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How to Harness your Hyperfocus

Hyperfocus is one of those terms that we may see as one of our ADHD superpowers. In a session with a client of mine, we discussed the role that hyperfocus plays in her life and our conversation inspired me to write this post (I have her permission to share our discoveries). Let’s pretend her name is Isabella. The session Isabella & I had opened up a whole new door into the realm of hyperfocus!

“We discovered that hyperfocus has an on & off switch which we can toggle by adding or removing friction and giving ourselves some perspective.”

Additionally, there are some key components that we uncovered that need to be considered when reaching for that hyperfocus switch! Isabella is learning how to harness her hyperfocus and you can too!

Read the rest of my article, “How to Harness your Hyperfocus”, on Planet Neurodivergent .

Mourning the loss of MY TIME

I can’t count the times that I have been super excited because I foresee a block of time which I consider “my time”. This is time where nobody is in the house, I have nowhere to be and I have no commitments. These are the chunks of time that I usually tell myself “I’m going to spend the evening getting sh!t done…”

A chunk of time is like a gift that gets snatched away from me. Or better yet – a gift that I launch into the stratosphere.

Let me explain…

I’ve been away from home for the past few days and I have had a monster list of “want to do’s” running through my head. Now that I am home, I CAN DO THE THINGS!

You would think.. but I have sat on the couch and watched TV. I’m trying my best to be kind to myself but I can’t help but think of all the projects that I wish I could have completed that I thought up months, if not years ago. I have so, so many ideas that are up in Neverland.

Here’s what I realized happens…

I think to myself YES! I have time to do things! Then I start to think of all the things that I want to do. Then my super fast ADHD brain goes “I can do A and I can do B and I can do C and I can do D, oh, oh, oh, I can do E! I have been meaning to do E for a LONG time!! I could also do F and probably G. It would be really nice if I could complete G” …and enter OVERWHELM. So then I don’t do anything and I sit on the couch and turn off my brain (but not really).

Fear not… I HAVE A SOLUTION!

Here is what I did for myself at work that I’m going to start to experiment with for myself on a personal level.

The other day I was overwhelmed and I didn’t seem to be doing anything; it was like I was spinning in circles. Then my friend suggested I sit down and write all of the projects that I am trying to do on a paper. Essentially a brain dump. There were SIXTEEN projects. And by project I don’t mean “call grandma”. These were projects like “make a website” or “network”. These all have MANY action steps.

Once I got all the projects down on paper I decided to make one sheet of looseleaf paper per project (don’t worry I put them all on a clipboard labeled “projects” so as not to lose them). Then I was like “hey! I can coach myself through these”!! So here’s what I did:

Step 1: Write the name of the project at the top of the looseleaf.
Step 2: Write the reason why I want to do this project.
Step 3: Write the outcome that I am looking for from my project.
Step 4: Write down how I know that I will be successful in reaching that outcome.
Step 5: Write down all of the action steps that it will take to reach that outcome.

This way I have a roadmap for each project! When I get lost or down on myself about the project I can look back to my handy dandy project sheet and figure out:
a) Why I want to do the project in the first place (what’s my motivation).
b) What my next action step is!

Also, it’s worth mentioning that my energy at the end of the day is less than optimal for working on projects. Working on projects is more of a roll out of bed and start when my energy tank is full and my mind is less cluttered.

I challenge you: How many projects do you have on the go?!
Remember: the more projects you try and complete at once, the harder it will be to complete any of them; there is no such thing as multitasking!!

I’ll put my pieces back together

I’m going to give you a heads up – this post is one of my most personal ones to date. This one is right from the pages of my journal so here goes…

Yesterday something really interesting happened while I was meditating at my boyfriends place. I found that I totally allowed myself to become absorbed by the meditation. It made me wonder what had been holding me back all the times I have been meditating over the past year. My best try at explaining the feeling is this: it’s like I am on edge and have to “protect myself” while meditating. This on edge feeling isn’t particular to meditating; it’s practically constant. I cannot fully allow myself to become absorbed by meditating because what if … what if while I’m sitting by the water I’m disturbing someone by taking up too much room on the bench…what if someone needs to grab my attention… what if someone storms in my room and criticizes me while my defences are down. It feels as though I am constantly trying to defend myself from being emotionally attacked.

