Dr. Ed Hallowell is a well known expert on ADHD. He often talks of the SPIN Cycle and how people must learn to harness energy from their ADHD to learn to thrive. It’s natural in all aspects of life though to have periods where we excel followed by times that seem stagnant or even time where things worsen.
Positive aspects of ADHD
When ADHD is well managed, we can learn to improve upon our skills. We can work on our organizational skills. Our time management can improve. Sitting down and staying on task is possible. We feel more successes than failures.
I’ve written before about all the reasons we should appreciate ADHD, including creativity and extra energy. The problem is getting to the point where we can recognize the benefits of the ADHD mind – the negatives easily get in the way.
He goes on to say, “This waterfall is an insurmountable obstacle if your goal is to paddle. But, if you will change your plan, I can show you how you can turn this waterfall into something wonderful. This waterfall can generate enough energy to light up millions of homes. People will pay you for all that electricity. You just need to throw away your paddle and build a hydroelectric plant.”
What’s the SPIN Cycle?
During the spin cycle we get stuck in a period where we seem to stop progressing in our self improvement. Sometimes we even seem to slip back into old habits. The negativity weighs us down and can make us want to stop trying.
It’s not uncommon for people with ADHD to feel ashamed due to their inabilities to sit still, stay quiet, turn in assignments on time, and the myriad consequences of the executive functioning struggles they have. This can lead to Rejection Sensitivity, anxiety, and depression.
Until we learn to love ourselves and look at ourselves in a positive light, it is impossible to function well. Negative self talk keeps us from being productive. It inhibits our sleep. We start to give up.
We all tend to be our harshest critic. Learn to look at yourself as you would look at a close friend. You’re probably able to accept that a friend forgot to reply to a text or showed up late. Don’t beat yourself up over the same issues. While it’s not good to do those things, you can use failures to learn instead of to fall into the trap of negative self talk.
Focus on the positives in your life, not the negatives. Look at everything you have accomplished. Write accomplishments down as they happen so you can easily review the list to give yourself a boost when you’re feeling down! Don’t wait to solve the world hunger problem to consider something an accomplishment. It can be the little mundane things that we need to do every day but struggle to do.
Is it hard to remember to feed your pet without your mother reminding you? Today you remembered. Write that down!
A great way to block the shame is to focus on gratitude.
Each day take a moment to think about why you’re thankful. This can be things you’ve accomplished as well as people and things in your life you appreciate. It’s also a great time to set goals for the next day. Don’t forget to include doing things for others. There’s no better way to feel better about yourself than to help others!
Pessimism and Negativity
It’s easy to fall into pessimism and negativity, as discussed above. Sometimes we feel like nothing will work out, so why bother even trying.
We can’t control what other people say or do. The weather is beyond our control. A classmate might say something really hurtful. Natural disasters happen. All of these things can bring us down. Or we can change the way we think about them.
We can learn from things that go on around us. If we don’t like the way we feel when people say certain things, we can learn to not say those types of things and hurt others. We can practice responses to say or how to leave the situation when people say things that cause us to hurt or feel angry.
You might know someone who simply gives up. They stop trying to do homework because they get so frustrated that they make silly mistakes or they don’t understand the assignment. Maybe they can do the work but they always forget to turn it in. Why even bother doing it in the first place if you don’t get full credit, right?
That’s negative thinking. The glass is half empty. With this type of thinking, it’s less likely that you’ll get anything done.
Dr. Hallowell writes, ” Isolation is often the by-product of shame, pessimism, and negativity. It intensifies the shame and negativity, and can lead to depression, toxic anxiety, drug and alcohol abuse, and generally poor performance in all aspects of life.”
It can feel easier to simply avoid being around people if you worry about what people will think of you. While it might seem to decrease your stress if you avoid a stressful situation, it can lead to new worries that you have no friends. It also leads to a weak support system, so when you need a friend to lean upon, they aren’t around.
It might take working with a friend to draw you out and into situations. Some people need to work with a therapist to learn how to socially interact.
Jessica from How to ADHD has some great social skills tips in this video:
No Creative, Productive Outlet
When we’re stuck in a negative mindset, we lose our creativity. Productivity goes out the window. That leads us to more frustration and dispair.
We need to get out of the rut and do something productive to regain some self esteem and feel good.
Try to make tasks fun. Think of Mary Poppins… she helped Jane and Michael clean the nursery by making it into a game. Granted, she used a little magic, but you can sing a tune or find another way to make chores fun.
