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Why MIND MAPS are the bomb!

Dec 22, 2021

It is no secret that ADHDers often have trouble with writing. But, as with most aspects of ADHD there is an element of counterintuitiveness with this struggle. Because this writing affliction strikes our population equally regardless of how well spoken and articulate we are. If you don’t understand how we’re wired, it will seem very strange that so many of us can speak clearly and articulately but when it comes to expressing our thoughts in writing we seem to lose our minds, get anxious, and can’t keep a linear train of thought. So what’s this all about? 

Since I have gone through this type of struggle myself and come out the other side, I’ve felt uniquely qualified to deconstruct my writing process in order to understand how I went from anxious, convoluted, and avoidant to confident, linear, and effective. As such, I’ve deconstructed my writing process to be able to teach it to other, similarly wired ADHDers. This is what I’ve learned about us… and writing in general.

In order to write something good we have to do three things. We have to create content: ideas. We have to create structure: make it linear and understandable. And, we have to create language, craft the right words. Generally speaking, we as ADHDers, are pretty good at the first and the third things. But we struggle mightily with the structure part. Since organization is a core executive function and most of us struggle with executive functions in one way or another, this is a catch point. And, any topic of sufficient depth or complexity will require another key executive function, working memory, which is the ability to hold things in one’s mind and manipulate them. 

So, if you are sitting with a blank piece of paper or at a computer with nothing written and the cursor blinking at you, trying to hold all of your thoughts in your mind, move them around, organize them, have them come out in a meaningful order, while simultaneously creating language… and you have ADHD and executive function challenges… Good Luck! But that doesn't mean you can’t be a good or even a great writer. It just means you need a compensation strategy that works for how you are wired. 

What I figured out over the years is that two totally unrelated systems that I was taught about six years apart in school, that did work for me at all by themselves, worked great when I mashed them together. And in today’s world, the end result of that mashing can be done digitally with mind mapping software that saves time and gets great results. 

For me it started with what my third grade teacher called a spider-gram. I think most would recognize it as a circle in the middle of the page with the main idea, then lines going out from that main idea to supporting ideas in smaller circles around the page. This was great for getting my ideas out. But it didn’t really help me organize those ideas into a linear format. About six years, and many painful writing assignments later, I was introduced to the Harvard style outline. Many of you would be familiar with that as the standard style of taking notes where the biggest ideas are right up against the left margin, possibly with a Roman numeral. Smaller ideas are indented with letters, smaller ideas further indented with numbers perhaps, and so on. A great way to capture information and take notes. Very structured. But, if I could get stuff to come out of my brain like that, I wouldn’t need an outline. I’d just write the paper.

So, what I figured out at some point in late high school or early college, (I can’t quite remember,) was that if you Voltron these two things together it works brilliantly. The first stage, the spider-gram is the first step of writing, creating the ideas. I usually don’t even fill in the connecting lines until I’m done making all the bubbles. I just want to “throw up” all my ideas as fast as I can before I forget them. Then I go back and cross out the duplicates, make the connections, nest the smaller ideas inside the bigger ones, and so one. 

Then I move on to the second step of writing. And, this is the most important point of all. This is where I isolate the part that is hardest for me/us, the structure. Back in the day, pre mind mapping software, I would go through the spider-gram and number all the “big idea” bubbles and put them in order. And at this point I’d have a really good idea of whether or not there were any holes in the proving of my thesis/point and it would be easy to fill in the needed extra bubbles. And, as if to prove the fact that I couldn’t do this without the “outline,” there was not a single time I did this that I rolled through this process and numbered the bubbles in order correctly. Invariably, I would end up realizing that I missed a key one and would have to renumber two or three times. But renumbering takes a minute. Rewriting multiple paragraphs or reworking the whole paper in the editing process could take hours… and attention that we don’t have. 

So, still back in the day, I would take this numbered spider-gram and translate it into a Harvard style outline. Content: done. Structure: done. All I had to do was sit at the computer and express myself in words, creating language - a thing I enjoy - while rolling down my outline. In. Order. That is when writing became easy for me.