It so sucks to realize this. I feel like I’m about to open a dam that will never be able to close again. My dam blocked out the tears. My dam blocked out the emotions.

Also, it’s important to mention that yesterday I was meditating in a new space. Normally I find it hard to meditate with someone else in the room but he actually allows me to be myself and feel. It’s like I’m ok. – every time I read that I choke up. It’s such a powerful, strong need of mine that has been unmet for so long. I’m not doing anything wrong. He makes me feel safe.

I’m also finding that while I’m in his apartment I have this worried feeling like I’m doing something wrong or being annoying. I have briefly talked about this in my blog post “how to explain rejection sensitivity dysphoria”. I wonder if that feeling will ever go away. It’s like I have a lifetime of being told that I’m annoying; to stop tapping, to stop breathing so loud, to stop chewing so loud, to stop being “hurricane Alyssa” and leaving my stuff all over the place. That shit adds up. It’s like I’m not allowed to take up space; I’m not allowed to just be…

Being in this apartment and working here I am catching myself thinking “wait- you’re okay with me taking up space?! It’s okay if I sit here!? It’s okay if my bag is here?!” Man, it’s exhausting. And I’m catching myself actively trying not to take up space which is exactly what I don’t want to do!

Okay, Alyssa…

It’s okay to feel.
It’s okay to take up space.
You’re going to feel emotionally safe one day. It’s just going to take time.
AND you’re going to practice taking up space.

I swear I have the feeling capacity of about 10 people.

Anyways, I wish that you all can’t relate to this but unfortunately I’m sure that you can. Find the people who love you for who you are! Take up space my friends <3

p.s. On a lighter note I just launched my new website! You can check it out here: https://www.coachalyssashaw.com/

Put a smile on

My favourite thing that my dad taught growing up is to go about your day with a smile on your face. Whether that be while getting groceries or waiting in line at the bank. When you are in a room with him it is like he is giving you this big ginormous hug of happy. I guess it is because he raised me but his happiness is almost contagious; when I’m unhappy and he walks into the room it makes me realize how stuck in my head I am.

The other day we went for a walk together and this older woman’s dog came running onto her driveway and then when it saw us it ran over to us. My natural thought and instinct was to nod a hello and keep on walking because I did not want to disturb her. My dad’s natural instinct was to ask her if she wanted help. He picked up the dog, walked over to the woman and began talking to her. The bit of this interaction that was like a punch to my gut was when I realized how lonely this woman is. She told us about how her husband and daughter passed away and how this dog is such great company for her. The reason why this hit me so hard was because my gut instinct is “keep to yourself, people don’t want to be bothered”. When in reality, she welcomed the interaction.

This is making me so emotional because somewhere along the way I lost my natural instincts to do what my dad did. I used to be the person that would pick up the woman’s dog and bring it to her. I like to think that I used to be the same person that brought happiness into a room. When I was younger I used to walk down the street and this funny thing would happen. The person would be approaching me with a frown on their face and as they got closer to me their frown would change into a wild grin. I used to be incredibly self conscious so I would wonder what they were smiling at – did I have something on my face? In reality, it was just that my smile was contagious. I now have this perma-frown on; my brows are furrowed and my mouth is slanted downwards rather than my old, natural grin.

What happened?

Life happened. Responsibilities happened. Worry happened. Did i mention responsibilities? It’s like since I now want to be independent and take care of myself, I am filled with worry. How will I do it? How will I live up to my expectations (oh, hello perfectionism).

