What is mental flexibility?
Mental flexibility is the ability to adapt one’s behavior quickly in order to handle different situations in different ways. This is particularly important when faced with new, complex, or problematic situations. One of the side effects of living with ADHD is that you lack mental flexibility. This is why people with ADHD find it difficult to jump from task to task. Many of them find it difficult to shift their way of thinking quickly in order to accomplish a new task or develop a new skill.
How to manage poor mental flexibility
Because people with ADHD lack mental flexibility, many of them find it helpful to structure their workdays so that they can focus on one task at a time. Allow a set block of time for one specific task and focus only on that one project. Although it may feel challenging for a person with ADHD to work within this type of structured schedule, it is actually more beneficial to allow yourself to focus on a single task at a time. When working on one project within a single block of time, take frequent mini-breaks to rest your brain and reset your focus. Managing poor mental flexibility is another advantage of single-tasking, which we talked about in our last blog post.
How to deal with fear of structure
If you’re reading this and struggle with your own mental flexibility or suffer from ADHD, you may be intimidated or overwhelmed by the thought of setting aside a block of time dedicated to one task. This is likely because many people with ADHD resist structure due to a fear that they won’t be in the right mindset when the scheduled time to focus on a particular task arrives. If that is the case, try substituting one task for another. As long as you pick one task to focus on at a time and take frequent mini-breaks, you’ll avoid the pitfalls of trying to jump from project to project. The important thing to remember is that you can always trade time, but you can’t recover it when it’s lost.
Ready to take control of your mental flexibility, my free checklist can help!
I hope you find this information helpful. Watch for my group on planning that I will be rolling out sometime this summer. NEED HELP? Set up a complimentary strategy session so we can talk about it HERE.
This is my sixth post in the Cognitive Distortions Series. “Cognitive distortions” is another name for beliefs that hold us back and prevent us from living our best lives. The key reality for this series is that our thoughts have profound effects on our perceptions of reality. In order to improve our lives, we must first become aware of our false or negative thoughts and replace them with positive ones.
Distorted thinking is unavoidable. Although they may seem natural and accurate, many of the thoughts that pop into our minds are distorted. We often think of skewed thoughts as being too negative, but they can actually be unrealistically positive as well. Distorted thinking usually results in a mood shift in the downward direction. Even those unrealistically positive thoughts can send our moods spiraling as we begin to realize our unrealistic expectations!
It sure seems like a positive attitude is nearly impossible to achieve, huh?
The good news is that there is a way out of the messes we create in our minds. We can work on changing the thought patterns that cause us the most difficulty. Magnification is a common distortion and, in my opinion, one that society unknowingly rewards in various ways.
Magnification makes problems bigger than life. Magnification also causes us to have unrealistic expectations of events, products, situations, and people. An example of one of these magnifications is when we build up an event to be so much more than it can possibly be. (Have you ever planned a birthday party or family gathering? They never go as well as you want them to!) When the event fails to deliver on these expectations many people experience a crash that will throw them into a deep depression. The way that society rewards magnification is that drama is rewarded. The everyday flow of life is often thought of as boring. To combat this boredom, many people…shall we say, “embellish.” The way they embellish is by adding elements to their stories (the ones they tell themselves and the ones they tell others) that make things much more exciting. Sometimes we even feel that if we don’t magnify our stories nobody will pay attention.
For the last month or so, people in my area have been dealing with the rise in seismic activity in my area (earthquakes). Emotions are running high as people fear for the safety of their homes, roads, bridges, and themselves. While sitting in a Town Meeting yesterday, I noticed that many people seemed to think that they wouldn’t be heard if they didn’t use strong, loud language seasoned with scare tactics. As I watched the reactions of those at the meeting, I had to admit that those people who added a good deal of drama to their statements got the most attention.
This tendency isn’t just in town meetings about highly charged topics, it is also present in our everyday storytelling. Have you ever listened to an obviously embellished recounting of an event by someone that you know is not generally a dishonest person? I have. I see if all the time. People generally laugh or cry more at their creative flourishes. On the other hand, a person who recounts the events realistically is generally met with a mediocre reception. I wanted to address this because I think it is important to realize how we all contribute to this particular distorted way of thinking. As long as there is positive reinforcement for this, it will be difficult to overcome.
