ADHD and Failures

worried-girl-413690_640People with ADHD experience more failures than their non-ADHD peers. Even back in grade school, you might remember that school felt harder for you than your friends. While they were passing quizzes, you were having to retake yours. ADHD symptoms can get in the way of success and result in failures in all areas of life including school, relationships, and work.

You might find you achieve all the milestones, like graduating, getting married, buying a house, getting a job… a little later in life than others. For example, it might take you 6 years to finish university rather than 4 years because you had to retake some courses. Those failures can nibble away at your confidence and self-esteem and lead to underachievement and more failures.

When I first start working with a new client, we often spend time getting them to feel good about what they have accomplished in their life. Often, adults with ADHD are so used to experiencing failures, they don’t feel they deserve their successes. When they achieve something awesome, they dismiss it as a fluke or just remember the tears, all-nighters, and pain they went through to get there. Feeling good about what you have attained is important because then, it is easier to achieve your next success.

I was intrigued to learn that Professor Haushorfer from Princeton University says that it is helpful to document your failures. He says that setbacks are usually invisible, yet they happen more frequently than successes. The professor created a CV of his failures and says this document provides perspective; for himself and others. People think things work out for him; when in fact, he experiences failures like everyone else.

Why documenting your failures is helpful when you have ADHD

Writing down your failures on a piece of paper or google doc on your computer can be helpful. Professor Haushorfer shared his online, but yours can be completely private. Here are 6 reasons why it could be helpful:

1. Out of your head 

When all your losses are in your head, you can keep ruminating on them. This makes them bigger and more dramatic than they really are. In your mind, you attach negative emotions to each failing and whenever you have a few moments, you relive them again and again. Writing them out, helps break that cycle. It helps you to see each entry in a more neutral way.

2. Reduces the shame 

Shame is probably the most dangerous emotion you have as an adult with ADHD. Shame about your failures nibbles away at your self-confidence and self-esteem. It stops you from aiming so high in the future and ‘settling’. Bringing your failures out of the dusty corners of your mind and into the open is the first step to reducing the shame you feel.

3. Helps you to address each one

Some of your failures won’t trigger any emotion. For example, when I was 17 years old, I was desperate to pass my drivers test. I failed twice and passed the 3rd time. Although it felt bad at the time, 20+ years later, I can tell you this failure very matter-of-factly. As you are documenting your failures, notice which ones still hurt. That is a sign that you still need to process them. Talk to a friend, your coach, a therapist, or write in your journal. Do whatever you need to do, so the shame, embarrassment, disappointment etc disappears.

4. Normalizes failure and rejection

Failure and rejection is part of life. By writing everything down, you start to see patterns. This data can help you when you experience a new failure or rejection. For example, you might notice on average, for every 5 CV’s you send out, you are invited for 1 job interview. For every 2 job interviews you have, you are offered 1 job. If you are dating, you might realize that for every 3 first dates, you meet 1 person who you have a second date with.

This type of information helps to turn rejection and failures into a numbers games rather than feeling wounded with every no.

You might also notice positive characteristics you haven’t acknowledged in yourself before, such as perseverance and determination.

5. Time to reflect

A characteristic of ADHD is to jump from activity to activity without reflecting on what happened. If you decide to keep a ‘failure CV’, it will force you to reflect and decided what you could do differently next time. For example, if you get a job interview, you might have researched the company, practiced your interview questions and answers, had your suit dry cleaned, but then arrived late. This reflection time is invaluable so that you learn from your experiences and don’t keep doing the same things but hoping for different results.

Your trump card!

Remember that although you experience more failures, you also hold a trump card! You are very resilient. It is a trait that author, Dale Archer,M.D, identities in his book ‘The ADHD Advantage’ Resilience and the ability to bounce back and try again, is a common ADHD characteristic. This trait allows you to keep striving for your goals, even if you have to add a few more failures to your CV.

To learn more about Professor Haushorfer’s failure CV head here

16 Dos and Don’ts of Using Your Phone When You Have ADHD

phoneWhen it comes to using the phone, most people with ADHD fall into 1 of 2 camps. Which camp are you in?

Camp 1
You love your phone!
It’s your favorite way to communicate with people. You enjoy conversations, and talking is easier than typing an email. Your phone is glued to your side and you feel excited every time it rings.

Camp 2
You hate the phone!
You avoid using it as much as possible. If the phone rings, you might not answer it even if it is a friend. Initiating a call takes a lot of mental strength and sometimes days of pep talks.

Whichever camp you are in, it is good to learn the dos and don’ts of using your phone. ADHDers are always on a quest to be productive and organized, so they feel good about themselves. Plus, when you feel organized on the inside, you look organized and capable on the outside to the people around you.

The phone can get in the way of that goal. It can trigger so many impulses and emotional reactions that you look and feel disorganized and scattered. These suggestions will help!

As you are reading them, it might be tempting to discard them and think only ‘young’ people do that. However, it is less to do with age, and more to do with ADHD. Read each point with an open mind and see if it is something you do. If it is, don’t feel bad, knowing is the first step to making changes.

1. Do check your messages

If have a missed call, it can be very tempting to call back right away. However, resist the urge until you have checked your voice messages. If the caller left a message, listen to it. They will tell you who they are and why they are calling. This is helpful because then, you can feel prepared when you call back.

