Our clients, who struggle with executive functioning, come in a wide range of ages and stages in life: students, wage-earners and retirees with very diverse cultural and economic backgrounds. And they have very diverse brains.
Despite these differences, they all share two very specific traits:
It comes from our brains! Depending upon their age, individuals with executive function challenges and/or ADHD have years or even decades of negative experiences and failed attempts to change.
All of those negative emotions and experiences are literally wired into the brain’s memory system, building a strong protective barrier, the foundation of their resistance.
When they show up for Seeing My Time, they must first confront all of those negative past failures.
This is not easy. A young adult recently told me: “I am frightened. I am frightened because I have tried so many programs, so many therapists, and nothing has worked. I am frightened of failing one more time and never reaching my potential in life.”
The goal of our first Seeing My Time session is to normalize the resistance, to look it in the eye, and separate the past from the possibilities for the future. We work to calm the brain and ease that feeling of malaise that comes from years of negative comments.
Placing the “blame” on the wiring of the brain, and not willpower or character is the opening. It is the tiny space that allows hope to enter. It is a beautiful thing to watch hope begin to bloom.
At the end of the first session that frightened young adult spoke up and said, “Oh, and I want you to know that I am no longer frightened.” Yay!
With the first step of hope accomplished, we then have to address the stickier level of the brain’s resistance: resistance to doing things you don’t want to do.
As we work through the Seeing My Time Workbook this is actually the fun part for me. I am constantly focusing on the positive teeny tiny behavior changes my clients are making, pointing out that they are changing their brains.
All the strategies and activities are designed to support their wise brain and get around the negative influence of their emotional brain that has been dominating their lives in self-defeating ways. It is a little-by-little process and so awesome to watch clients celebrate their accomplishments.
And yet, so many get stuck resisting one of the key time management support strategies: writing down tasks they don’t want to do. They avoid putting those tasks down onto paper. They feel bad when they don’t do them. They won’t create a new to-do list because they don’t want to recopy the dreaded task. They will put it on a computer list, that goes out of sight and out of mind but avoid keeping it in sight, on paper or a whiteboard.
So what to do?
Normalize this resistance. Everyone is like that! The goal is to get around that emotional “I don’t wanna” voice in your mind. I think of it this way: the more times you write something down, the more your brain accepts that it has to be done.
Every time you write down an undesirable task, you are telling your brain that this IS important. It is not going away. That is your wise voice talking, getting stronger each time you write down that task. Once you have written down the task enough times, one of two things will likely happen:
Pause and think of a task that you are resisting. Write it down, and keep it in sight. Keep writing it down if necessary. Write in multiple places. Break down that “I don’t wanna” voice! And celebrate when you get it done. It works for me and my clients.
Little by little…
Marydee Sklar is the president of Executive Functioning Success and the creator of the Seeing My Time Program®. She is an educator and author of three books on executive functions, as well as a trainer and speaker. Marydee has more than twenty-five years of experience working with students and adults with executive function challenges.
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