Fast forward to the 2010’s and mind maps and brain frames are all the rage in educational circles. But I think they are often misused. Teachers are so desperate to give kids a structure that they don’t understand separation of the steps and why that’s so important. They start by giving their students a very structured and, frankly, limiting “brain frame.” That doesn’t always help without the brainstorming process first.

But, also with the 2010’s came an explosion of mind mapping software. You can get super fancy and spend lots of money on team friendly software or you can use free open source stuff. My recommendation is to go to the middle ground. I have found that the expensive stuff is great, but not worth the money and has bells and whistles that I don’t need. And the free stuff is too much of a pain in the ass to use. Because we know, if it’s not easy to use, we won’t use it. I use MindMiester, the Chrome extension. I also recommend Mindomo. They both let you do a few maps for free. Then the yearly fees are very reasonable. They both have stuff that I find annoying but they work well enough to get it done for what I’m talking about here.

And, what I’m talking about here is modern efficiency! Instead of having to do the old school two step process, with the software, you can really cut it down to a quick one-and-a-half steps. You make your bubbles. I suggest starting with all “floating topics''.” Just like it was handwritten. Connect them after. Then you can drag them, move them, edit, next add, delete, link quotes, put in a turn of phrase you want to use in the final paper, and even footnote. That becomes the equivalent of your Harvard style outline without having to number anything or copy anything over. Just fill in any holes and Bob’s your uncle!

You work from that reorganized and fortified mind map and that paper will flow out of your brain like nothing before. You’ll be able to do it easier, earlier, with less anxiety. It will be better. It will be faster, even taking into account the time you spent on the mind map. You won’t need to run on adrenaline to get it done. And the editing process will be almost nonexistent. You’ll be looking for typos and small improvements. You won’t need to rework massive sections of the paper. (As a side note, this is why I don’t really believe in assigning 1st drafts. I think that if you do the prep work right, by the time you start writing, it should be pretty close to a final draft.)

The last thing I’ll say is that this is also a prime example of an external structure that we can internalize with time. Yes, I still use mind maps when I am writing something super complex, really long, or that I’m very emotional about. But, for the most part, I have internalized the ability to organize my thoughts for short to medium sized projects… like my blog posts. I do make a big deal about my disclaimer at the bottom of my posts. I know that I could go back and reread this post that is now over two pages single spaced and find some ways to make it better, more linear, tighter. But I also know that I’ve taught myself to be a good enough writer through the method mentioned above that this will be pretty darn good. It will be good enough that my ideas/ my content will shine through without any small mistakes of structure getting in the way. Not only am I really proud of that. But I think it should be an example that anyone can get here. Develop the tool. You will always have it in your toolbox when needed, and you may need it less and less over time. That sounds like a win/win to me.

On a personal note, I was down with the flu for a week then got my booster and we are rolling into the holidays. So, this is likely my only post for several weeks in December. I’ll catch you all again in 2022. But I do want to thank my small but loyal group of readers. The occasional new subscriber and positive feedback I get from my thoughts, advice, musings and whatnot, help sustain me through the year. 2021 has been rough. But it was definitely better than 2020. Here’s to hoping 2022 is even better.

Standard Disclaimer:  In an effort to foil my own perfectionist tendencies, I do not edit my posts much… if at all. Please excuse and typ0s, Miss Steaks, grammatical errors, awkward phrasing. I focus on getting my content out. In my humble opinion, an imperfect post posted is infinitely better than a perfect post conceptualized but unfinished.

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"To err is human; to forgive, divine." Especially one's self.

Nov 20, 2021

I added the last part. And, I'll get to that. But I always thought that the first part was Shakespeare. Turns out, not so. It was most notably used by Alexander Pope, English poet and essayist in the early 18th century. But it roots may go back as for as Plutarch. (Thanks But leave it to an ADHDer to start his post with a digression. 