Sometimes that preparation only takes few seconds as you retrieve the information from your memory. Other times, you might have to physically hunt around for the information. You will also have an idea of how long the call will take and plan accordingly.

Listening to your messages before returning a call:

  • helps you to look and organized
  • saves the caller having to repeat what they said on the answer machine
  • save you both time

It also saves conversations like this:

You: Hi, you just called this number.

Caller: Hi Johnny. Yes, it’s Tony: the accountant. You called yesterday and left me a message.

You: Oh that’s right. Listen, I don’t have time to talk right now. Can I call you back?

2. Don’t call everyone back

Imagine you have missed a call, the person didn’t leave a message and you don’t recognize the number. Many people with ADHD are so curious, they can’t relax until they find out who it was. You might have many conversations like this:

You: ‘You just called this number.’

 Caller: ‘Sorry, I called the wrong number.’

or no one answers, and you are even more curious and it becomes hard to focus on your tasks.
Save your time and focus on your day; if it is important, they will call you back.

3. Do use your contacts

Add names and phone numbers to your contact list, even if you think you will only be speaking to that person a couple of times. It is helpful because:

  • you won’t lose their number
  • if they return your call, you see the Caller ID, and those extra few seconds gives you preparation time.

4. You don’t have to answer

If your phone rings and it isn’t a convenient time for you, don’t answer the phone.

Perhaps you are driving or in a busy place. If you answer the call when you can’t give the caller your full attention, you won’t remember what you talked about and will be left with an unsettled feeling afterwards. Also, the caller will sense your distraction and won’t feel appreciated. It can be hard to break the automatic reaction of answering the phone when it rings, so switch it off when you are busy.

5. Do pick up when you can

If you are in the second camp, and dislike the phone, you have the opposite problem of 4). It is very hard for you to pick up the phone. Even if you are in a quiet place, you might sit and watch your phone ring but not answer it. Remember that for you, it takes less mental energy to pick up the phone when someone calls you, than it does for you to muster the energy to call them back. It might take you weeks to return a call and you will feel guilty every day. Get into the habit of answering the phone when you can.

6. Do remove Call Waiting

It is a lethal invention for people with ADHD. Focusing on a conversation is already hard. So the minute you hear the beeps letting you know someone else is calling you, it is impossible to be in concentration mode. Whether you are listening or talking, half of your mind will be running through the list of people who could be calling.

By removing call waiting, you can give your full attention to the person you are talking to. Then, listen to your messages and call the second person back and give them your full attention.

7. Don’t ever say these words

“I have another call, can I call you back?”

Suppose you haven’t removed your Call Waiting feature yet, or you are on a land line and your cell phone rings, never cut a call short because you have another call coming through. It doesn’t matter how long you have been playing telephone tag with the second caller, or if they have an important title, finish your first call. Here’s why.

  • The first caller will feel they aren’t important if you dash off to speak to someone else.
  • It takes mental energy to transition from speaking to one person to another and then remember to call the first person back.
  • If transitions are hard for you, you won’t give the second caller your best, because you mind will still be processing the original call.
  • You might forget to call the first person back.
  • The first person might not be available to take your call when you do call back.
  • Phone hopping as such, takes time and decreases your productivity.

8. Do call once

Calling a person once, and then waiting for them to return the call can be agony when you have ADHD. So often, ADHDers will phone repeatedly until the person picks up. Although you were just excited to connect, the person who received 22 calls can feel annoyed or harassed.

Call once, leave a message and then go keep yourself busy until they return your call.

9. Do answer machine housekeeping

  • Make it easy for people to leave you message.
  • Set up your answer machine service, if you haven’t already.
  • Regularly delete your messages, so there is always room for new messages.
  • Check your answer machine at least once a day (but not more than once an hour).

10. Do use notes

Before you make a call, write down in bullet points what you are calling about. This is helpful for all calls, not just work related ones. The notes help you to focus on the main points of the conversation and have important facts at your finger tips. If also means you don’t have to call the person back 2 or 3 times with information you forgot.

11. Do introduce yourself

When you call someone, always introduce yourself. Don’t assume they will recognize your telephone number or voice.
A simple introduction for people that know you well would be:

“Hi Sophie, it’s Jacqui.”

If you don’t know each other so well, include a little more information, “It’s Jacqui here, the ADHD coach.”
This brief introduction saves time and you can dive right into the reason for the call.

It is better to introduce yourself to someone who knows it is you, than to have someone have try to figure it out as you are talking.

12. Do pre-call prep

Before making a call, have the items out in front of you that you might need.

For example, if you are making a dental appointment, have your calendar. If you are phoning your bank, have a bank statement. It’s much better than having to go hunting for these while you are actually speaking to the person.

13. Do take notes

If you don’t have a good memory, write as you are having the conversation. You might never need to refer to those notes, but just the act of writing helps to solidify the information in your mind.

14. Do check your battery

If you are using your cell phone, check to see how much battery life you have. This will save calls from being cut off when your battery dies. Make a habit of recharging your phone over night. Plus, have a phone charger at home, work and in your car, just in case.

15. Don’t make calls from your car

Even if it legal to drive and talk on the phone where you live, don’t do it. You want your full attention on the road.

16. Do speak slowly

When you are giving your name and telephone number, say it slowly. Many people with ADHD speak quickly and because you know you name and number very well, it is easy to say them super fast.

Which telephone camp are you in?


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