection with other people in a crowd, be it a congregation or a football game or a shopping mall for that matter, all of those were essential parts of my life. I’m a pretty simple guy. Those are my pleasures and I can’t do them. You just go down that list.

Can’t go to a football game, can’t go to church. Can’t go to a movie. Can’t go to a restaurant. Can’t go to a shopping mall. It’s like, “golly” and nothing against my wife and she has nothing against me, but it’s pretty thin gruel, when that’s all you’ve got. And she would say, “What do you mean I’m thin gruel?”

Well, I’m thin gruel put it like that. We need more, we need more sustenance. Then we can get just hanging out, the two of us. It’s hard. We go for walks, we do and we wave at other people walking, but can’t get too close and it’s not easy. And your point is a very good one. When we can get back to it, it’ll be pretty wonderful.

In the meantime, we’re making the best of it and I hope this podcast is providing you with some form of connection. That’s certainly our aim in doing it is to connect with you all because you are our reason for doing it. So Sarah, you have another, I think.

Sarah Guertin:

Yes, I have one more. We love all of the emails, but this one I thought was especially touching. So it says, “Hi, I’ve been listening to your recent podcasts in the current COVID world and how it has impacted our lives. I wanted to share my personal experience. I have a 21-year-old son who has been diagnosed with ADHD, depression, anxiety, social phobias, addiction, lying, et cetera.”

“You could use them as an example, in every chapter of a textbook on ADHD. We have been deep in the trenches for many years. A year ago, he returned home from an unsuccessful college experience and his mental health was very fragile. We doubled down on the therapy and other resources, but I didn’t see much improvement.”

“Then COVID-19 became our new normal, the world stopped. He lost his job and has been home for six weeks now. I’ve been so impressed with how much he has improved. To me, it seems like the world has slowed down to his speed and he can now function productively. He has been great. He keeps a somewhat normal daily routine takes his medication daily, does a little work around the house, has maintained his personal space, does his own laundry and exercises.”

“All of his therapy has moved to virtual sessions, including a weekly group therapy. We have been given the luxury of time to figure out that this is all he can handle right now. We will build on this, but this slow world has been a miracle for him. He was obviously overwhelmed before.”

“I’m a little wary of putting too much weight on his success right now, but it sure is a bright spot for me in a world that really could use some good news. Thanks for all of your words of wisdom. I really enjoy your podcast. Sarah.” Not me.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:

Not you. What a lovely, lovely story. That’s so wonderful that given a chance to slow down, all those problems could sort of leave him, drift away, move into the rear view mirror. He needed chance to slow down, have some structure, have some vitamin connect from you. He’s getting what he needs in terms of structure, love, attention, and a pace that he can handle.

And I think success does breed success. So now he’s learning some adaptive life habits that will continue and will strengthen and become durable and will serve him. It’s a great thing seeing how a change in environment, a change in pace, a change in demands. What a difference that can make. That’s a wonderful, wonderful story.

And those of you who are listening, that’s quite a list of problems. He had ADHD, depression, anxiety, social phobia, addiction, lying. That’s why I don’t like the labels because you bury someone under all those labels and the real health can often get lost because you tend not to identify, diagnose health.

We tend not to list strengths or potential strengths, but those are the very factors that have been able to emerge and carry him now that he’s been allowed to have some pressure off and live at a pace that he can handle.

Thanks so much for your email, Sarah. It’s a wonderful story and a very hopeful story as well. Thank you, all of our listeners and sending questions and comments. Please, please, please keep sending them. If we didn’t get to your question today, we will get to it in the next podcast we do on listener comments and questions.

And if you have a question or comment, please, please send it to us at [email protected]. We really live off of your suggestions, comments, and questions. And as you see today, we do take them seriously and answer them to the best of my ability.

In any case, thank you for listening. Thank you for joining our community. Please tell your friends about us as we really want to grow and reach more and more people.

Distraction is a project of Sounds Great Media. Our producer is the amazingly talented Sarah Guertin and our audio engineer and editor is the also amazingly talented Pat Keogh. I am Dr. Ned Hallowell. Thank you for listening.

