February 7, 2023

Living Without a Pause Button

Part two of my six-part series on executive functions is all about inhibition. This one’s a little heavy and a little scary. Those of us with ADHD can attest to how debilitating it is to not have strong, internal self-restraint that can protect us from automatic urges and impulse decisions.

From interrupting conversations to cutting in line to leaping before we look, life with impaired inhibition can be daunting. In episode 197, I share the four types of inhibition (including cognitive, behavioral, and emotional motor) that impact our reactions and decision-making. I also offer tips on how we can keep this impairment in check and guard ourselves against making hasty choices.

While there are some ADHD tools out there to support children, adults continue to need help understanding a new diagnosis or just managing day-to-day life. That’s why I started my group coaching program FOCUSED, and I invite you to sign up today and learn how to practice inhibition with a supportive and encouraging group of people just like you.



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Kristen Carder

Welcome to the I have ADHD podcast, where it’s all about education, encouragement and coaching for adults with ADHD. I’m your host, Kristen Carter and I have ADHD. Let’s chat about the frustrations, humor and challenges of adulting relationships working and achieving with this neurodevelopmental disorder. I’ll help you understand your unique brain. Unlock your potential and move from point A to point B. He will what’s up this is Kristen Carter and you’re listening to the I have ADHD podcast episode number 197. I am medicated, I am caffeinated and I’m ready to roll.

Hello, hello. Hello. As I said the number 197. I was like almost fell off my chair, I was so struck by how close we are to the 200th episode. That’s a big milestone. And I’m finding myself like a little bit wanting to downplay it just a tiny bit because I’m like, oh, there’s lots of podcasts out there with 1000s of episodes. This isn’t really that big of a deal. But I am embracing the fact that it is a big deal for me. 200 episodes, not sure how we’re going to celebrate, but you better believe we are going to celebrate.

So I need to figure something out in the next couple of weeks. Today’s episode is a labor of love, my dear, it is a labor of love, we are continuing our series on executive functions. And I’m going to do my very best to help you to have a concrete understanding of what executive functions are, and why they matter. And we’re gonna go into talking today specifically about inhibition.

Now, I want to take a moment to just acknowledge that I know executive functions, like they’re not sexy. These episodes are not sexy, they’re not super, super fun. They’re kind of technical. But as an adult with ADHD, it is imperative that you and I understand what executive functions are, why they matter. And how deficiencies in this area affect us. Okay, it’s it’s very, very important. And I get really worked up about this because so many of us were not told anything at our diagnostic appointments about ADHD, about executive functions about what it means to be an adult with ADHD. I find it to be absolutely horrifying. Actually. That’s the word horrifying. We know we struggled to focus but we don’t truly understand the all encompassing nature of how ADHD affects us from the boardroom to the bedroom and which areas of the brain specifically are impaired. So that’s why we’re taking the time and effort and energy to do this series. I’m hoping to bring you the very basic foundational information that was missing when you were diagnosed. So that you can be empowered to understand yourself better and support yourself however you need to be supported. I really did get fired up there I need to take a breath. Like for real. Before we get started, I want to let you know about one of my goals for 2023.

One of my big huge goals for this year is to be a guest on other people’s podcasts and YouTube channels. What I’ve realized over the course of the last year or so is that I spend so much time writing and preparing and recording this podcast for you my dear listener, but I haven’t spent much time making time and space for guest appearances. And that’s something I’d like to change. So if you’re a podcaster or YouTuber, I’d love to be a guest on your show. ADHD is such a hot topic right now, which you’ve already heard me say sometimes I get annoyed about because it’s annoying to me that my life’s work is currently a buzzword. But I do believe that most audiences are dying for informed ADHD content from someone who’s been studying this neuro divergence long before it began trending on Tik Tok again, and it is she is not a buzzword to me. It’s not a hot topic to me. It’s my life’s work. I’ve been in this field for over a decade I’ve learned directly from the foremost authorities in the industry and I’m ready to share that knowledge with other podcasts and YouTube audiences.

