March 14, 2023

Understanding Executive Functions - Self-Awareness (This Will Change Everything)

We are now five down with one to go in my executive function series. Part 5 is on self-awareness – the ability to reflect, evaluate and ponder your thinking patterns. 

This executive function, also known as metacognition, is closely influenced by emotional regulation and working memory. 

For ADHDers, self-awareness can be a very uncomfortable thing to do and it might bring up a lot of shame and guilt. That’s why I offer six super helpful tips to implement that will create a safer space for you to examine your way of thinking and make a game plan for positive change.

There is a significant shift within my group coaching program FOCUSED. I’m now offering the emotional regulation course in the first batch of courses now for all new participants! This is truly the foundation of our ability to make changes, and I’m happy to offer this at the beginning now. 

Listen in as I discuss what active mindfulness and compassionate self-reflection look like as we embark on a journey to be more self-aware.



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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. Hey, what’s up? This is Kristen Carter and you are listening to the I have ADHD podcast. I am medicated. I am caffeinated and I am ready to roll.

How are you? How are you? It is so good to be here with you today, once again to talk about executive functions. I took last week off from work which was totally weird, but also totally fun. I didn’t go anywhere. It was like a staycation. My kids were in school my husband was traveling I stayed home and napped. I watched the Harry and Megan documentary on Netflix. I napped some more. I watched a new cult documentary on Hulu called stolen youth. Oh my goodness, riveting. Riveting. napped. Again after that and hung out with my kids. It was fun. I was really surprised at how many naps I needed. Honestly, I’m really not a Napper. But I rested so much. I was also very surprised that for the first time in my life, I was truly able to rest and relax without feeling guilty. I’ve got to tell you therapy and coaching works. It just plain works. I am finally no longer constantly in fight or flight mode. I’m not walking around hustling for my worthiness, I’m not shaming myself for being a human and needing rest. I just really cannot say enough about trauma informed therapy and trauma informed coaching. And literally how it just helps you over time to get out of that hyper vigilance mode.

So this week, because of all of the work that I’ve done in therapy and coaching, I was able to just be a blob. And I mean that in the very best way. Like that’s exactly what I was I was a blob, I was a very happy blob, just resting, relaxing, hanging out with my kids. I mean, in all fairness, I was single parenting, my husband was away for the week. But some of you are single parenting full time all the time. So I deserve zero badges of honor for that. But still, it was just such a chill week, and I was so chill. And I’m just really proud of myself for being able to be chill. That’s new. It’s different. And I’m really happy about it. So anyway, I’m back in action this week. And we’re talking today about the executive function of self awareness. Self awareness is the ability to self reflect, self evaluate, and think about your thinking. And that’s what we’re going to be talking about today.

But before we get started, I want to let you know about a change that I’ve made within my focused coaching program, I’ve decided to include the emotional regulation course in the first batch of courses that we give to new focus members. So what that means is, upon joining, you receive the emotional regulation course, immediately. I’ve done a lot of thinking and reflecting on this over the past couple of weeks, because I really believe it’s one of the most important courses that I’ve ever created. And I don’t want to hold out on it. Like I want to make sure that everyone who joins has access to it immediately. Because emotional regulation really is the foundation of our ability to make changes. And the more that I’ve studied emotional regulation, the more than I’ve learned in therapy, the more that I’ve learned from courses, and like my own learning, I’m realizing how important it is and how much I want you to access it right away.

So I’m letting you know this now because a couple of weeks ago, I dropped a podcast episode on emotional regulation. And I said like it’s in tier two, which means you get it after three months. And so I just want to self correct and say actually, we’re making a change so that you can get it right away as soon as you join. Okay. And speaking of focus, I haven’t really talked about it much on this podcast, mostly because I’m afraid to be weird. And truthfully, I hate when I get refusing all she does is sell her program. That doesn’t feel good. Okay, and so I’m trying not to let that affect me, but it doesn’t feel good. But

I do have to tell you, if you are looking for help with your ADHD, you have got to join focused. It’s my all inclusive monthly membership where you get expert support, along with bingeable courses and a very encouraging community. There are three to five live calls every week with me, I do two live calls every week. And then other coaches do calls as well. And it’s so important to us that we cover all of the learning styles. So if you learn best on your own, you’ve got courses to binge and replays to watch. If you learn best in a group setting, you can join live calls and chat with all of your ADHD friends in the Zoom chat. If you want to learn one to one, you can raise your zoom hand and have direct coaching conversations with me. If you’re super busy, and you need easy access to materials, we’ve got a membership portal with videos and private podcast feed exclusively for members where you can access everything while you’re out and about. If you learn best by doing workbooks, you we’ve got the workbooks for you.