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4 Core Areas for Self-Assessment

4 Core Areas for Self-Assessment

There are four basic pieces that form the foundation for executive functioning. In this episode you’ll learn what they are and how to look at these areas to assess how you can help yourself.

If you’ve explored coaching before and it didn’t work, or just have trouble making things stick, Rebecca Shafir, an ADHD coach at the Hallowell Center, offers concrete ideas in this episode on how to make lasting improvements in your life.

Email Rebecca Shafir at [email protected].

Or contact Rebecca at the Hallowell Center by calling 978-287-0810.

Rebecca’s book: The Zen of Listening

Check out Focusmate.com for distraction-free productivity help (mentioned in this episode).

Share your thoughts with us! 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 (@sarahguertin) and our recording engineer/editor is Pat Keogh.

Click here to listen to this episode!

A transcript of this episode is below.


Dr. Ned Hallowell:

Hello, this is Dr. Ned Hallowell. And welcome to Distraction. Today, I have a very special guest. She’s an old friend, and she works in my office in Sudbury. In addition to having her own practice, she’s a multi-talented woman. Not only is she a black belt in karate, but she is the author of a wonderful book, and is a speech language pathologist, and she is a coach extraordinary. She’s developed her own system of coaching, and whether you be a student or adult professional, Becky will absolutely help you, and you’ll have fun in the process. She’s one of the best in the business. So I am very, very happy to have her join us. And let’s just jump right in. Becky, welcome to Distraction.

Rebecca Shafir:

Oh, thank you for inviting me Ned, I really appreciate it.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:

Well, it’s wonderful to have you. You told me you wanted to talk about core coaching, is that correct?

Rebecca Shafir:

Yes. It’s interesting how it all got started, is that I was working with many of your patients with executive functioning and ADHD, and they reported trying many strategies for time management focus and follow through, et cetera. But to no avail, they were really trying to be better and better themselves, and do well in their work and at school. But they were just having trouble making things stick. And they had explored coaching with some very fine coaches, by the way. But again, the strategies and tactics weren’t sticking.

Rebecca Shafir:

So I asked myself, “What’s another way to go with these clients? What do most of these folks have in common?” Number one, I noticed they have poor sleep or wacky sleep patterns. Number two, they were low on exercise. Number three, they were emotionally dysregulated. To some extent they were anxious, procrastinating, depressed, and highly vulnerable to distraction, and their accountability for how they spent their time or activities was rather poor.

Rebecca Shafir:

So I said, “Huh, interesting.” Those core skills and routines form the foundation for executive functioning. So just like a house that’s built on a shaky foundation will topple, for me to ignore those core skills and routines just seemed foolish. So I said, “Becky, how could I make a coaching experience more effective and positive? If I could help them strengthen their core skills and routines, what would come of that?” So identified those core skills and routines, those four basic core pieces. And so I noticed that as I addressed those versus throwing bags of solutions at them, that we started to notice that the patients were becoming more enabled and more successful in implementing the strategies. So that’s my approach.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:

So, tell us about how it goes. What do you do with them? And by the way, who is the, them? Who is your target client?

Rebecca Shafir:

College bound students, student that are already in college, working adults and entrepreneurs.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:

And then what is the method? Say they call you up and they say, “Becky help me achieve my goals.” Walk us through what it would look like.

Rebecca Shafir:

I like to assess their current level of performance, their medical history. Are they taking medications or not? What are they doing now? What’s working, what’s not, what has been their experience in coaching before, because I want to know what not to bother doing again, or to identify what went wrong in that coaching experience. And then I ask them a very interesting question. I’ll say, “Can you give me a vision of yourself when you won’t be coaching anymore?” And that makes them pause a bit and go, “Boy, I never thought of that.” And I say, “This is important to determining what our target is. How do we know when we’re done?” I mean, this could go on for years.

So they tell me their vision and I often ask them to write it down. And sometimes they have a real hard time doing that, which is what we end up doing some times in our first session, is for getting us at least a general idea of what they’re striving for. So once we have that vision statement, then I want to check on their motivation for following through with coaching. And this is like the moment of truth Ned, because I’ll ask them, “List me your why’s, your W-H-Y-S, your why’s for wanting to meet that vision, to achieve that. And that’s oftentimes for pause, because sometimes their reasons for coming to coaching aren’t their reasons, they’re encouraged by somebody else.