So my love please feel free to head over to my website. I have adhd.com and click book Kristin and you can fill out the form my team would love to set up an interview with you on your podcast or YouTube channel and don’t be shy okay. Don’t be shy. It’s gonna be so fun. All right, I’ve done everything I can do to possibly avoid finally diving into the meat of this episode. It’s like so painful for me to get myself to do this work today. It’s daunting, it is daunting, but I can’t put it off any longer. Let us go. Just to reminder, like your life’s work isn’t always going to feel good, but it’s not going to always feel good. Sometimes it’s going to feel like real backbreaking work. But let’s move on. Let’s start with a basic overview of executive functioning. In case you missed last week’s episode, or let’s be real need a refresher because your working memory sucks. Join the club. What are executive functions, here’s a really brief definition for you. Executive functions are the brains management system that work together to help us accomplish tasks and pursue goals. Essentially, it’s your ability to adult, it’s all of the skills that go into allowing you to show up like a fully formed adult human.

Now, each individual executive function matters, but they don’t work in isolation. They all work together simultaneously, to help you be an adult and get the chips done. Okay, so there are six executive functions, self awareness, inhibition, working memory, emotional regulation, self motivation, and planning and prioritizing. And as I am saying this, I’m like, Oh, my gosh, I have to do six episodes, I do not want to, I don’t want to do it, I do not want to do it, please don’t make me do it. I want to cry a little bit. But honestly, this is important work, I can’t not do it. So we’re gonna do it right.

Now, I want you to think about each of these individual executive functions as a manager, overseeing a team. And each team is made up of skills that help you get the stuff done, okay. Now, unfortunately, with ADHD, each of your executive functions is impaired. I like to joke that your executives are not functioning. I got that from my client, Jenny, she went through my coach training, we’ve spent a lot of time together. And I just thought it was so hysterical and such a perfect description of what is happening. My executives do not want to function. It’s so perfect. Now each of our executive functions is impaired. But keep in mind, it’s on a spectrum. So you may have a few executive functions that work pretty well. And then a few that are like working at a really huge deficit. It’s going to be different for all of you. But what we do know is that all adults with ADHD struggle with executive functioning across the board, it’s a thing for all of us lucky, lucky us.

Now, last week, we talked about team working memory, which includes the mind’s eye and the mind’s voice. It’s what allows you to hold information in your brain long enough to do something with it kind of like a bulletin board, which where you can post like mental sticky notes for a minute or two. team working memory helps you stay on task, manage your time, sustain your attention and basically see things through to completion. This week, we are going to talk about team inhibition, which is essentially your ability to practice self restraint. It’s your red light, your pause button, okay? Inhibition involves controlling your automatic urges by pausing, and then using attention and reasoning to respond appropriately. Inhibition involves your ability to stop and think before you react.

Now, the key word here is stop. We don’t have that stop. We don’t have the brakes. As Ned Halliwell puts it, we have a Ferrari engine and bicycle brakes, we, we need to stop but we don’t have that skill. We need to have that space so that we can pause, reflect, evaluate, decide what’s important. We don’t have that pause button.

It’s so frustrating because we don’t have that that break to allow us to choose whether or not the thing we’re being distracted by is worth giving our time and attention to and this is a huge, huge problem for adults with ADHD. It’s debilitating. We don’t have that stop feature. Russell Barkley says that lacking self control robs you of freewill. I want you to think about that. Your inability to inhibit or pause robs you of your free will because then you don’t have the ability to Think before you act. Oh, that’s heavy. That’s heavy. Think about that lacking the skill of the stop, pause, think feature robs you of the ability to make thoughtful decisions, thoughtful choices for yourself for your life. It truly is a debilitating feature of ADHD.

Now, I found this super helpful article from foothills academy that we’re going to link in the show notes that clearly explains inhibition better than any other source, I’ve found better than any other book, or scholarly article. And by the way, if you search for scholarly articles, there are very few in the last 20 years, which is so annoying, like come on ADHD researchers. Come on, please. It’s so annoying. But anyway, this article is clear and concise. And of course, they are talking about it in terms of children. As per usual, we can just all insert our eye rolls here. But it was still extremely helpful to me, as I completed my research for this episode. And so I want to make it available to you in the show notes. And I’m going to be referencing it a lot as I move forward with the content of this episode.