I sometimes listen to an audiobook while I clean. It makes the task more fun while I listen to a book I enjoy. You could get more creative and pretend you’re in a movie and act out what the character would be doing. If nothing else, focus on a positive aspect of whatever chore you must do as you do it.
How to stop the SPIN Cycle
When you get stuck in the SPIN Cycle, you can find a way out by simply playing. Have fun. Clear your mind of the negative thoughts. Be around positive people. Do something nice for someone else. Think positive thoughts.
It’s not uncommon for us to automatically think the worst when something unexpected or negative happens. If you think life is one catastrophe after another — the end of the world — you can learn to change your perspective and move on. When you think every little setback is a huge hurdle, it’s called catastrophizing. It’s possible to stop catasstrophizing by taking a step back and finding solutions. It isn’t easy, but you can learn to change your perspective.
Making mountains out of molehills
This is a common phrase, which just highlights how often people feel like whatever problem they’re having is the biggest problem of all. The good news is we can learn to handle this strong anxiety.
For example, if you don’t feel ready for a test, it’s easy to think you’ll bomb it. If you do bad on the test, surely your grade will drop. Bad grades won’t get you into the college you want, and then you won’t get the job you want.
That line of thinking is what many people experience. Everything is a catastrophe.
What can you do to avoid catastrophizing?
Give it time.
First and foremost, give yourself some time. Whether you can only afford a few big breaths or you can sleep on it, a little time can help.
If you impulsively react to anything negative, you’re more likely to overreact, cause more problems, or just not be able to find a solution.
Give yourself time to calm down because trying to think straight when you’re upset is not helpful.
In the example above, if you keep thinking along those lines, you won’t be able to focus on your test, which will negatively impact the outcome. Clear the negative thoughts to be able to focus.
I know it’s not easy. Trust me. My mind wanders horribly when I try to be mindful. But I’m still practicing.
Studies show mindfulness helps with anxiety, focus, and physical health. It’s worth learning.
When you’re good at being in the moment, you can use mindfulness to help calm yourself before reacting.
Look for facts.
I always say that feelings are louder than facts. When we’re sad, angry, scared, or feeling any strong emotion, it’s hard to think about the facts.
You need to find the facts.
Write down what’s going on. Sometimes it takes seeing things written out to see the facts.
In the example above, do you really think you’ll fail to get a job because of one test you weren’t well prepared to take?
While it’s always a good idea to study, get a good night’s sleep, and be prepared for tests, the truth is many successful people have occasionally been unprepared.
They do their best and try harder next time. They use that as a learning opportunity and study differently the next time. Maybe they ask the teacher more questions or find a tutor. Or they simply make the time to study. They might try a new technique, such as taking notes while reading or standing to read.
Whatever it takes, they learn from their mistake. This is resilience.
Change your mindset.
There’s a whole post on changing mindset. Please read it.
Let’s face it: we all have good days and bad days. Things happen.
We don’t need to blame anyone or anything. Sometimes it’s no one’s fault. It just is.
A common example of a no fault solution is in sports. Someone has to win a game, which means someone loses. Losing isn’t the end of the world. Again, use it as a learning experience. Maybe there’s nothing you could have done to change the outcome, but you can change your mindset about the outcome. If you did your best and the other team was better, then that’s the way it is.
Think of other positives. Was it good just to spend time with friends? You got exercise and a break from studying. What good came from it?
Identify when you’re catastrophizing.
If you find yourself frequently frustrated at what is going on around you, look for triggers.
What sets you off?
If you can find certain things that always get your fire buring, watch out for those situations and tread extra cautiously.
Maybe things that work you up are frequently related to school. Smart students tend to worry excessively if they do poorly academically, even if it’s not worth many points.
Don’t fall for the slippery slope of one small setback leading to failure. Identify it as your hot topic area and work on changing your approach.
What is protective?
Do you realize that if you are tired or hungry you’re less able to handle stress? Does that mean that the oppoiste is true? Be sure to get enough sleep if you think it does. (Hint: This is true for most of us. Check out The Big 3.)
If you find that talking to someone helps, find people who can calm you down before you act inappropriately.
Exercise often helps people clear their mind. If you have the time to take a walk or hit the gym, do it. If you don’t have a lot of time, get your wiggles out in another way, such as a brisk walk around the room.
Change the pattern.
Learn to change the pattern of catastrophic thinking.
In catastrophic thinking, a negative experience is followed by unpleasant feelings. These unpleasant feelings make it seem like nothing good can follow in the situation.