My kids are pharmacologically... complicated. I do the Dr.'s appointments and run point on the meds, partly because being the "primary parent" is my role in the family and partly because that's kind of my area of expertise. Well, it's my area adjacent. So I know a lot about pharmacology. 

Not counting the one of every fourth week when I fill all of my pill containers for the whole month, I fill all my kids weekly containers on Saturdays. Depending on what they are currently on, if I'm packing stuff to drop off at school, that can be up to eight different weekly pill boxes plus four bottles to go to two different schools. 

Lately, we've been weening one of our boys off several meds that haven't been working and may be making things worse. That's a slow, multi-week process. And, our other boy is experimenting with some different stuff that we are trying to manage week to week as we judge the short term ramifications. I only give you this background to illustrate that over the last 6 weeks or so, I don't think the kids have had their pill boxes fill the same two weeks in a row once. 

I know what I'm doing. I know the plan. All the boxes are in some way color-coded or labeled and when it gets really, really complicated, I take notes from our doctor's appointments, just to make sure I'm on the right page. But it is still a massive amount of detailed stuff to not make a single mistake... ever. I take it very seriously and I don't make them often. (And, the kids are really great. They usually ask if something is different in the pill boxes. Even if a generic changes shape of color, they check in to make sure everything is correct. But there have been so many changes lately, that they've taken to just trusting I'm doing the right thing.)

Well, last week I made a mistake. I put the evening pills for the two kids in the wrong pill boxes. The share the major nighttime pill in common. So it wasn't the biggest deal. But it did mean that my oldest got a few fewer days of weaning off one his SSRI, and didn't get enough melatonin one night. And, it meant that my youngest got an unexpected very small dose of his brother's old SSRI for the week. Not that this makes my rather large mistake any better, but it may have been a happy accident. And, we may have figured out something about my youngest. But the jury is still out. 

Here's my point, as I have continued to bury the lead. This is a thing that is really important. This is a thing that I devote time, energy, and my best attention to. And, I still made a mistake. There was a time in my life that I would have let this strike me to the bone. I would have taken it personally. I would have connected it to every moment of inattention in my life, every mistake. I would have blown it out of proportion and let it derail me completely. 

I'm pretty glad that I've done the work on my ADHD to be where I am right now. It wasn't an ADHD/attention mistake. It was a human being mistake. So I'm also glad that I've done the work to allow my sense of identity catch up to who I really am. I'm not the late, unprepared, inattentive-mistake, fuck up that I was 20 years ago. I just human-person who makes human-person mistakes once in a while, especially when overwhelmed by caring for two kids with really intense needs. Perhaps the most beautiful part is that letting it go means I'm not carrying the baggage that would get into my head and make it more likely for something like this to happen again. I wasn't nervous filling the pill containers this week. I was extra careful. But not anxious in a way that would make another mistake more likely. 

So, maybe don't be too hard on yourself either?

Standard Disclaimer:  In an effort to foil my own perfectionist tendencies, I do not edit my posts much… if at all. Please excuse and typ0s, Miss Steaks, grammatical errors, awkward phrasing. I focus on getting my content out. In my humble opinion, an imperfect post posted is infinitely better than a perfect post conceptualized but unfinished.

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Don't compare yourself to...

Nov 24, 2021

One of the biggest mental traps my clients fall into is comparing themselves to… everyone and everything. 

To celebrities.

To other moms.

To neighbors.

To friends.

To colleagues.

To more wealthy people.

To the Cleavers.

To the Greatest Generation.

To some Platonic ideal.

To perfection.

None of it is worth it. Your experience is your own. It is unique. Own it. Love it. Work on yourself. Especially this time of year, be grateful for what you have and feel free to strive for more. But meet yourself where you are and work from there because that’s the only place you are. 

