The Building Blocks of Self-Awareness for ADHD

by Dorsey McFadden

Dear reader, I want you to think about something. We live in the present, the past exists in our memory, and when we think of the future we’re using our imagination. In other words, we create the present with our thoughts.

Ok, what’s all of that mean?

It means that you can be the happy person you want to be right now, just by thinking as you believe a happy person would. It’s the secret to life! Nah just kidding, but it does emphasize the importance of self-awareness. Having self-awareness means that you have a clear recognition of your triggers, thoughts, beliefs, and emotions. You’re also aware of your strengths and weaknesses, sources of motivation, and even different people’s energy. It helps you understand how your actions impact others and how others see you. Developing self-awareness gives us the opportunity to make positive changes in our behavior and increase our self-confidence. When we start caring about who we are versus what we’re not, we grow.

Many people assume that self-awareness comes naturally. In reality, it can be hard to develop, especially for people with ADHD. It’s difficult to point to a single cause, but it might be because we’ve been told to be a certain way for such a long time that we didn’t know there is value in who we are. We also tend to be very sensitive to the emotions of others around us and that can be super overwhelming, with so many incoming sources of stimuli we have a hard time recognizing our own emotions.

However, with practice, we can learn to pause to notice our thoughts, feelings, and actions. Reflecting on and interpreting these increases our self-knowledge and enables us to find new ways to think, feel and act.

Making the Choice to Change

Before I share my story, I want you to know that you have a choice to make. It’s a choice that you’ll have to make multiple times every single day. But I promise it’s not one you’ll ever regret making.

The choice is to be open and willing. Stay open to learning new information. Be willing to consider how the new information applies to you. On to my story.

It wasn’t until working with a qualified therapist that I began to see my own growth. It took a lot of internal work because the biggest ADHD burden I was carrying was mental. Years of underachieving and self-criticism had taken a toll on my self-worth. Feeling like I had to pretend in order to fit and not knowing why I felt and saw more than others wore me down. Behaviors I wasn’t even aware of, such as people-pleasing and putting on a mask to hide the oddball inside, left me exhausted.

Learning how to practice self-compassion and self-care has been life-changing for me. It required a great deal of time, dedication, and openness; openness to hearing new information that was sometimes upsetting. To find the real me hiding inside I had to embrace the journey with willingness; willingness to break down my own self-perception to rediscover myself.

The benefits have been beyond what I imagined. In developing self-compassion and self-awareness, I’ve increased my resilience, the ability to bounce back, an essential component of living your best life with ADHD.

Knowing that I have ADHD allows me to accept, without judgment, that there are some areas in which I’m not so great. When it comes to time estimates and remembering to do things at specific intervals, I can’t just use my brain. It’s a biological fact.

Knowing and accepting this about myself allows me to embrace thinking differently. It allows me to come up with strategies to accommodate my ADHD tendencies when I know they are going to get in the way. It also means I can recognize when a different coping mechanism is needed.

Practicing Self-Awareness

1. What are your current beliefs and behaviors?

  • Think of a situation when you had a strong emotional reaction
  • Identify the facts (can you take a picture of it? Would someone else have heard the same thing?)
  • Identify your interpretation of the facts (what meaning did you assign to the facts? What did you assume was going on?)
  • Recognize how your interpretation informed your action (what did you do next? How did you feel?)

2. Are those beliefs serving you?

  • Chances are your interpretation of the situation is only one of many equally possible perspectives. If your
  • interpretation doesn’t result in the outcome you want it’s not serving you.
  • Example: I don’t want to feel miserable when someone tells me they’re busy and can’t spend time with me.

3. What belief or intention will support how you want to be?

  • Example: I want to feel confident and happy when I invite a friend to hang out and they say they can’t.
  • What are you willing to do to support how you want to be?
  • Example: When they tell me that, I’ll assume that they just have other plans and would love to hang out with me another time. Instead, I’ll try to make plans with another friend or do something I enjoy on my own.

4. Experiment with using your new belief

  • Don’t worry if it doesn’t work perfectly the first time! It’s going to take some practice.
  • Celebrate yourself for trying something new and remember to look at the facts. What assumptions did you make that might need to be tweaked?

5. If you repeat steps 1-4 on a regular basis, you’re practicing self-awareness!

Applying the Steps

Here’s an example of how you could apply these steps to a daily challenge, taken from my own life.

First, the behavior I noticed was speeding on my way to work so that I wouldn’t be late. I believed that if I was ever late to work, I would be fired. This internal belief, combined with my past record with car accidents, resulted in me feeling extremely anxious driving to work, especially on the days when I was running late.

Second, was this belief that I could never be late hurting me? Of course. I hated feeling stressed and anxious. I wanted to feel calm and clear when I drove to work. Third, to feel calm I would need to believe that it was ok to be late to work once in a while. For step four, I attempted to remind myself as I was driving that I could be late and everything would be ok. At the time, though, I didn’t have the capacity to fully internalize that belief on my own and the frantic commutes continued.

How else could I reduce my anxiety? Examining my problem from the other side, I realized that there were behaviors I could change before I even got in the car. Most mornings I was looking for my keys for up to ten minutes after I was already supposed to have left my home. This was a situation where a new habit would also serve my desire for a calm and collected morning commute.

For my second attempt at step four, I was willing to change my behavior. I decided to experiment with finding a home for my keys, a place to live in when not in my pocket for driving. I tried out a couple of different options before settling on a table right next to the back door. After a few weeks of maintaining this habit, I was able to consistently make it out the door on time and felt a dramatic decrease in anxiety on my drive-in. It became easy to remember to put them on the table because it was the first thing I saw after unlocking the door and after a while, it became a reflex. So now I never misplace them and have much less stressful drives to work overall.

Getting Started

How did all of that relate to self-awareness? Remember, in order to practice self-awareness we need to develop the ability to pause and self-reflect. That’s exactly what you’re doing in identifying small areas of your life you’d like to improve. You can also apply this method to the larger questions in your life, fostering self-growth.

If you want to do this but are struggling, an ADHD coach is perfect for this kind of life work. This is exactly the size and kind of topic covered in a single coaching session. For more directive, hands-on guidance, explore cognitive behavioral therapy. Sure it takes time, dedication, and intention but this self-growth work can also give your life more purpose. And it will certainly increase your happiness.

Let me know what you think below!

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