If you learn to spot the pattern you can interrupt the thought process and choose to se the situation differently.
Play the rewind game.
A fun game to play that can help you learn how to change your mindset and behavior to get a better outcome is Rewind. In the game you roll play with a friend or just in your mind.
This game works a lot like those books that you can choose the ending. If you want to go in the house, you choose page 4, if you want to walk down the street, you go to page 12. The choice you make alters the outcome.
In this same manner, you can choose different things that could have been said or done, and role play what the response from the other people involved would have been.
Rewind a situation and play it out differently.
When you find yourself complaining about the outcome of an event, think it through again, starting with what you could do to try to get to a better ending.
The trick is you have to be the first to change what you say or do. In the real world we can’t just expect someone else to change a behavior. We can only change what we do. Others usually follow suit, depending upon what the situation is.
You forgot to turn in a homework assignment. This leads you to worry that your grade in the class will fall. A lower grade makes you worry that you’ll be kicked off the school team due to GPA requirements. Of course then you’ll lose your scholarship and won’t get to go to college. If you don’t go to college then you’ll end up in a minimum wage job or homeless.
The first step is to recognize this as catastrophizing. You won’t end up homeless due to one missed assignment.
Next you will need to not make missing homework assignments a habit, so use the rewind game to figure out what you can do to change the outcome in the first place.
What could you do differently?
Do you need to write your assignments in a planner and check them off when you do them? How do you remember to bring the homework and everything you need to complete it home? Did you choose the right location to do the homework without distractions? How do you remember to put the homework back in your backpack when copleted? What distracts you in class from turning it in? Can you come up with a routine that would help?
Sometimes the rewind game will allow you to play out a scenario in which your words or actions can change, which changes someone else’s response. This is good when you have a disagreement with a friend. You can’t expect them to change their response unless you first change yours. What can you do or say differently next time?
Playing rewind trains your brain to think about what you do and how others react. Each situation is different, but the game can help you play it out to get a better outcome and then use the techniques in real life.
Yet is such a little word, but it has huge potential. Learn how it can change your mindset and help you to be more reslilent.
We’ve all been frustrated when things get tough, but why do some people seem to trek on and succeed while others give up? They’re resilient. Many of them have learned the power of “yet.” Yet is a simple, but very powerful word. It gives people hope and a knowlege that they can. Even if they can’t do it now, they can one day. Understanding that you can will help you stay resilient.
Resilience and grit to succeed
Resilience and grit are traits some seem to come by naturally. These traits help people succeed when things don’t go their way.
In fact, resilience and grit are linked to success more than intelligence.
Think about that for a minute. Sticking to things is more important than intelligence when it comes to success.
I’m sure you know some really smart people who haven’t made it very far in life because they just don’t keep trying.
And you probably know some average intelligence people who have really gone far in life. They succeed beyond expectation. These people have grit. They keep going when things get tough and don’t quit.
The truth is, we can all learn to be more resilient. It can be hard, but possible.
We hear people say, “I can’t do this,” all the time. Maybe it sounds more like, “I’m not good at driving,” or “I don’t understand this math.” Whatever the actual words, the outcome is the same.
These people are stuck in a fixed mindset. They won’t ever be able to do whatever it is if they have that mindset.
Learn the power of “yet”
If you simply learn to say “yet” after you have the negative thinking above, it can help.
I can’t do this… yet.
I’m not good at driving… yet.
I don’t understand this math… yet.
A simple word changes it all, doesn’t it?
Learn to use “yet” in your daily life.
When you feel frustrated, try it.
If you feel overwhelmed, give it a shot.
When you’re challenged with new or difficult material, just say it.
Repeat it as necessary. Use it to give yourself momentum and an extra push.
A growth mindset is correlated with success more than intelligence is predictive of success. So how do you get this growth mindset?
A growth mindset is correlated with success more than intelligence is predictive of success. So how do you get this growth mindset?
Did you know your brain can learn to change the way it works? It doesn’t just learn the new information you study at school. Our brains are able to change and adapt. You can learn to use your brain to your benefit through developing a growth mindset.
What’s a growth mindset?
The concept of fixed and growth mindsets was introduced by Stanford University psychologist Carol Dweck in 2007. Her book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, discussed this new way of thinking about how we think.
Of course, Yoda knew this long ago…
Per Dr. Dweck, people with a fixed mindset believe that people’s intelligence and abilities are static and outside their control. In contrast, those with a growth mindset know that intelligence is dynamic. We know that the brain is able to change based on experiences and efforts.