But oftentimes they have a good, strong set of why’s, and it’s things like, “Because I want to be successful, I want to be able to hold a job, and I want to be able to make money and have a good quality of life for myself, and have a sense of self confidence.” I’ll say, “Great, just keep listing those why’s, because those why’s are going to be the drivers when we want to slack off a bit.” Then I’ll say, “How about those why nots? Why not make a change? Why not take advantage of coaching?” And they’ll say, “Well, there’s plenty of those. If I don’t make a change, I’m going to lose my job,” Or “My marriage won’t last,” Or “I’ll be living in my parents’ basement.” I mean, all sorts of horrible things. And I’ll say, “Great. Because we need to have those listed too, combine those with your why’s, then I know you’re motivated, you have some real strong drivers for this process, because changes small as I try to make it is not easy.” Are you with me so far?

Dr. Ned Hallowell:

Yeah.

Rebecca Shafir:

Okay. From there, we list our areas of improvement. They may say, “Well, I want to manage my time better.” And they’ll make a list. “I want to be able to focus better.” A list of things, and I’ll be, “Okay, you have many objectives here, but we know not to throw bags of solutions at you. That didn’t work before, why don’t we be strategic and brainstorm together to find one small step that we can make?” I like to call it go micro. Let’s find one thing that we can change that could be a catalyst to making all those other objectives easier to attain. And we’ll say, “Okay, let’s figure this out.”

So sometimes that one step is as simple, and you won’t believe it, is as simple as putting out their exercise clothes right by their bed in the morning, or it could be a little bit from a greater step such as, “Well, let’s come up with a calendar system that really works for you.” But I like to start small, because they’ll be looking at me like, “Well, that’s not enough.” I’ll say, “If we start small, then we can bank on making that particular do activity consistent. It’ll be slightly outside of your comfort zone, which is a good thing. But if you can make it consistent, then we can take the next step.” And we build on those challenges.

And what often happens is that we have a trickle down effect, where by making those one or two small changes, well, then they’re a little bit more confident in being able to implement a strategy such as looking at how to manage their time, or their money, or how to get things done.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:

So once they get past these elementary steps, then how do you take them into greater success?

Rebecca Shafir:

So we meet weekly, sometimes a couple times a week, and we talk about-

Dr. Ned Hallowell:

And this is over Zoom or in person?

Rebecca Shafir:

Oh, yes. It can be Zoom, it can be FaceTime, Skype are my favorite. And in between though, Ned, what I ask them to do is, “Send me a text, send me an email in between our sessions, let me know what you’re struggling with or how things went or any successes, large or small. I can make and prepare ourselves best for our session when we meet.” So I gather those, and we start off going over the progress with that one step, and we work out the kinks in that one step until it’s consistent. And we assess, and we say, “Okay, if we fell off the wagon, no shame, no blame,” I make that very clear from the beginning. “I want you to learn how to solve problems without getting emotional about it. And stepping back 30,000 feet and looking at the landscape of what went wrong there, what happened?”

So this way we’re starting to step back from problems and look at them more strategically. We take on them the next step. If a couple of weeks they’ve been consistent with that one step, we say, “Okay, what’s the next thing that we can do?” Well, maybe if you’re having troubles with sleep, we might try to normalize just with small tweaks that’s sleep regimen. That might be a real good starting point for them. That might be their one thing. And that can start as simple as waking up about the same time every day.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:

So say they’ve done these little steps, what do you do to really have them take off? Tell me a story of a great success that you’ve coached.

Rebecca Shafir:

Oh, certainly. No problem. I have a computer engineer, he writes software and he has ADHD, and he was really struggling with getting things done, managing distractions at all. Perfect example. And we started off addressing what he’s done before and what worked, what didn’t, and he was really having troubles on the verge of losing his job. So I said, “Okay, let’s look at your core. Let’s see what’s going on there. What’s your sleep like?” Well, his sleep was all wacky. He was going to bed some nights at two in the morning, others at four in the morning, sometimes he fall asleep at seven, and his sleep schedule is all messed up, which accounted in great part four his irritability and not being able to get things done and all that.

