Time & Productivity

Talk Your Way to Productivity

Ditching personal put-downs in favor of positive conversations with themselves will help attention deficit adults build confidence — and accomplish more tasks.

go from "I can't" to "I can" and get things done with positive self-talk
hands holding paper and scissors cutting t off with "I can't do it" so it becomes "I can"

ADHD coaches and therapists tell individuals with ADHD to practice “self-talk.” There is great value in talking to ourselves, assuming that we speak as we would want others to speak to us. Unfortunately, that’s not what typically happens. In revisiting the various events of our lives, it is the 20 percent we did wrong — not the 80 percent we did right — that we remember and castigate ourselves about.

No Use Being Negative

The negative words we reserve only for ourselves are counterproductive. Did you know that the unconscious mind does not compute negation in language? That’s right — the deepest recesses of the mind don’t process the word “no.” Therefore, when we say, “I will not fritter my time away on the computer today,” the words are read as, “I will fritter my time away on the computer.”

And we wonder how we manage to find ourselves, once more, firmly stuck in those black holes. We talk ourselves into them! No amount of “but I said…” changes the fact that we have commanded ourselves to do the very things we want to avoid. And we beat ourselves up over our transgression.

We adults with ADHD loathe deadlines. And as if meeting a deadline isn’t stressful enough, we up the “stress ante” by lambasting ourselves for past screw-ups. Part of what happens is that we are bombarded with competing thoughts ricocheting around in our conscious and unconscious minds. With all that yak-yak-yak going on, it’s no wonder we can’t get anything done.

Consider the following examples of self-talk about deadlines and think about the conversations you have with yourself. Are they positive, or do you put yourself down?

  • “I promise myself that I won’t get out of this chair until I have written three pages —even if it kills me!”
  • “God, I feel antsy. I’d love to go outside, but since I waited too long to get started — as usual — I can’t take a break.”
  • “Don’t even think about it, you lazy bum — you better learn to discipline yourself!”
  • “I just can’t focus — my mind is wandering all over the place. I will never get this done!”
  • “Everybody was right — I never plan anything. Why can’t I just apply myself?”

The fact is that your ADHD brain does not work well when it is under pressure. The fount of creativity dries up. Your wandering mind is a positive, not a negative. It is the ground in which the seeds of new thought are cultivated. Work at guiding your thoughts in the direction of your choice.

Next time you find yourself thinking about a deadline, try using these examples of self-talk:

  • “I am going to find out how ‘dead’ that deadline really is. I will ask about what will happen if I’m late. If lateness isn’t acceptable, I will rethink my commitment. Do I really want to do this?”
  • “Today, I am blocking out two hours for writing time. Regardless of how much I get done, I will stop at that point.”
  • “I have lots of ideas running around in my brain, but this doesn’t seem like the time to put the words down on paper. I’ll try later.”
  • “I know that, somehow, some time, a great article will emerge from this mental stew.”
  • “I’m bored with this project. I think I’ll go outside for a walk. The change of scenery will allow me to toss some ideas around.”

Talking to yourself as you would talk to your child, or someone else you love, works. You will get the job done — faster and with less angst than you would if you had berated yourself. Although the words will sound strange at first, after a while, you may even begin to believe that all those nice things are true.

Leave a Reply