Some kids worry that they don’t have enough.
Not enough intelligence.
Or enough skill.
This is the fixed mindset.
Young Luke Skywalker was suffering from a fixed mindset. Yoda, the wise master, told him there is no try. He was pushing Luke to have a growth mindset.
Some kids grow up thinking that they can do anything if they just work hard at it.
They don’t worry if they’re smart enough or skilled enough.
These kids know that if they work hard, they have a chance. This is a growth mindset.
Who succeeds in life?
You know what? Studies show that intelligence doesn’t matter as much as grit.
People with a growth mindset have grit and resilience. They are more successful in life.
Even people who are very gifted intellectually can fail to succeed if they stop trying. They often start off in school finding that it’s easy, so they don’t need to learn study skills early on. When academics become challenging, they don’t know how to learn. They can easily get frustrated and give up if they’ve relied on being smart and lived with a fixed mindset.
Many people with ADHD develop a fixed mindset because they so often struggle with everything. They focus on getting a good outcome, but they fail to see the benefit to the process of trying. The good news is that they can learn to succeed if they change their mindset!
How can you get a growth mindset?
Okay, so it’s obvious that a growth mindset is better than a fixed mindset, but how do you get one?
Look at your way of thinking
When you face a challenge in daily life and you want to quit (or just not start), ask yourself what’s going on.
Really stop and think.
Is there a voice telling you that you can’t do it?
Does it say you’re not good enough?
Is the little voice telling you that it’s someone else’s fault?
This little voice is your fixed mindset.
A fixed mindset is when we believe our intelligence, attributes and abilities are fixed and unable to change.
If you listen to this little voice, you will stop before even trying.
This voice holds you back. It keeps you from achieving your goals and dreams. You’ll never know your full potential if you listen to it and quit.
When we have a fixed mindset, we constantly feel the need to prove ourselves. It leaves us vulnerable and highly sensitive to being wrong or making a mistake. When we have this mindset, any failure or mistake destroys our self confidence. This leads to being anxious and keeps us from learning from constructive criticisms and mistakes.
Choose to ignore that little voice
Once you recognize that the little nagging voice is your fixed mindset, you can learn to ignore it.
A growth mindset allows us to understand that our talents and abilities can be improved and developed.
If your fixed mindset voice is telling you that you can’t do it, think of how you can.
Is a big task overwhelming? Break it into several smaller task and get started on the first one. Small tasks seem manageable. And after doing one, you can move on to the next. Before you know it, the whole thing is done!
Instead of saying…
“I’m not very good at this.” or “This is too hard.”
“This is really hard for me. I need to keep practicing.”
Celebrate the hard work
Remember all the times you weren’t sure if you could do something, but you did it?
Even if it wasn’t perfect, you did it!
If you don’t even try, you can’t succeed.
How can you start whatever needs to be done? What tools do you need? Are there resources you can use? Is the size of the task intimidating? Can you break it down into smaller parts?
Instead of thinking you’re not good enough, think about what you can do to be good enough.
Know that you are able to solve problems. You can grow from doing anything you set your mind to doing!
Keep track of progress
Keep a notebook or electronic file of all the things your fixed mindset said were not possible to do but you were able to get them done.
Include your successes as well as the times you tried but didn’t quite meet your goal. They can be celebrated for the process of doing, even if the outcome wasn’t what you wanted.
You can learn a lot even when you don’t quite meet your goal. Think about what happened when you didn’t quite get what you wanted – usually it’s not that bad.
Be sure to not get lost in the goal itself, but the process of how you got there. There’s a lot of good learning that comes from the process.
Maybe you didn’t get an A on that really hard project, but you learned something about the topic. Maybe you didn’t see it at the time, but you learned organizational skills or research tips from the process.
Sometimes the best teacher is a mistake – as long as you evaluate what happened and use it as a learning experience. You can take all the things you learned with you when you work on your next project.
It’s the effort you put in to a project that helps you learn. The outcome if things work well or not really is less important. Focus on how you problem solve and your determination to continue, even when things are hard. That’s what helps you to strengthen your growth mindset.
Exercise your brain
Your brain is like a muscle: the more you use it, the better it gets. Each time you’re faced with the negative little voice of a fixed mindset, you need to challenge it with positive thinking.
The more you practice this, the easier it gets. It might never be your first line of thinking, but you can always choose to think with a growth mindset.