I am a voracious reader. My nightstand is typically piled with books, and I have about 3-4 going at any one time.
There’s at least one fiction book, which is my treat reading before bedtime, and the way I wind down before sleep. I am not so into e-books. I have a Nook, but forget to charge it. I have a love for real pages that I can turn, a visceral and physical experience of a book that I am too old-fashioned to replace.
When I write, I integrate the things I read, the practices I attempt, and the swirling thoughts I notice while meditating or navigating my days. It helps me slow things down enough to consider how it all fits together.
My philosophy teacher used to recommend that we write to remember. When studying, write out concepts and ideas we want to understand or explore.
In biology or chemistry labs, we wrote to capture our protocols, and our results. Writing is a part of science, part of study, part art-form and part formal work.
Reading and writing do not come easily to everyone, and I am grateful that I have always enjoyed both since a young age. Fifteen years ago, toward the end of graduate school I was diagnosed with adult a.d.d. Now it makes sense to me that I can either hyper-focus or be challenged to finish a page without distraction.
I do not have the “h” part of the usual diagnosis (and women often do not manifest that part, or they train themselves out of it to be quiet, compliant little girls from a young age). But clearly the difference in my ability to focus was palpable after treatment and medication.
Before the diagnosis I had suffered from 2-3 periods of depression in my life, precipitated by burnout and anxiety. I had always struggled to pay attention during my “boring” classes, and often escaped into my imagination. Teachers knew I was smart, but they often said I was not working up to my potential. I finished salutatorian of my high school class, so clearly a lot of students may not have been working up to their potential…
What I find these days is that life is more about establishing the right rhythm for my days and weeks, rather than pursuing the elusive “balance” many strive for.
Filling days with to-do lists and activities may help us feel productive and in control of our lives. But resting, pausing and re-evaluating need to be a part of our lives too. An a.d.d.-oid brain is typically in motion constantly. I describe my thought processes as cascades, and they are very fluid and dynamic.
Normal people can typically compartmentalize their thoughts, like putting them in boxes, categorizing and organizing them. The a.d.d. brain tends not to work that way, instead flowing from thought to thought, in associative “play”. We create new categories, with different boundaries. Our brains leap outside boxes like playful puppies or kittens.
For years I spent time hiding my a.d.d., at the advice of well-meaning professionals that explained to me that employers would not necessarily understand, and may penalize me for it professionally. In every job I needed to “prove myself” with consistency for quite some time before advancing, very hard for the a.d.d.-oid mind that gets bored once it knows the routine. The first time I was able to hire administrative support to help with the details while I could focus on big picture work, I finally started realizing my potential.
My current position as an operational manager for an international team requires me to be quick thinking and to balance many factors in making decisions. I get to help my employees with career development (which I love) and coach them to develop their skills, especially when it comes to influence management in a large corporation with a matrix reporting structure.
I turned a weakness into a “superpower” of sorts, at least the way I am choosing to author my life and my story. I do not see it as a disability. I see it as a way of seeing around corners, flexibly solving problems, and bringing creativity to many teams.
As long as I find the right rhythm in my days, get time for rest, play and taking very good care of myself physically, I thrive. When I neglect myself, or slack off on good self-care routines, like getting enough sleep, healthy food, affection, love, and exercise, I suffer.
What I want to say to those suffering from depression, anxiety, a.d.d. or any other type of diagnosis: it does not have to define you or your life. You will need to learn to manage it, that is true. But it will give you unique insight, skills and resilience when you learn to manage it. You will benefit from more compassion for those who struggle. And if you learn to love yourself, and the unique way that your brain and body work, you can fully use your gifts.
Find your rhythm, find what makes sense for you. Find others that support your strengths and help you cultivate them. You deserve that. And it is possible.
I recognized a pattern in myself recently, and I shared it with my husband last night. I am not so proud of this pattern, but it seems like something I should try to understand.
When things are going fairly well in my life, either in my relationships or in my work life, I tend to stir things up. I tend to make trouble in some area, like I cannot be still with the sensation of peace and calm.
