As an ADHD coach I hear a common lament from my clients: “I can’t trust myself to not make mistakes, no matter how hard I try.” This creates a lot of stress and anxiety for my clients, especially at work. It got me thinking about the concept of ‘trusting oneself’ and why a person with ADHD feels they cannot trust themselves. In this article I argue that if you set up the type of environment you need to focus and perform well, then you should be able to trust yourself to get the results you expect. Enjoy reading my random thoughts about this.
The phone rang, interrupting my concentration. I saw that it was my friend, Lucie calling and I had to pick up.
“I don’t see, Jacinta. “I just don’t see things,” she wailed. “Why do I keep doing this? I checked, checked, and double checked before sending off an important email and I still got it wrong! I just can’t trust myself,” she cried.
It reminded me of a recent conversation with a client who said, “My biggest frustration with ADHD is that I can’t trust myself.”
What both are referring to is the inconsistency of ADHD performance. On some days, your brain will be razor sharp with nothing escaping your attention. But the very next day, you’ll miss the most obvious details staring you in the face.
You might be firing on all cylinders for the first part of the week, whizzing through your To Do list like a tornedo, but then by the second half of the week, find yourself wasting precious days flitting from task to task getting pretty much nothing done. It’s this swinging from brilliance to incompetence that mystifies your boss and frustrates you.
What on earth is going on and why can’t you trust yourself to work well and behave consistently? Why do you need to constantly police yourself, worried that you will make a mistake, or forget something important or give a mediocre performance?
The normal advice neurotypicals offer is: “You just have to try harder, Lucie.” “You just have to concentrate more. You just have to stop being so careless.” Advice that’s well meant, but as everyone with ADHD knows, your entire life is about trying harder. Trying harder is not the issue here.
I wish I could promise that you will become consistent, but I can’t. Instead, let’s face reality, acknowledge this common ADHD trait and create some workarounds to get us through the off days. Here are some ideas.
High Octane Brain: If you are having a hyper-speedy day, then there’s a chance your brain is processing faster than you can read text or think through consequences. This means you can trust (expect) yourself to skip over important details. When you feel this in yourself, you need to be on high alert. Perhaps you should put this task off until later, when your brain is chugging along at a slower pace. If the task has to be done today, then you know you must use techniques to slow yourself down. If you slow down, you can trust yourself to be accurate.
Sleep Quality: Did you sleep well the night before? Don’t expect peak performance the day afterwards. With or without ADHD, if you didn’t sleep well, you can trust yourself to make mistakes! Unless you use your brain power to concentrate.
Brain Fuel: What did you eat yesterday? Did you fill your body with junk food? If so, then you will definitely experience a chemically induced brain fog today. If, on the other hand, you fed your body with nutrients, you can trust yourself to perform well.
Interest Deficit: How engaging is the task? We know that the ADHD brain struggles to focus if the task is dull. So, if interest is low, then you can trust yourself to make mistakes. The question is, how can you make the task more interesting and thus reduce errors? What brain hacks can you apply in order to engage the brain?
Emotional Steadiness: How emotionally stable are you today? Strong emotions like anxiety, will block your ability to be alert. If emotions are surging, you need to address this before working on a task that requires concentration. When you are able to manage your emotional state, you can trust yourself to perform well.
I was thinking about Lucie and her email. She’d had a busy morning just trying to get to the office, there was far too much work to get through once she arrived. Playing on her mind was the good-bye lunch she needed to be on time for. In addition to this, she had instant messaging pop-ups, mobile phone pings, TEAM messages and emails all vying for her attention. So, while she was trying to send out this very critical email on behalf of her boss, she was in a pretty frazzled state. No wonder she made a mistake. What she could have done instead?
- Recognize her state of mind and take action
- Turn off all distractions so she could fully concentrate.
- Calm down the emotional feeling of panic.
- Get fully present in the moment by grounding herself.
- Take a deep breath, then and only THEN, start on the email.
Lucie knows she doesn’t look at things properly and therefore, she needs to force herself to slow down in order to speed up; no quick scanning as she normally would. If Lucie does the right things to support her ADHD brain, then she can trust herself to carry out her tasks correctly.
In a nutshell, if you understand what your ADHD brain needs and you provide the right conditions, you can reduce the anxiety you feel about screwing up and start trusting yourself to get things right.