In life, we can tend to get wrapped up in our responsibilities and where we want to be. What about where we are? What about the happiness and ease that currently exists in our lives? We can make our lives as easy or as complicated as we want; it’s all about our perspective.

I invite you to join me in this challenge for the next month. I am encouraging myself and you to see what you can do to go about your day with a relaxed smile on. Unfortunately this is not natural to me anymore so I have set a reminder on my phone. The reminder will go off once a day and it says “Put a smile on, it’s contagious!”

Remember, put a smile on. It could not only change your day but you could change someone else’s day too!

Desire smuggling; RSD’s cousin!

I have talked about RSD (rejection sensitive dysphoria) a few times now! Just in case you missed my blog posts (How To Explain Rejection Sensitivity Dysphoria & Why rejection sensitivity dysphoria makes relationships so hard) here is a quick definition:

RSD is when you feel both physical and emotional pain because you experience real or perceived rejection.

Now that we have RSD covered, here is a new one: desire smuggling! I first heard the term yesterday from my friend, Sam, who is a fellow ADHD coach! When Sam told me about desire smuggling I could not believe that I had never heard of it before. My wheels kept on spinning because I was floored by all of the places that desire smuggling can show up in our lives. Naturally, I had to share it with you all!!

Desire smuggling: What is it?!

Essentially, desire smuggling is when we don’t ask for what we want. To elaborate it’s “hiding what you really want from yourself and/or a loved one, then, finding covert strategies to get (at least pieces of) what you want.”

the main reason we don’t ask for what we want is fear.

Fear of rejection, humiliation, and judgment.

Fear of disappointment, shame, loss, or guilt.

Fear of repeating the past, missing out, hurting your partner, or feeling like a failure.

Fear of “what they will think,” not getting what you want, or putting too much at stake.


Red flags that you are desire smuggling:

– Expect telepathy– Get drunk/high to remove inhibitions
– Makes wishes
– Ask if the other person wants the
thing you want
– Fake spontaneity– Rationalize cost/benefit
– Hint– Send articles about the thing
– Emotional withdrawal– Give statistics about the thing
– Make unspoken deals– Tack on obligation to a “gift”
– Issue ultimatums– Minimize by saying “just” or “only”
– Emotional blackmail– Say “people like…” (instead of owning it
yourself)
– Be passive-aggressive– Look for other, less-scary places to get it
– Non-consensual taking– Punish your partner for not giving it to you
– Bully– Attack/judge someone asking for what you
want
– Get needs met without owning them– Attack/judge someone getting what you
want
– Tell a story about the
thing desired
– Shame yourself for having that
desire
– Force– Shame others with the same desire
– Wait for a sign– Want the other person to guess
– Withhold– Wait for the right time
– Try to convince– Try to get the other person to say it
– Blame– Complain that you don’t get it
– Guilt-trip– Be “nice” and hope to be rewarded
– Be macho– Buy into a romance myth (“If you really
loved me…”)
– Avoid it altogether– Assume they should “just know”
– Settle– “Purchase” it by doing other things
– Compromise– Be loud and bombastic
– Criticize after the fact– Make sugar-coated demands
– Substitute something else– Martyr yourself in hopes of getting it
– Spiritually bypass– Don’t explore internal dissonance
– Play options roulette (where
one option is the one you want)

(list taken from https://www.askingforwhatyouwant.com/desire-smuggler)