So, other than Thanksgiving, where did this topic come from? Well, if you know me, you know that I’ve been fighting debilitating plantar fasciitis for several years. I haven’t been able to run consistently since 2018 or maybe early 2019. I’ve gained weight. It’s been brutal for managing my ADHD, anxiety, and depression. Well, almost a year after a funky non-surgical procedure and painstakingly slowly (torturously so for an ADHDer) working my way back from walking for 10 minutes all the way back up to running 4 miles, I’m back to being able to run every other day for that distance. I’m still a couple minutes per mile slower than I was. I’m still fatter than I want to be. And, now I’m older. 

But I am so grateful that I’m able to be out there on these beautiful fall days breathing the fresh air as the sun glints off the fallen leaves. My whole body aches the next day, but in a good way. And I’m able to take my 7-year-old with me. (He bikes while I run.) And it’s been amazing for him, his mood, his ADHD, and helped him get through his 14 day COVID  isolation without going totally coco-bananas.

So, we’re out there the other day and I’m feeling good… all things considered. We’re about to hit the three mile mark and a woman who looked about 10 - 15 years older than I am, wearing a single Boston Marathon logo’d layer to my three layers (plus gloves and a hat) came tearing out of a side street in front of us. So, she didn’t, strictly speaking, pass me. But she pulled away pretty quickly on Blue Hill Ave. 

My point is that there is always someone who is bigger, stronger, richer… or FASTER. And sometimes that person happens to be a much older, more cold-tolerant, woman. Does that diminish my accomplishment? Not at all. I am pleased that I’m at a point in my life where I could just smile and silently with her well and go back to gutting out my own run, enjoying it for what it is. My personal victory. For that, I am thankful.

(FYI: This is not the actual woman who passed me on my run. I found this lady on the internet. She's 103 and I'm pretty sure I could take her!)

Standard Disclaimer:  In an effort to foil my own perfectionist tendencies, I do not edit my posts much… if at all. Please excuse and typ0s, Miss Steaks, grammatical errors, awkward phrasing. I focus on getting my content out. In my humble opinion, an imperfect post posted is infinitely better than a perfect post conceptualized but unfinished.

Don't compare yourself to...

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Science can be frustrating, right? But we need it more than ever!

Nov 12, 2021

I just turned 43. So maybe I’m just getting old. Maybe my brain plasticity is decreasing. Although… They used to say that adults had no brain plasticity. Now they say we do, just less than kids. They long ago figured out that the universe was expanding. I’m taking their word for it. Of course, I also took their word for the fact that it was expanding but slowing down. Now they tell me that the rate of expansion is increasing. Okay. Doesn’t really affect my life either way. So I’m going to roll with it. 

But it can get a little frustrating when science “changes its mind” about things that hit closer to home. I remember when it was a big revelation that the human brain wasn’t fully developed until age 25. This, of course, has huge implications for ADHDers, who generally lag behind in maturity and brain development. I’ve been telling clients and their parents this lovely stat for years. 

Well, today, I opened up my email and there is an article from ADDitude that says, “The brain’s frontal lobes, which are involved in ADHD, continue to mature until we reach age 35.” That seems like a major change. Honestly I haven't even opened the article yet. It threw me for such a loop, I decided to just write this on the spot. It doesn't even really surprise me. Looking back at my own life and at the late 20’s/ early 30’s clients who I’ve had, I could make an argument that for certain people, lags in impulse control, emotional regulation, and maturity persist beyond 25 disproportionately to other ADHD symptoms. Or is that just confirmation bias, now that I’ve read this? I don’t really know. I’m trying to think hard about it before I read the article and look at the source study(s.) 

Anyway, this is where I go off on a philosophical tangent, if you want to stop reading. I think anyone who actually reads my blog would agree that there is a dangerous backlash against science happening in our society currently. Because math and science are the underpinnings of everything from understanding global warming, to projecting and calculating election results, to how and why vaccines are safe and effective, an anti-science revolution is one of the most dangerous prospects we face today. But, on some level, I understand the seed from which grows this distrust. Science presents itself as a black and white thing. And, in some ways it is. But it is also a living, breathing, evolving thing. The earth was flat… until it wasn’t. The sun orbited the earth… until it didn’t. 

