When I was 13, I lived in Uganda, East Africa, where most of the learning in the school I attended was hands-on. When our class hiked up Mount Elgon on a field trip, each student was assigned a guide.
The guides didn’t say much, but they helped us carry our packs if we needed assistance, or provided direction and protection by pointing out slippery spots, narrow ledges, or weak places in the bridges we had to cross.
Our guides never carried us on their backs or hiked for us, but they stayed close by. As we learned more about what to watch out for, they would fall a bit behind, letting us revel in our newfound confidence and explore the paths by ourselves.
Essentially, the guides did what an ADHD coach does: help you recognize and maneuver around obstacles in your way, while you develop your own skills and strategies to reach your goals. A coach will stay with you, but a coach will not walk for you.
What I’ve learned as a coach is that most people never thought about the kind of life they want to live before they got caught up in living it. Somehow, they say, they landed in a career or a relationship or a situation without understanding how they got there. “I feel lost,” they tell me. “I don’t know what I’m doing. How could this have happened?”
I provide a supportive place from which my clients can examine their lives as I ask them to consider—perhaps for the first time—that intriguing question that can stun them into silence: Who are they? And I permit them to consider the possibilities inherent in the answer.
As an ADDer, you probably know the etiquette of putting yourself last, of feeling guilty about considering your own needs. An ADHD coach will ask you to look inward, not to foster selfish behavior, but to help you manage a life that too often feels out of control. Here are the principles of successful coaching.
1. Find Out What Works
An ADHD coach tries to create a climate of support and encouragement, so that you can discover for yourself how to replace negative, defeating behaviors with positive patterns of success.
My client, David, for example, had trouble paying bills on time—not because he didn’t have adequate funds in his checking account, but because he thought he could write the checks one Saturday a month rather than once a week. The problem was that he’d find himself facing an insurmountable pile of checks to write, so he’d go biking or take photographs, or do anything more pleasurable than paying bills. Not surprisingly, his bills incurred late charges.
My job was not to agree with David’s judgment that he was being irresponsible and throwing money away. It was to listen to what he thought was wrong, and remind him of the consequences of late bill payments. Through our work together, he laid out a plan to address his bills weekly, and let me know that he wanted me to hold him accountable.
When I talked with David about how I should respond when I saw that he wasn’t following through, he realized that what he had initially decided—that I should excuse him and ask him to try again next week—wasn’t working. After discussing various approaches, we settled on a different strategy. He paid his bills on time and, as a bonus, spent the money he saved on late charges however he wanted.
This is the power of ADHD coaching. First, it encourages you to assess your most pressing needs. Then, it requires you to develop strategies to address them, fine-tuning the game plan with the coach until you get results. When working with a coach, the plan often works because you came up with it.
2. Make Your Brain Work for You
Just as in any coaching partnership, you have to be willing and able to meet the challenges of creating a better life for yourself. ADHD coaching focuses on the unique biological differences in the ADHD brain that have caused you to lose control over your life.
An ADHD coach understands the neurobiological symptoms at the root of your negative behavior patterns, and, through this recognition, helps you learn to navigate the daily challenges caused by your symptoms.
The coaching experience is a journey of self-discovery in which you learn about your ADHD brain and become more effective at home, at work, and at play. You’ve probably struggled to develop new habits, and have given up after several failed attempts. My clients tell me how guilty and ashamed they feel, how incompetent and helpless they believe they are. “I’m sick and tired of always turning over a new leaf,” cried Sarah, a speech pathologist. “It’s like I’m stuck in the spin cycle and can’t get out. I feel stupid.”