An example of desire smuggling from my life

I first noticed this through journaling. I spent a really nice day with my boyfriend last Saturday and I wanted to know how he felt about it. Rather than simply asking him how he felt I went fishing aka desire smuggling. I said to him “It was so nice spending the day with you”. He responded “yaaaaaaa”. My immediate thought was “what the heck, I give you that and you give me yaaaaaa…”. I felt a little bit hurt and my brain leaped to “uh oh, he didn’t have fun and he thought today was boring”. When I was journaling this I realized how ridiculous I was being; I was making total assumptions and ruining the day for myself. Before I even told him that I enjoyed our day I was expecting him to say something back. I am now laughing at myself at how silly it all was. Thanks to journaling, I also realized that the reason I wanted to know what he thought of our day was out of fear. I was scared that he was starting to think that our relationship is getting boring. We are coming up on 6 months of knowing each other and have gotten into this routine of asking each other what we want to do, coming up empty and then hanging out watching Netflix & chilling type thing. We then joke that “we are so boring”. This is perfectly okay with me but I actually don’t really know if it is with him.. It’s worth a discussion plus I want to explain to him that I have this tendency to desire smuggle.

How perfection gets tied up in all this

Sam and I were also discussing perfectionism a while ago and I shared with her that I don’t think I struggle with perfectionism. Boy was I ever wrong… the reason why I felt that way was because I struggle with perfectionism on so many levels. It was hard for me to see perfectionism in my life because it is so normal to me.

What does perfectionism have to do with desire smuggling? I have perfectionism around expectations of the way a situation should (there’s that pesky word!) turn out. I often expect the situation to go the way I thought about it/planned it in my head. So, not only does the situation have to be perfect but the way people respond also has to be perfect. If it doesn’t match my expectation, then it’s a problem.

Reasons why people may resort to desire smuggling

  • People who ask for what they want may be labeled as demanding and/or bitchy.
  • It is a way of avoiding rejection (not really, but our brains think so!)
  • Indirect way of saying what you want (you aren’t putting your feelings on the line as much).

What I’m going to do about desire smuggling

It’s so nice to have a term to label my thoughts with! As soon as I catch myself asking things in such a way out of fear, I can catch myself and label it “desire smuggling”. I have done this with my RSD and I can’t even explain the difference that it has made in my relationships & life.

I’m going to explain this all to my boyfriend/friends/family and ask them to help me come up with a way to realize if I am asking someone out of fear. I have nooo idea what this would be but already today I have caught myself asking what someone else wants at least 5 times! Just thinking about putting this into place feels like a huge weight off of my chest. Think about it: we are not responsible for the reactions of others.

Why RSD + desire smuggling go hand in hand

Desire smuggling stems from the fear or rejection and RSD is the pain from perceived or real rejection. In case you haven’t caught on.. they are both related to rejection! It could be said that desire smuggling is a coping mechanism of RSD; we have a fear of being rejected so rather than asking for what we want, we ask for it in a roundabout way.

If you would like to read up a bit more on desire smuggling, here are a few articles that I found:
https://www.askingforwhatyouwant.com/desire-smuggler/
https://andrewcatdancer.me/desire-smuggling

So friends, remember: Ask for what you want!! But first, figure out what you want 😉

Procrastivity and what it means for us with ADHD

Procrastivity! It’s the idea that we procrastinate by doing something else that is productive, like tasks around the house.
Example: doing laundry when the high priority is writing your paper due tomorrow.

I first heard this term while listening to the talk from J. Russell Ramsay in the ADHD Women’s Palooza.

Here are some of my takeaways from the talk on procrastivity:

  • Procrastivity allows us to get the dopamine from finishing a task, we feel like “I’m getting something done”.
  • The interesting thing about procrastivity is that the task that we are now doing (like laundry) was something that we were procrastinating on before. So: what is it about the procrastivity task (the laundry) that now makes it easier to do?
  • Procrastivity tasks tend to be more manual, physical and hands-on.
  • We underestimate the positive feelings of getting things done
    • We ignore our successes (as my clients already know, I encourage everyone to have a success journal! These can remind us of our accomplishments which we can use as motivation to start & finish our future tasks).
    • We also do this because in general we are conditioned to believe that we will fail; unfortunately we have a lot of past failure and others telling us that we are not living up to our potential. **The success journal can be our light at the end of the tunnel reminding (and proving to) us that we can do it!