So, our one step for him was saying, “Okay, you’re going to try to wake up about the same time every day. However you do it, the same time every day.” Well, what we started to notice with that one step is that he was on time for meetings with his boss. Now that was huge, and his boss gave him a lot of kudos for that, and he felt good and he felt prepared. And from then he was able to say, “Wait a minute, now that I know what my plan is for the week, I know what I’m supposed to do, I had that meeting, I’m not flailing and just grabbing at anything, and I’m able to get started and accomplish a little bit more.”

So this is how I built things up with Steve. Steve started to gain more momentum, he started to feel more confident, and then I said, “Okay, now that you’re waking up about the same every day, why don’t we try then the next level. Let’s try to say, if you were to get a little exercise in, might your focus be just a little better.” And he says, “Well, I don’t have time to work out, I only have like 15, 20 minutes.” I said, “Well, great. Peloton has a free app. You have a bike, or you have a format, 10 minutes of interval training will kick up your energy and focus to endure you to the end of the workday. Let’s give it a try, you like to exercise anyway, Steve.” He goes, “Yeah, I do.”

So one of the main things I do to help these clients flourish in their successes is to change their negative self talk to constructive self-talk. Like, “Hey, what did we do well, what do we need to improve upon? Let’s start changing the language of the way we speak to ourselves.”

Number two, many of my clients don’t know how to prioritize many tasks. And it’s just because they lacked some type of a criteria for doing so. So I said, let’s together, decide on a prioritizing criteria, and often involve things that are time sensitive and things that have strong personal value, like spending time with their family or having the connection with people. But we would look down and focus on what they need and what is important, or what they’re motivated to get done today.

And then, the third suggestion I had is for folks who are listening to look into a wonderful website, https://www.focusmate.com/. And this is live partner, that is live on the internet that you choose, maybe similar to you, like another graduate student or another entrepreneur, and you agree to sit down and do work together online, virtually. He’s doing his tasks online and you as the client, you’re doing your work at the same time. And everybody’s keeping everybody engaged and focused, and it works really, really well. Have you ever heard of that?

Dr. Ned Hallowell:

No. It sounds wonderful. That’s great. You just discovered that on your own?

Rebecca Shafir:

I did.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:

Well, aren’t you special? You are special. Focusmate.com, that sounds great.

Rebecca Shafir:

Yes, it’s a virtual study buddy.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:

And then the final one?

Rebecca Shafir:

The final one is, know your biological prime time for getting certain tasks done over others.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:

Now, what does that mean? I know you abbreviated it BPT.

Rebecca Shafir:

Yes. So biological prime time, is there a certain time of day when you write the best?

Dr. Ned Hallowell:

No, it really varies hugely. It varies on the day, sometimes not often, but sometimes in the morning, sometimes in the afternoon, and sometimes in the evening. I’m unusual that way. Most writers have a definite time, see, I can’t do that, I can’t have a definite time. And so I’ve learned over 40 years of writing to catch it when it hits. And that’s what I do. So my biological prime time varies from day to day.

Rebecca Shafir:

Oh, but you can gauge it. You know what the day’s going to be like, right?

Dr. Ned Hallowell:

No, I don’t. I know it when it hits. And next thing you know, I pull out my laptop and start writing. Unless I’m in the middle of seeing a patient or doing a podcast with Becky.

Rebecca Shafir:

Well, for the rest of us, many of us, we might be better between, let’s say, 11 o’clock and two in the afternoon.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:

Yeah, and I think most people are like that. I think I’m an anomaly. Most people are what you’re describing. They have a reliable BPT, and your suggestion is to save your most taxing, difficult mental work for your BPT.

Rebecca Shafir:

That’s right. And do the folding of the laundry at 10 o’clock at night. So, sometimes that can make those more odious tasks look a little bit more tolerable and palatable if we set a schedule to apply those tasks to the best time for us to do them. That’s a great tip that’s often ignored. So there we go.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:

This is so wonderful. So to sum up, you’ve developed over your many years of coaching, a method you call core coaching, right?

Rebecca Shafir:

Right.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:

And your core method includes attention to sleep, exercise, emotional self regulation, and some degree of accountability, right?