When we talk about magnification, we are typically talking about the tendency to exaggerate the importance of our own errors, fears, and flaws. In essence, we talk and think about things in a catastrophic manner and make them considerably more “awful” than they are. The result of this is lowered self -esteem, lack of confidence, lackluster performance, compromised energy to complete a task, and just plain old depression.
Before you can correct magnification, you have to be able to recognize it. Since it is most likely a habitual way of thinking, detecting it might be difficult. The payoff of the attention that is received from this type of thinking has to be less than the payoff of changing. In other words, people don’t usually change the way they do things unless the pain of not changing is greater. Even if you are not ready to change your thinking pattern of magnification, I would like to challenge you to start noticing it. Notice it in yourself, in others, and even in the media. Just notice it. You don’t have to change it right now, but notice it and ask yourself some questions about why people would want to engage in magnification. As you become more and more aware of it, you might start noticing the difficulties that are caused by it.
When you are ready to work on reducing magnification, here are some tips:
- Raise your awareness. Label it when you see it.
- Ask yourself what the payoff is. What are you getting from looking at an issue, event, product, or person in this way?
- Ask, “Could the rewards for changing the way I look at this be just as great?”
- Try to restate it without the magnification.
- Ask yourself, “Is this true?” and, “What parts of this are true and what parts are not true?”
- Reframe the way you are thinking about the situation or event.
- Be gentle with yourself. Changing a habit is hard.
If you would like some help with changing your thinking, please drop me an email. The journey is well worth your time! Change your thoughts and you will change your life!
A friend called to give me an update on the status of her mother who had been in the hospital for several weeks. The family, always supportive, sometimes close, sometimes not so close had done a wonderful job of making sure that this much loved mom was not alone during her stay in the hospital.
Gradually her mom improved, got out of intensive care and was ready to be moved into a facility where they could care for her during her recovery. My friend had already had to miss work for extensive amounts of time for two hospitalizations that involved her son. Now, her mom. She was devoted to her mom and it was painful for her to hear the staff tell her that her mom did well when the family was there, but when they left her heart began to do strange dangerous things. What to do? My friend needed to take care of her mom, but she needed to take care of her son, but she needed to take care of her husband, but she needed to take care of her job, but she needed to reconnect with friends, but she needed to clean her house, but she needed to SLEEP! So many things that she needed to do, but now she was being told that her mother’s life (her heart) needed her to be there in order to function properly.
As I listened, I remembered when I was in the hospital, in intensive care, after an emergency surgery that removed my spleen and left me with a collapsed lung that needed to re-inflate. Was I scared? You bet I was! Did I feel all alone? Absolutely! Did I want my family there? I wanted them, and only them to help me navigate through all the difficulties that simply existing brought forth. They did a wonderful job of taking care of me, but as I listened to my friend I remembered some other things that helped.
My bible! Since I had been taken by ambulance to the hospital I didn’t have my bible with me. My daughter loaned me hers and I kept it open on my chest as I rested and awaited surgery. My mp-3 player with audio books on it kept my mind from wandering into scary places. My sound machine -the hospital is a noisy place. My eye pillow – I have one that is lavender scented ( a gift from my fabulous nephew) and one that is peppermint scented (made for me by my daughter) that feel like a little piece of heaven resting on my eyes when the world becomes too bright and noisy! My neck pillow – just a small roll of memory foam that supported the curvature of my neck when I was forced to lie flat. My corn bag – a gift from my father-in-law many years ago that when heated in the microwave and put at the foot of the bed under the covers, keeps my feet warm for hours! These are a few of the comfort things that made a big difference when I was alone and scared in a world where I had no control over the smallest thing.
My friend thanked me for sharing these things and said that I always have good ideas. I don’t know about that, but I thought these things that are comforting to me, might spark ideas in others about the things that bring comfort to them. After all, this world is sometimes too bright, too noisy, too tight, and too scary. We could all use a little bit of comfort to make it through life. What helps you feel comfortable?