So much of science is theory. But theory is presented as fact. And, then when that theory changes some day and is replaced by another one, people feel like they are having the rug pulled out from under them. They feel like what used to be a fact isn’t a fact any more. Then it’s open season on all facts. Combine this with the sheer pace of change and add in how specialized our society is now. Just think of how little you understand of the things you use in your everyday life. I can’t fix my computer, or my phone, or my car, or my washing machine, or my fridge. Most nor-rural people can’t grow their own food or hunt. A lot of people don’t even know how to cook. We are so dependent on other people in this specialized economy and that’s scary. And fear creates pushback. 

I guess my point is that we are in a loop of science being more black and white to push back against the pushback. But that probably only makes it worse. We live in a hella complicated modern world. I don’t think the pace of change is going to slow down anytime soon. As a society we need to start embracing the gray areas and talking about them despite the fact that they make us all uncomfortable, no matter how fully formed our prefrontal lobes are. We desperately need science. But sometimes science is a best guess or a working theory. But that is always better than willful ignorance. Especially for those of us with young kids. As my buddy said a few days ago on our beers after dinner zoom, It’s hard not to worry that we’ve brought them “into a dystopian hellscape.” 

With that, here’s a link to the article:

Also, my youngest brought COVID home from school 2 days after the vaccine was approved for his age group and one week before he was scheduled to get his first dose. Then he gave it to my wife. So, I’m not going to postdate this. I’m going to count this as my post for last week and next week and give myself credit for posting at all. Yay, personal growth!

Standard Disclaimer:  In an effort to foil my own perfectionist tendencies, I do not edit my posts much… if at all. Please excuse and typ0s, Miss Steaks, grammatical errors, awkward phrasing. I focus on getting my content out. In my humble opinion, an imperfect post posted is infinitely better than a perfect post conceptualized but unfinished.

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Halloween schedule

Nov 2, 2021

As my faithful 28 readers know, I like to post schedules once in a while as a demo for my clients. Scheduling is one of the main skills we work on in coaching. After we learn to keep track of our tasks with the To Do List, we work on managing those tasks in time by using a daily schedule. 

I've written much in the past about how and why I post schedules that an objective observer would deem a staggering success. I've also written about why I post schedules that have, to be kind, not at all gone according to plan. But, really, the point is that I view both of those outcomes as a success. Why? The very act of planning, of making a schedule, evaluating tasks, prioritizing, vetting the time something will take - even if I'm wrong- giving one's self structure, following through on a plan, being forced to adjust and be flexible, dealing with curveballs, and making choices as we move through the plan are all tremendously valuable skills. Skills that you will get better at the more you do them. 

AND ANY DAY WITH A PLAN IS GOING TO BE BETTER THAN A DAY WITHOUT A PLAN. Of course I'm speaking of productivity here. A totally unplanned, spontaneous day while you're on vacation in Costa Rica might be amazing. But your average Sunday, when your list is as long as your arm and you stress level level is threatening to over take the levys, needs a plan. 

The brief context here is that my wife was actually not working this weekend, for once. Yay! One kid was at my parents for part of the weekend. The other kid was wildly dysregulated and needed lost of support. And, there were some activities mixed in with an English project. I also had a TON to do around the house, in the garden/yard. And we had to get ready for halloween. It was an expanse of 48 hours + with not much structure and no time to dawdle. The perfect time to make a schedule. Saturday was a little more by the book, a series of normal Saturday tasks until I was exhausted. 

But I ended the day by making this schedule for Sunday. I annotated it in Red as I went, which I may or may not have done if I hadn't planned to post if for y'all. I think I'd suggest doing that for beginning schedulers. I don't think it is important to take detailed notes and study the times. Just making note of a time difference for a task here or there can help you attend deeper and start to internalize how long things really take. I added the blue this morning as sort of a break down of the the overall outcome. 

Some good take aways. 

  1. Against my own advice, I didn't break down the largest task into its smaller sections. That being the porch, shed, garden winter flip. As a result, my estimate was not so accurate. 