Okay, so as a reminder, inhibition involves controlling our automatic urges by pausing. And then using attention and reasoning to respond appropriately. It involves the ability to stop and think before we react. Now, there are four different types of inhibition. This is like really getting into the weeds, you don’t need to know this part. But I thought it was really interesting. So we’re going to give just a brief overview of it. There’s cognitive inhibition, which is the ability to control our focus and attention while having several distractions and stimuli around us. Like it’s your ability to block out the distractions and stick with the one thing that you know that you’re meant to be working on. behavioral inhibition is the ability to control our urges, those urges that we have to react and respond to situations, when we know it would not be appropriate to do so. So it’s your ability to like feel impatient, but not cut in line, or feel upset, but not punch that person in the face. Okay? Emotional inhibition is the ability to control or regulate our emotions. Now we’re going to have an entire podcast in this series on emotional regulation.

So I’m not going to say much about that here other than it’s a big damn deal, okay. And then lastly, motor inhibition is the ability to control our motor behavior, such as staying in our seat, in class or at work, even though we feel bored. And this is where hyperactivity comes into play, which is fascinating.

Now, adults with ADHD are extremely impulsive, and that is because we lack the skill of inhibition, we lack the ability to stop, we don’t have the pause button. And because we don’t have a pause button because we do not stop and think before we act or react. We’re extremely impulsive. Impulsivity occurs because the person with ADHD struggles to resist urges, okay, we struggled to resist the urge to respond in ways that would be considered inappropriate. So examples of this include becoming easily frustrated, losing our temper, being impatient, having difficulty waiting our turn, making decisions, hastily interrupting conversations or speaking out when it’s not our turn. hyperactivity is a result of low motor inhibition, we can’t really control and inhibit and stop our bodies. So this looks like not being able to slow down or talking constantly or fidgeting, or difficulty staying on task and constantly like jumping out of our seats or walking around, I definitely exhibit these behaviors. And then distractibility occurs because we have low cognitive inhibition. So we’re unable to block out unimportant distractions or visual distractions, so that we can focus, we make careless mistakes, which is so annoying, our emotional reactions are like bigger than they quote unquote, should be. And, again, we’re gonna have a whole podcast on this, but it’s a big deal. We have a difficult time calming ourselves down. We can suffer from severe depression or suicidal thoughts. It’s just really hard. Inhibition matters. It’s your ability to stop to press pause to to give yourself space to think before you react. And so what’s often happens, and this is so devastating is that we feel as though we’re out of control, we feel as though we don’t have a handle on our own lives that we’re just like walking around in a reactive mode constantly, not making well thought out decisions, not evaluating our behaviors not being able to really make forward progress, because we are always in reactionary mode, because we cannot inhibit our behavior, or our cognition, or our motor skills. hoof. It’s not small, it’s big. So the obvious question here is what can be done. And what I want to say to you is that all executive functions can be trained and improved all of them. Remember, your brain is malleable, it is willing to change. We call that neuroplasticity, there are changes that can be made not without effort, of course, but there are changes that can be made. The biggest, most important thing that we need to think through is building in a stop and think moment, we need to get in the habit of building in a step and think moment.

