Archives for March 2013

Executive Functions And ADHD

Lots of research now shows that ADHD adults have problems with executive functions. Executive functions are high level cognitive processes that directly regulate other cognitive processes. All this takes place automatically and  unconsciously in the brain’s frontal lobes.

I like to think of Executive functions are like the brains project manager. Just as a project manager instructs and coordinates their team so that each member carries out their assigned role to reach their objective. The executive functions  direct a ‘team’ of central control processes in the brain that are responsible for other brain functions.

Here is a list of executive functions that affect how we function in daily life:

  • Working memory and recall
  • Keeping facts in mind, manipulating information and retrieving stored data from long term memory
  • Motivation, activation, arousal and effort
  • Starting, giving attention to and finishing a task
  • Emotional control
  • Enduring frustration, thinking prior to speaking or taking action
  • Language internalization
  • Controlling self talk to manage actions and behavior
  • Complex problem solving
  • Breaking down a problem, examining its components and synthesizing ideas towards a solution

When you have ADHD these things might not happen automatically, however there are things you can do externally to help support your executive functioning.

Below are some suggestions. I have written articles on many of the tips, so if something peaks your interest, just click on the link.

For time management:

Use a timer

Use a paper agenda with a week at a glance layout so you know what you day and week look like

Set alarms, alarm clock, watch, phone

Have ‘transitional time’ between activities

Getting things done

Use checklists

Write to do lists

Break big tasks into smaller bite size pieces

Use a white board to keep track of all your projects

Use ‘Don’t break the chain’ technique so you don’t leave things to the last minute


Write things down so you don’t forget anything

Use one note book to write everything in. When it’s full get another one Create habits around things you do or need to do a lot

Physical space

Keep it clutter free (I know this is hard)

Colour code items

Have a place for everything

Is there anything you do to help support your executive functions? I would love to hear what you find works for you.

P.S We will be addressing many of these strategies to support your executive functions and more in the Untapped Brilliance Coaching program too

Celebrate Every Achievement

Celebrate Every AchievementIn her book My Stroke of Insight, the author and Harvard brain scientist Jill Bolte Taylor documents her remarkable story. At the age of 37 years old, she suffered a stroke and then spent the next eight years making a full recovery. This involved learning to do the basics such as sit up in bed alone again, walk, talk, feed herself, drive, recall her memories, etc. The book is inspirational and also has some amazing pearls of wisdom. One of these pearls is how important it was for her to celebrate EVERY achievement no matter what the size. I found this attitude a wonderful one and would love all adults with ADHD to adopt too. She didn’t say, “Oh, you can sit up on your own now, big deal, you could do that when you were one years old.” That would have been discouraging after all her mental and physical effort it had taken. It would have also zapped her motivation to move on to the next step of her recovery.

I notice how easy it is for adults with ADHD to both minimize their achievements – “Well, anyone could have done it.” – and to focus on what they haven’t, didn’t, couldn’t do, rather than on what they DID do. If you made a difficult phone call or a big effort to arrive to a meeting on time, congratulate yourself and say, “Great job!” Allow yourself to bask in the warmth of this success for a minute before moving on to the next task. This is a much more effective method to encourage future successes than saying, “Well, I should be able to pick up the phone,” or “everyone else arrived on time.” This self-talk devalues your achievements and efforts and de-motivates you for future successes.

As well as positive verbal encouragement, also give yourself physical rewards. Celebrating wins, or victories, no matter how small, also does wonders for your mental well-being. Just like a small child or pet, adults love to be acknowledged for their achievements, and there is no better person to recognize your achievements than you.

When I use the term “reward,” thoughts automatically go towards something naughty. Like food that is bad for you, or alcohol. However, there are many ways to reward yourself that are fun, enjoyable and healthy. A bath after you have worked out at the gym feels amazing, curling up in bed with clean sheets after a physically demanding day. Often what feels like a reward is in contrast to the activity you have been doing.

The bigger the accomplishment, the bigger the reward. Graduating with a degree would quantify a BIG celebration, to acknowledge the big accomplishment. However, you should also reward yourself for every assignment you hand in on time and ever exam you sat on at a smaller level.

Positive self-talk will change your life! Not only will it make you feel good in the moment, it will also lift your self-esteem over time to new heights. That, in combination with a physical treat, makes pushing the mental or physical pain barrier even sweeter!


  1. Every time you do something that is a bit tricky, give yourself lots of praise.
  2. As well as verbal praise, give yourself a physical reward too.
  3. Match the size of the reward with the achievement.
  4. Think ahead of time a few of your favorite healthy treats you would like to give yourself as a reward.
  5. Notice how much more fun life is!

Exercise and ADHD

Exercise and ADHDTo the average adult with ADHD exercise takes a back seat to almost all other activities. Work, family and friends, errands, sleep and even housework! These activities are important, however so is exercise. Exercise not only helps the longevity of your body, but it helps reduce some of the negative effects of ADHD too. For example, exercise improves your attention, mental focus, memory, mental stamina and allows you to expend pent up energy. Dr Hallowells says  “Exercise stimulates epinephrine, dopamine and serotonin, like meds. So exercising is like taking meds for ADHD in a holistic, natural way”.

So what can you do to make sure exercise is part of your daily life? As well as choosing a form of exercise that is fun for you and one that is convenient, a powerful way is to look to those people who you admire and are inspired by. Perhaps your favourite sports personality or someone who you know personally. There is one particular example of someone we all know who I find very inspiring and that is Barack Obama.

On the 4th of November 2008, the eyes of the world were on America and its election day. Barack Obama made history by becoming the first African American president. His political views, beliefs and sincerity resonated with millions worldwide. It was a huge day for him and his young family. Over two years of hard work on the campaign trail culminated on this day. We can only imagine the intense emotions he must have felt. That evening when the results were official, he stood in front of 125,000 people in Chicago and gave a speech that brought people to tears and gave people goose bumps all around the world. I am guessing he didn’t get much sleep that night.

Do you know what Barack did around 6 am the morning of the 5th of November? After this momentous day? He went to the gym. Then he put on a suit and started his day.

Now if anyone could excuse themselves from a visit to the gym that day, it would have been Barack Obama. Some thoughts that might have popped into his mind: I am too tired, too busy, I have just been voted the next president of the United States! Even if those excuses did come to his mind, he went to the gym anyway.

What can you do to make sure you exercise regularly?

  1. Make exercise part of your daily routine so that it would be just as hard not to exercise as not brush your teeth at night.
  2. Think of who inspires you to exercise and use them as a motivation to get you moving.
  3. Give yourself a healthy reward after you exercise.
  4. Next time an excuse pops into your head about not exercising, think of Barack.
  5. Notice and enjoy the benefits that exercise has on your ADHD.