I guess in my work life, that process begins once I feel that I have “mastered” the work at some level. I have learned the procedures, practiced them, and they are no longer difficult. The work starts to bore me a bit when it hits a certain mastery stage, and I start looking around for what is next.
Relationships have been a little bit less like this, but I managed to defeat a “rescue” habit I used to have, thankfully. However, I realize that when things are going too well, too smoothly, I have a tendency to throw a wrench in the works, and test things.
Why is it that I cannot rest with a life that is too peaceful, that is too calm? I wish I knew. I blame it on my a.d.d., and probably that has something to do with it. The a.d.d. brain craves novelty and stimulation, more than the average brain. It is one reason I am a voracious learner and reader. Sometimes it feels like I cannot get enough of ideas, of stories, of vivid imagination.
It could also be something like what Brene Brown calls “foreboding joy.” There is this sense that when everything is going really well, we are waiting for the other shoe to drop, some even around the corner that will mess things up. But then maybe I want to be “in control” of that phenomenon, so I do the messing up myself…?
I don’t know about this one. I do know that yesterday I yelled at my boss during a meeting (actually a conference call). I was upset with myself for behaving that way, and I apologized for letting my emotions overcome a calmer head, but I also felt relieved that I had spoken up in defense of my team. Fortunately my boss told me no apology was needed. He feels similar frustrations, and says we have to try not to be discouraged.
Here is where I disagree with that notion. Sometimes active resistance is not possible, that is true. But sometimes walking away is an option. Once we have done everything we can think to do in order to reform a system which is not working, we need to reserve the option of disengaging.
I am done making trouble here. Time to find another place to stir things up. The new opportunity I am pursuing has “drive disruptive change” in the job description. That is what excites me most, the idea that someone might actually pay me to be a trouble-maker… is that really possible? I hope to find out.
I am about to embark on a 6-month coaching engagement with the Handel Group. There is quite a bit of homework due before the first session which is next Wednesday, and I am both excited and a little scared.
My coach assures me this is a good place to be. We are going to get truthful about some areas in my life where I want to make change, and it will require a commitment to doing the work, and taking action. I will be writing up a biography and evaluating 12 areas of my life, and also dreaming big about where I want things to be.
When I talked with my husband about this endeavor, I explained what it was, and why I wanted to commit some resources to it. I told him that I believe this can get me “unstuck” about where I am now, and that it is great timing because of the changes I plan to make in the next 6 months career-wise. He was understanding, and he said he thought it would be a good use of time and money, but only if I am “all in.”
As someone who likes to do a lot of personal development reading, experiments, habit change and self-help types of efforts, this is my jam. The challenge can come when I am pursuing a few too many different types of efforts, and dabbling a little in each. Then my efforts get diluted over a number of challenges, and no one effort gets real traction.
I recognize that my a.d.d. can contribute to this tendency to bounce around, doing a little of this, a little of that, but never fully committing to one or two BIG projects, or BIG change efforts. Why is this? I am trying to be honest with myself about why I find that hard, but also want to give myself the challenge of being ALL IN with this one.
One of my fears that I have had since being young is that of being bored. I was the kid who *always* had a book on hand, just in case I was stuck somewhere, having to wait and having nothing to do. Whether it was long road trips with the family, or having to spend time in a waiting room, I never wanted to feel like I had nothing to do.
In fact I almost never leave the house without a journal to write in or a book to read, in case I am caught in a place where I will have time with nothing to do. Now that I meditate every day, I do not worry as much about having nothing to do. In fact, I look for opportunities to practice mindfulness, in airports, in grocery stores (though that one is still harder for me).
But I still like to “toggle” in my life, between several different projects, in case I get stuck in one of them and then can switch to another one. That in itself is not bad. In fact, I think it is one reason I have thrived in my current department: we are always juggling a lot of different projects, and while it would overwhelm most people, I enjoyed it for many years, knowing I was sure never to get bored.