Now, when I was first learning this skill, I would talk out loud to myself, like a crazy person. I’ve shared this on here many times. But I think it needs to be said, because of our poor working memory, which we talked about last week, I do not have the mind voice to keep me on track. And so I would have to talk out loud to myself. And I would have to say, Wait, Kristen stop, I would literally say that to myself in the middle of a task. In the middle of being distracted in the middle of making a decision, wait, I need to stop, I need to take a stop and think. And that is a phrase that I use. Often I say it’s my kids, I say it to my clients in the middle of coaching sessions, I will say, Hang on a minute, I need to take a stop and think it is my self talk. It’s me externalizing, my self talk so that I can press the pause button and make decisions. So we want to stop, think and then act. And any way that you can get creative with building in the pause button, externally building in the pause button is going to be so helpful to you. Because you don’t have that internally, you’re going to have to build it in externally. So you might want to set a series of alarms throughout the day, stop and think alarms, you might want to have a firm boundary with yourself that you never put anything on your calendar or you never agree to do something until you’ve taken that stop and think there are many ways that you can incorporate this into your life. And if you have safe relationships in your life, you can also invite those people to encourage you to stop and think as well. So that could sound like them saying to you, before you make this decision. Do you want to take a step and think, Okay, do you see how that’s putting the ball in your court, it’s empowering you. But it’s also a reminder of like, hey, don’t forget, this is something that needs to happen. Building in that pause, building in that stop and think moment, any way you can figure out how to do that. And like I said, get creative, it will change your life. Remembering that this is something that you struggle with is number one, and then accepting Oh, okay, this is actually something that I need help with. This is actually something that I have to build scaffolding around. This is actually something that I need to take seriously because I don’t do this naturally on my own. Because I am an adult with ADHD, my executive functions are impaired. One of those executive functions is inhibition. And because my inhibition does not work properly, I have to build in those pauses on my own. Okay, so understanding what the deficit is accepting it, taking it seriously, that is a huge way that you can begin to become someone who is able and willing to inhibit themselves to inhibit your behavior or to inhibit your reactions to stop and think before you act as much as you can. I would encourage you to make accommodations to create environments that are free of distractions. Like, this goes without saying this is not novel advice. But understanding that you really do struggle to inhibit your behavior can allow you to set up your environment in a way that is accommodating to you. So for example, I put my phone out of sight actually in my lunchbox across the room. And the reason why I did that is because I struggled to inhibit my impulse to do pick up my phone every time I feel uncomfortable. And every time I don’t feel like recording this podcast, and so what I was noticing is that I would do some research, I would type it out, and then I would pick up Instagram. And then I would do a little research. And then I would pick up slack. And what I was realizing is that my environment was not set up to accommodate someone who has poor inhibitory control. Are you getting what I am saying? Are you picking up what I’m putting down? So what needs to happen is I need to accommodate myself, I need to say, oh, Kristen, sweetheart, you’re struggling to inhibit your impulses here, I’m going to make this easier for you, I’m going to put your phone across the room, out of sight out of mind. And so it’s not just going to be sitting here begging for you to pick it up. So however you can do that for yourself is going to be really, really important. A huge component of this is just being nice to yourself. Notice that I didn’t say to myself, Kristen, you are so annoying. Why can’t you just leave your freaking phone alone. Notice that’s not how I talk to myself anymore. Instead, I’m like a really sweet parent being like, Oh, honey, I see you’re struggling, let’s just put this over here for you. So that you can do what you know you want to do. Right? So just make sure that you are working on being kind to yourself, because you are not a bad person. You are not a lazy person. You are not a flawed person. You are a person with ADHD. And people with ADHD need more support than the average human. People with ADHD deserve more support? Whoa, whoa, I just said it.

Now I’m taking a stop and think do I want to take it back? No, I don’t think I do want to take him.We are working from a deficit here. People we deserve support. If there’s any way that you can gamify this the pause button the stop and think before you act. That would be amazing. If you have little phrases that you want to repeat, if you want to have little like passwords that you have to put into your calendar that involve you being like, yes, I’ve stopped I’ve thought I know I actually want to do this if you if there’s any way that you can gamify it for yourself, get creative, it’s not stupid, you shouldn’t be able to do it without help. Remember, you are an adult with ADHD, your executive functions are impaired. One of your executive functions is inhibition. And that’s your ability to pause and stop and reflect and think before you act. And because that executive function is impaired, you are going to have to build in that pause button externally, you are going to have to practice the skill of pausing before you make a decision. Pausing before you take action so that you know that you are the one who is in charge of your life. So that you know that you are in control of your life so that you know that you are moving forward thoughtfully Oh, my goodness, I wish I could just reach out and hug you. I know how hard this is. I know what it’s like to live with this neurodevelopmental disorder, it is no joke. And I encourage you to take it seriously. I encourage you if you have access to health care to get a diagnosis and be medically treated for it. And I encourage you to build as much scaffolding for yourself as you can, so that you can reach your potential because you have a lot of potential. And I know so many of you feel as though you’re underperforming. And one of the reasons why this is the case is because of your lack of inhibition. And so if you can work on that skill, if you can build up the skill of stopping and thinking before you act, you will become a fuller version of yourself. You will become a more thoughtful version of yourself. You will be calm a version of yourself who’s making decisions that you’re actually aligned with and that does not suck. All right, we made it. We made it through. I can’t wait to talk to you next week. I’ll see you then. Bye bye. If you’re being treated for your ADHD, but you still don’t feel like you’re reaching your potential you’ve got to join focus. It’s my monthly coaching membership where I teach you how to tame your wild thoughts and create the life that you’ve always wanted. No matter what season of life you’re in or where you are in the world focused is for you. All materials and call recordings are stored in the site for you to access at your convenience. Go to I have adhd.com/focused for all the info

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