Multitasking has become a buzz word in today’s world. It used to be “He who has the most toys before he dies wins.” Now I wonder if it is “She who juggles the most tasks wins.” There is no doubt that we are expected by society, our jobs, peers, and families to do many things well in the same 24 hours that we have always had. The expectation of society is big problem in a lot of areas, but who is “society?” Isn’t that us, you and me?
The term “multitasking” originated in the computer world. It simply means that computers are able to do many tasks at the same time. However, even that is not really true. It is just that computers can flip back and forth between tasks very rapidly. So can we, but at what cost?
There has been a lot of research on this multitasking thing recently. It turns out that we are shortchanging ourselves in many ways when we attempt to multitask. If our reason for multitasking is that we want to save time, we might want to rethink that. Research is pointing to the fact that we really can’t put out attention on more than one thing at a time, but, like the computer, we can flip from one thing to another rapidly.
The cost, however, is that, unlike the computer, our brains need to have time to refocus on each task each time we turn to it. This refocusing time, actually costs us time in the long run. We may feel like we are getting more done, but the time wasted on refocusing really adds up in the course of a day. Not only does it take longer to complete tasks, but research is also saying that the results we get on all of our tasks are not nearly as good as they would be if we had focused on each of them exclusively.
We are shortchanging ourselves in a number of ways.
- Physically: When we put stress on ourselves to multitask, we are putting our bodies into a state of emergency. This causes our bodies to release a powerful hormone called cortisol. Cortisol is the hormone that we often call the “fight or flight” hormone. It is a useful hormone that helps us deal with emergencies and deadlines, but when it is constantly being pumped into our bodies (as in multitasking) it sometimes causes health problems.
- Mentally: Mental functions decrease and show up as memory loss, difficulty with word retrieval, poor concentration and loss of focus. What’s more, it has also been discovered that over time being in a constant state of emergency destroys neurons in the brain in the pre-frontal cortex. And guess what? The pre-frontal cortex is the part of the brain we need in order to multitask, meet deadlines, make decisions, and curb impulses. It is the part of the brain that is often referred to as the “executive” center of the brain. When the pre-frontal cortex is compromised, we become scattered and unable to focus.
So what do we do? I know that modern life requires us to do a certain amount of multitasking, otherwise we simply would not be able to complete all the things we need to do in a day even if we reduce these things down to a bare minimum. I would like to suggest that we be very careful how we combine tasks in order to multitask safely and productively. Some safe multitasking might be:
- folding the laundry while talking on the phone.
- Listen to an audio-book or music while raking leaves or exercising.
Some things we might want to avoid because of the way the brain processes are:
- Talking on the phone and writing an email at the same time.
- Driving and texting.
The things that use the same parts of the brain need to be avoided. Multitasking should be limited to those things that don’t require a lot of decision making. We should also avoid multitasking when it could be dangerous to do so.
With all that being said, I would like to say that I think our world is out of control and a little bit crazy making. We need to start to rethink our positions on a lot of things and simplify our lives. Without a good balance, all the toys in the world will not make us happy. We will just be stressed out trying to take care of all of our toys.
As I was writing this post, I went into the kitchen to check on the dip my husband was making for an afternoon of ballgame watching. I ran downstairs to get some disposable bowls for the dip and remembered that I was painting a table and it needed several coats of paint. So I left the bowls on the stairs, got out the paint, and painted the table. Then I grabbed the bowls, ran back upstairs, checked on the dip in the oven, determined that it needed more time to cook, and ran
back to my computer to finish this post. Clearly, I am not practicing what I preach! I tell you this because I want you to know that what inspired me to write this post is that I need it! I need to put into words what I already know, and I need to keep putting this out into the world until I can find a way to work it into my life. Sometimes I feel bent under the weight of all the things I have to get done in a day. I know that you feel that way too. So, what do you say we take steps to make some changes. After all, we, you and I, are society. And change in “society” has to start with us.
- keep track of all of your multitasking activities for one week.
- Ask yourself why you are trying to do too many things at once. Is it because you need more money and have to work harder to earn it? If so, ask yourself if you can reduce your expenses. Is it because the kids are involved in too many activities? Think about limiting them to one per season per child. You get the picture.
Until we know why we are trying to fit too much into our lives, we can’t eliminate any of it.get out your journal. Write about the ways you over tax yourself and the reasons why. Try to get some clarity in those areas.