But there is a kind of Deep Work (Cal Newport writes about this) that I am missing right now in my work and life. When I have so many different “windows” open, like a computer running a lot of different applications at once, it exhausts me after a while. Sure, I never get bored. There is always something new coming my way. But it seems I sometimes use that to distract me from bigger, more important goals that deserve deeper and more consistent focus.
Do you ever struggle with that problem?
I think this tendency may be endemic to the distraction-filled lives we live today. With technology providing these many gateways to rich content: books, classes, podcasts, blogs, social media sites, YouTube videos and the like, we have a plethora of choices.
Some of it can be nourishing for the brain and the psyche, and I love learning. But that can be a distraction from practicing skills, and really truly embracing change efforts in our lives. I recognize that I am sometimes so intent to fill my brain with concepts, that I do not always put things into practice. At least as a clinical researcher, I have a skeptical eye about claims in books. I tend not to believe things unless I have tried them, or I have some good data to back up what the author claims.
So this time around, I am going all in on this coaching process. The investment is not insignificant, but it fits into my budget. I commit to doing the homework, and maybe even to share some of what I learn on this blog. At the very least, it will help me figure out my next move career-wise. But I think it has the potential to change and improve many other areas of my life also. I am ALL IN.
I am in the midst of preparing for a presentation I will give today so this post will be short(ish). It may serve as a reminder to myself about how to deal with distractions, and it may also be a distraction from the work I planned to do today… In any case, because I choose to write a blog, and I also choose to keep my day job in order to take care of myself and family, and writing helps keep me sane for the other, I shall proceed.
Sometimes my internal “mental clutter” provides as much or more distraction as the outside influences of the world. Thoughts, emotions, stories I spin about “what ifs” and “this means that” are part of my consciousness can be a challenge. Then the outside: Facebook, social media, two different email boxes (one personal, one at work, and I know most people have more). Messenger apps, WhatsApp (which my international colleagues all tend to use), notifications about “likes” and comments, they are all a constant. Until we stop letting them constantly intrude, and turn them off.
It’s no wonder some of us start our days feeling like we are spinning almost the first moment we wake up. A year ago or so, I realized I had an unhealthy addiction to my phone, notifications, and other electronic brain candy. It began interfering with my sleep and my overall sense of wellbeing and balance, I began to work on setting healthy limits for myself. I no longer check the FB and the socials as soon as I wake up.
I typically enjoy my coffee, my journal and some meditation before opening up the deluge of incoming. Some days I aspire to do this, but I find that a light-hearted podcast, or some other written or auditory inspiration helps me find my center or makes me laugh before I face the challenges of the day. I try to return to the meditation and journal before the workday starts because I notice a distinct difference in the quality of the days in which I give myself this time, and the days I do not.
Most of us have to use a number of communication tools for work, so it can be even more challenging to set aside the distractions and just attend to the task at hand. For those of us who struggle with attention issues, we have to develop strategies to help us focus when that is difficult. It can meaning turning off the Cisco Jabber messaging at work, realizing it is just a tad harder for people to reach me, but helping them understand I need chunks of time to finish a project. It can mean turning off my work email notifications (even harder for me during the workday) or stepping away to take a walk when my brain is buzzing but I am not moving forward.
I think this is one reason the minimalists are getting so much attention these days. What most of us crave is not MORE, it is LESS. We crave quality, not quantity. We crave focus, we crave purpose, we crave not a huge group of friends, but people we can truly trust and who truly move us. We crave less STUFF but more high quality things that help us live our lives peacefully and well. All of these aspirations require healthy boundariesaround our space, our time, and our energy. These goals require us to say NO more often, to things that do not serve us, and to make commitments to the activities that give us long-term fulfillment.
Easy in theory, much more difficult in practice. Thus, this may become a theme for a series of posts.
I am interested in what tools or strategies you have used to eliminate distractions in your life, and to focus on what you truly want. If you have some advice for a mexi-minnesotana chica who is just starting to figure this out, I would love to hear it. Please add your comments below. Grateful for your support and your thoughts.