  2. I built in going to pick up wood for the winter and unpacking it on the porch. But I had a feeling that I wasn't going to have time because I had a feeling that I was underestimating the previous task. So that was my buffer/ "if I have time" task. Not a failure by any means that I didn't get to it. 

  3. English project got done, and I had budgeted time to help in a supportive and non-rushed way.

  4. What's left of the garden/shed/yard flip is smaller more discrete tasks easy to knock off next weekend. 

  5. I still got my workout in, just moved it to earlier in the day. 

So, even when your schedule ends up out of order, and one big thing (the least important) doesn't get done, and one big things has a few odds and ends left to finish next weekend, and some stuff gets done out of order, your day and your schedule can still be 100% successful. I got more done with less stress than if I hadn't scheduled!

Standard Disclaimer:  In an effort to foil my own perfectionist tendencies, I do not edit my posts much… if at all. Please excuse and typ0s, Miss Steaks, grammatical errors, awkward phrasing. I focus on getting my content out. In my humble opinion, an imperfect post posted is infinitely better than a perfect post conceptualized but unfinished.
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The Now & Not Now of ADHD

Oct 26, 2021

I’ve been writing a lot about mindfulness lately because I think it is so important for us ADHDers. And, yes, we can talk about meditation, yoga, certain forms of exercise, breathing, and countless other forms of mindfulness. But what do we really mean by mindfulness? To me, what we are talking about is being present in the moment. 

This is one of those areas where ADHDers are mystifying to the rest of the world because we are one of two things that happen to be diametrically opposed. Many of us are going a mile a minute and are never really present in the moment. These ADHDers  are always on to the next thing. They often forget what they’re doing, lose things, and don’t finish what they start. It is as if they are constantly being thrust ahead by a jet stream current that only they can feel. 

But there are also ADHDers who are obsessively in the moment. They are like giant toddlers. The experience time as: yesterday, right now, and… later.  And, all that really concerns them is right now. They don’t, won’t, or can’t plan for the future. As a result, they are often late, missing, or  unprepared. 

And, I don’t know, it may take an ADHDer themselves to realize that these two profiles can even be of the same person. These behaviors can exist simultaneously or at alternating intervals within the same ADHD brain. We are not all the same. And we are not the same all the time. This can be one of the hardest things for the world to understand about us, and a hard thing for us to know about ourselves. 

So, am I just pointing this out in the hopes of creating greater self awareness? No. I have been building up to articulating a proposal for a solution over the past several months through my client work and through my writing. This is my first shot at writing it down in a cohesive way. I’d appreciate any concise feedback about how much this makes sense. 

My theory about one important thing we need to do to be successful as ADHDers is to effectively balance being firmly rooted in the present moment, while constantly being aware of what is coming next. It is mindfulness, but beyond mindfulness. It is not impulsively moving on to the next thing, but keeping the vision of what the next thing is and while going slower making better decisions about what that next thing is. It allows us to follow through in the moment and actually finish things. But then it allows us to optimally transition, a thing that we struggle with, to the next task… along down the line. When we become more aware that life exists beyond the here and now, we are more likely to plan. When we slow down, we are more likely to execute that plan. 

Practically speaking, this means making a plan in the first place. I’ll write more about that soon. That way you always know what’s coming next. So you can devote 95% of your mind to what you are doing and 5% is already thinking about the next task. The transition has already begun in some small way. (Random % numbers brought to you by my imagination!) If you always know what’s next, it’s hard to “lose time.” LIke I said, I’d appreciate thoughts. I’ve got more on this. It’s just not fully baked yet. I’ll let you know when it’s out of the oven.

Standard Disclaimer:  In an effort to foil my own perfectionist tendencies, I do not edit my posts much… if at all. Please excuse and typ0s, Miss Steaks, grammatical errors, awkward phrasing. I focus on getting my content out. In my humble opinion, an imperfect post posted is infinitely better than a perfect post conceptualized but unfinished.

The Now & Not Now of ADHD

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