Okay, so it’s a life changing program. It’s helping hundreds of ADHD errs currently right now as we speak, and it’s helped 1000s of ADHD years over the last three years. And I’m saying this based on the feedback of member after member after member after member, this is a proven program that works. Okay, so go to I have adhd.com/focused to learn more. So as a reminder, here’s what executive functioning skills are. And here’s why they matter. Executive functions are the brains management system that work together to help us accomplish tasks and pursue goals. Everyone has executive functions, every human and they develop at different stages over time. However, as an adult with ADHD, your executive functions are impaired.

Now, that’s a really huge, important part of this disorder, you need to know that right off the bat. Yes, you do struggle to focus. But ADHD is so so so much more than an inability to focus. ADHD is a disorder of self regulation, we struggle to focus because our executive function skills are so deficient, and we can’t regulate ourselves properly. Let me say that again, I’m going to say it again, I’m gonna say it again, it’s so important. We struggled to focus because our executive functions are deficient and we can’t regulate ourselves, we can’t regulate our attention and keep it on the right thing for the right amount of time, we can’t regulate our behavior and make ourselves and our bodies do what the heck they’re supposed to be doing. And we can’t regulate our emotions, which directly impacts how productive we are able to be.

So executive functions matter a whole lot, they’re pretty much everything. And the best part about them is that they can improve over time. So yes, ADHD, or your executive function skills are likely, probably very impaired, but take heart because they can be improved. So I repeat, executive functions are the brain’s management system that work together to help us accomplish tasks and pursue goals. Each individual executive function matters. And they don’t work in isolation. They all work together to help you be an adult, and get the shit done. Okay. There are six executive functions, self awareness, inhibition, working memory, emotional regulation, self motivation, planning and prioritizing. I didn’t put these in any particular order. And I haven’t done this series in any particular order. Maybe I should have I don’t know, I really actually don’t know if I should have or not, but I didn’t. I just, I just picked the one that felt the least difficult and did that one each week, if that makes sense to you? And I’m sure that it does make sense to you. Okay, so let me continue. Each of our executive functions is impaired, but it’s on a spectrum. So you may have a few executive functions that work pretty well. And then there are a few may be working at a huge deficit. So it’s going to be different for each 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.

Now we’ve discussed working memory inhibition, emotional regulation, problem solving, and today, we’re going to talk about self awareness. Now I’m going to define self awareness like this. Self awareness is the ability to self reflect, self evaluate and think about your thinking. Self awareness is your ability to observe your behavior over time and see how your doing, it allows you to then shift and pivot when you don’t like the results that you’re getting for yourself. It allows you to notice what thoughts are coming into your brain and determine whether or not those thoughts are working for you and giving you results that are serving you. Self awareness allows you to see the good of what you have done, and allows you to give yourself credit for it. It’s your ability to read yourself in situations and do a vibe, check to know whether or not you’re being appropriate for the situation and to adjust your behavior accordingly, if you want to. Self awareness allows you to plan and then monitor yourself against that plan, and evaluate how you’re doing and adjust and make changes as you see fit. So it’s a lot, there’s a lot that goes into it. Now this is a skill that develops over time and is closely tied to working memory skills, both nonverbal working memory, which is the mind’s eye and verbal working memory, which is the mind’s voice, your ability to picture your past behavior is using your nonverbal working memory skills. And that is part of being self aware to be able to see and reflect on your past behavior. And then your ability to talk to yourself in real time, which is your verbal working memory skills. Your ability to talk to yourself in real time and make changes and adjust is a huge part of self reflection. So just know as we proceed, that your working memory skills directly impact your ability or in ability to be self aware.