Rebecca Shafir:

Correct.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:

And then you have a process that you reviewed with us, which you found is very effective in helping people, regardless of their actual level of helping them achieve even greater success. See what a good listener I am here. You concluded with your four tips of constructive self-talk and learning how to prioritize, and you referred us to focusmate.com. And then you urged us to work within our BPT, I love the BPT, or biological prime time, whatever that might happen to be, and I confessed that I’m an anomaly. I don’t know when it is, I just try to grab it when it comes. Now, if someone wanted to read one of your books, you go to Amazon and what’s the name of your book? The Zen of Listening, right?

Rebecca Shafir:

Zen of Listening. It’s now on audible.com too.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:

Wonderful, wonderful. So look for Rebecca Shafir, on Amazon. And if they wanted to get a coaching appointment with you, how would they do that?

Rebecca Shafir:

Sure. They can call the Hallowell Center at 978-287-0810 or they can email me at [email protected].

Dr. Ned Hallowell:

Or they can call the Hallowell center in Sudbury, 978-287-0810. And I can’t recommend Becky highly enough, I’ve known her, I don’t know how many years Becky, must be going on 30 years.

Rebecca Shafir:

Yes.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:

… Because I saw a photograph of her in the newspaper demonstrating karate. And one thing led to another, next thing I know we’re working together. And she’s one of the most multi-talented people I know. She can be a speaker, she can be a writer, she can be kicking butt in karate, she can be coaching, she can be doing speech language pathology. She’s endlessly curious for finding new innovative techniques. And if you happen to go to see her, you’ll be thrilled because she’ll be probably interesting you and something that you’d never even heard of. She does that with me all the time. A wonderfully brilliant multi-talented exceptional woman, Rebecca, Becky Shafir. Thank you so much for coming and joining us on Distraction.

Rebecca Shafir:

Thank you so much Ned, I hope it’s a help.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:

Okay, well, that’ll do it for today. If you’d like to reach out to Becky, as she said, you can find her at my center in Sudbury, Mass, by calling 978-287-0810 or go to hallowellcenter.org, or email Becky directly at [email protected]. Distraction is created by Sounds Great Media. The podcast is recorded and mixed by the mixed up, but absolutely delightful, Pat Keogh. And our producer is the weld produced and absolutely brilliant Sarah Guertin. I’m Dr. Ned Hallowell, and thank you all so much for listening. We are banding together during this trying time and hope to bring you some interests as well as entertainment. Be well, stay safe.

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ADHD and Success Can Go Hand in Hand

ADHD and Success Can Go Hand in Hand

Angela Stephens does more in a day than some do in a week! 🙂 This spectacular ADHDer shares her story which includes starting a successful company that creates products designed specifically to help people with ADHD manage their busy lives. Angela is an inspiration and full of energy!

Find all of Angela’s products at Time2Refocus.com.

Angela’s podcast: Re-Focus with Angela Stephens

We’d love to hear from you! Write an email, or record a message using the voice memo app on your phone and send it to [email protected]

Distraction is created by Sounds Great Media. Our producer is Sarah Guertin (@sarahguertin) and our recording engineer/editor is Pat Keogh.

Do you know a student with ADHD or other learning difference looking for a higher education experience? Tell them about our sponsor, Landmark College, in Putney, Vermont. It’s the college of choice for students who learn differently. Find out more HERE.

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All About ADHD Coaching

All About ADHD Coaching

David Giwerc created the Professional Association of ADHD Coaches over twenty years ago. He joins Ned to talk about how the whole coaching thing works, whether you want to use one or become one. The conversation takes an especially interesting turn when David uses his coaching expertise on Dr. H as they explore the results of an online “character strengths” test that Ned took while recording this episode.

To learn more about becoming or finding an ADHD coach go to ADDCA.com or email [email protected]. To take the character strengths test that Dr. H took while recording this episode go to: VIACharacter.org.

Do you have a question or comment? Write an email or record a message using the voice memo app on your phone with your question and send it to [email protected]

Distraction is created by Sounds Great Media. Our producer is Sarah Guertin (@sarahguertin) and our recording engineer/editor is Pat Keogh.

Learn about our sponsor, Landmark College, HERE.

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