Now I want to let you know that in my research for this episode, I kept running into the word metacognition. All of the self evaluation talk from the experts includes the word metacognition, and as far as I can understand it, self awareness and metacognition are the same dang thing. And I don’t know why we don’t just decide to call it one thing or the other thing, but it appears that the elite academics are just trying to make it hard for the rest of us to understand. I mean, honestly, that is the best way that I get explain it. Okay, consider this from Psychology Today. Metacognition allows you to connect the dots see the big picture, self evaluate, and self monitor. Metacognition, also known as self awareness is a key executive function skill that coalesces in the late 20s For people with ADHD. So just know that apparently, self awareness and metacognition are interchangeable, like we can call it metacognition, or you can call it self awareness. And when people are talking about metacognition, what they really mean is self awareness.

Okay, moving on. Now, the skill of self awareness includes the ability to be aware of your own thinking, and then be able to improve your performance because you know what you’re thinking. So raise your hand, if you feel like your performance has not improved over time. Raise your hand, if you feel like you pretty much never think about your thinking. And you actually hate self evaluating because it just makes you feel really, really bad and terrible. I want to speak to that for a second. One of the reasons why adults with ADHD struggle with self awareness is because it’s a legitimate executive functioning deficiency, for sure, but also, another reason why adults with ADHD struggle with self awareness is because every time we reflect on our performance, we feel massive amounts of failure. We feel massive amounts of shame. And we feel massive amounts of regret. So this, my friend, is how self awareness is tied to emotional dysregulation. If I noticed my behavior, and I begin to self reflect and self evaluate, but then I feel incredible amounts of failure, shame, guilt regret, I do one of two things. I’m either able to process those feelings and continue to self reflect or I stop immediately and avoid any further reflection because it’s just too painful. I’m curious, my dear listener, which option are you currently choosing?

Let me just go on record saying that self reflection skills are 100% tied to your ability to regulate your own emotions. If you suck at regulating your own emotions, you probably suck at self awareness. And this is maybe a little too personal but as I was making notes and typing this part out I had a huge personal aha moment just now, regarding an ADHD family member that I’m in relationship with. I know that one of their biggest struggles is emotional regulation. And I’ve been hurt a lot, because they struggled to self reflect. And they struggled to take responsibility for their actions and see any, any impact that their actions have. And now I’m beginning to make the connection that their inability to emotionally regulate is very much tied to their unwillingness to self reflect, it hurts them so much to see their own behavior, that they’re not willing to be self aware. And so they continue to hurt me and other people because of it.

And truthfully, they’re at risk of losing the relationship. Because of this. So I guess this is just another plug to be willing to do the work of learning about your own emotional experience, and learning how to feel, process and regulate your own emotions. Learn how to deal with your emotions in a healthy way, so that you can be willing to be someone who is self aware, and self reflective. Okay, moving on from that extremely vulnerable share. As I mentioned earlier, self awareness is tied to working memory. Since many of us struggle with non verbal working memory, the mind’s eye, we have a hard time seeing our past, like picturing what happened. And what we did do or didn’t do. So it’s very hard for us to remember and reflect on the past. And since we struggle with verbal working memory, the minds voice, we have a hard time talking ourselves through what we did, why we did it, whether or not it worked and how we’d like to adjust it.

So this is the part of the episode where you may need to offer yourself some forgiveness, some of the mistakes you continue to make over and over because you have poor self reflection skills, you’re not done. You’re not lazy, or crazy or stupid. You’ve got some very significant and perhaps debilitating executive function skills. That’s really difficult. And if you’re engaging with this content for the first time, it might be very painful for you to hear. So I want to encourage you to just take a deep breath with me and offer yourself some compassion. Can you issue yourself a pardon? Or perhaps several pardons? Can you forgive your past self for the mistakes that you made? Can you at least let yourself off the hook for not getting it right? Over and over and over? No, now here’s some really good news. Self awareness skills can be improved. It’s so good, they can be improved. And for free. You can improve your self awareness skills for free, right, if that’s the way that it’s best for you to proceed, please do. Here are some ideas for improving self awareness, first, journal, your thoughts, and then read it back. Think about what you wrote down. This is totally free. And it’s an exercise that will help you so much. Take 10 minutes a day and just get all of your thoughts out of your head. Just free write whatever comes to mind and make sure that you’re not censoring yourself. Just write and write and write and write. And when you’re done, or when you’re out of time, whichever comes first. read back what you wrote and observe your thinking. Remember, while doing this, you are not your thoughts. And your thoughts are not facts. They’re simply your judgments and your interpretations of the world.

Now journaling my thoughts doing thought downloads, brain dumps, whatever you want to call them. It’s the number one thing that has improved my self awareness, this skill, writing down my thoughts and then reading them back and seeing what the heck is going on up there has improved my self awareness so much. Next, I encourage you to ask yourself self reflective questions, but don’t just ask them. Make sure that you also answer the ask and answer Okay, that’s important. Questions like What am I trying to achieve? What am I doing that’s working? What am I doing that is slowing me down? What can I do to change? How can I support myself with this one What do I need right now?

Okay. The important thing when asking and answering questions is to really do your best not to judge yourself. When you’re thinking about your thinking, you’re going to be so tempted to judge yourself, but you’re just being the observer. I want you to just notice what you’re thinking without judgment. Now, this is hard. I know, I know you’re in such a habit. Most of you have judging yourself beating yourself up shaming yourself, I get it. But the more you practice observing without judgment, the better you will get at it. Just set aside 1015 minutes to observe without judgment. Now I did a quick Google and I realized I learned that there are 1440 minutes in a day. So if you set aside 10 minutes, just 10 minutes to observe your thinking without judgment, you will still have 1430 minutes left in the day to judge yourself. Okay, set aside 10 minutes, and you will still have plenty of time to get back to judging yourself. But if you begin to observe your thinking without judgment, you will become much more self aware.

Next, I encourage you to practice active mindfulness. Now most ADHD errs are going to struggle with mindfulness like meditation, or just sitting really still, as far as like the neurotypicals describe it, it’s most of the time, not for us, and that is okay. But ADHD errs can absolutely practice active mindfulness. So doing mindfulness work like dishes, laundry, mowing, gardening, hiking, biking, or walking. And then while you’re doing that mindless work, observe your thinking while you do it. Take some time to talk to yourself out loud, like a crazy person. Ask yourself a reflective question out loud, and then answer it out loud. Or just really take time to process your thoughts. If you are actually pretty good at observing your thinking without talking to yourself out loud, great, take some time to observe your thoughts. The other night I was, I went out with Hillary, we had a great combo. It was amazing. But I was like worked up about something when I got home. And I rearranged my son’s bedroom furniture. I just I couldn’t settle down. I didn’t want to journal like I wanted to move it was dark. So I couldn’t go out for a walk. And I just rearranged Crosby’s bedroom, the whole thing I was moving furniture, I was moving things in from, like our loft area. And after an hour and a half of like thinking and processing while I was rearranging his room, I kind of worked out everything that I needed to work out, it was so helpful. So active mindfulness is very, very, very helpful. Next, I would really encourage you to ask for feedback from safe, kind, compassionate people who you trust. If you don’t have any safe, kind, compassionate people that you trust in your life, then you need to go find some safe, kind, compassionate people that you trust.

I’ll say it again, as some of you need new people. Okay. And so asking for feedback. Hey, what, what do you observe about me? What do you see what patterns do you see my husband is so good at recognizing patterns in people. And that’s been really helpful for me, because he sees patterns in me and then he gets to notice that and if he’s kind and compassionate, when he shares it, then usually I receive it and it’s very helpful. The last two are not free. But they’re still extremely important, and they’ve helped me so much I highly recommend you find a trauma informed therapist, and you engage in some kind of therapy. If you’ve never done therapy, I highly recommend trauma informed therapy and next I 1,000,000% want you to join my coaching program focused, every single class every single course every video workbook, everything is geared toward helping you understand your thinking, make proactive changes and become more self aware.

Okay, let’s recap. Just as a reminder, executive functions are the brain’s management system that work together to help us accomplish tasks and pursue goals. Self awareness is one of those executive functions and it is the ability to self reflect, self evaluate, and think about your thinking. It allows you to change your behavior over time and to not repeat the same mistakes. Most ADHD ears will have a deficient self awareness, but this can be improved with journaling, asking and answering self reflective questions. Active mindfulness, receiving feedback from trusted friends, therapy and coaching. Right? We did it. We did it. Five down, one to go. I can’t wait to talk to you next week. I’ll see you then. 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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