Let’s use a table to highlight the differences:

Procrastinating on (writing paper due tomorrow):Procrastivity (doing laundry):
Broad, vague & non-specificManual, physical, hands-on
Uncertainty More actionable/doable
High cognitive demandLower cognitive load
Steps are unclearIdentifiable sequence of steps
– Grab laundry
– Throw laundry in machine
– Put soap in machine
– Press start
Unclear endpoint
(which makes it hard to
get engaged)
Clear & achievable outcome
– Clear sense of making progress
-Clear endpoint (this is why I like focusmate so much!!
See below

How I have noticed procrastivity pop up in my life:

Since hearing the term I realized just how much I procrastinate by doing tasks!! For example, this afternoon I wanted to do some work for my group coaching (that launched yesterday!) and since I cannot make a decision on how exactly I want to present the work.. I am finding myself stuck and procrastinating!

I am procrastinating by:
– Doing the laundry
– Tidying up the kitchen
– Writing this blog post
– I foresee myself making my Instagram posts for the week

The interesting part is that I almost want to knock out the things that I do know how to do and can race through. That way I can just sit with the momentum of having accomplished tasks PLUS all of my attention can now focus on making the decision because I knocked all the other “to-do’s” out of the way.

I have been thinking and saying this a lot lately but my nemesis is decisions. Decisions are really what kills my momentum and pulls me down.

Here are a few tips to beat the procrastination & also skip the procrastivity:

  1. I like to use focusmate! If I take a step back and analyze the days where I am the most productive, those are the days when I use focusmate! So what is focusmate? It’s an online tool where you match with someone and for 50 minutes you focus on one task. The reason why it works so well is because the other person is on the other end “watching you” (not really .. but they are there and you know that they are there!). There is the accountability that you have to the other person to complete your task! Also, you choose one task to work on for 50 minutes and it works wonders! The website can tell you more!
  2. Ask yourself: “What is the most actionable step that I can take?” –> We have learnt from the table above that we like action (that’s what we base our procrastivity on). So, when we find that we are procrastinating, take a look at the task you are procrastinating on and find the actions in the task. Example: if you are trying to write a paper, the action could be to open the word document and save it on your computer. (I used to make a template of the points that I needed to hit in my essay as per my teachers instructions). The action usually gets the ball rolling and builds up some momentum so you can dive into your task!
  3. Make yourself a menu of steps!
    • Mail a letter:
      • Write the letter
      • Find an envelope
      • Write the address on the envelope (maybe you need to find the address)
      • Find a stamp (maybe you need to buy it)
      • (put the stamp on the envelope)
      • Put the letter in a place where you’ll remember to mail it
      • Mail the letter (put it in the mailbox or bring to post office)
    • It seems silly to write the menu of steps just to mail a letter but once you do it, you can see there really are a lot of steps!! Hello, executive functions!
  4. Be careful and set yourself some end points! An end point can be in terms of time or task.
    • Task: I will move onto something else once I finish ________ in my project.
    • Time: I will set a timer for _____ min and once the timer goes off, I will move onto something else
    • The reason why it’s so important to set yourself an end point is because we have the wondrous gift of hyperfocus! If we aren’t careful, we can fall into the hyperfocus hole and give ourselves a hyperfocus hangover!
      • Don’t sacrifice your self-care and well-being just to finish a project.

Sometimes it’s hard to see how we may be getting in our own way. If you are continuously avoiding tasks and want to start knocking projects out of the park, consider working with me as your coach! I offer free “get to know you sessions” so that you can get an idea of what coaching is like!

Outward appearance of success

Do you appear put together and successful?

I was having a conversation the other day and I was explaining that I have ADHD and what it is like working with my clients. She was so surprised that I have ADHD because you “cannot tell” since I appear so put-together. Everything about my ADHD is internalized unless you know me well enough or read my blog. The reality is I am in pain. I struggle every.single.day. You don’t know how hard it is for me to do the simple task of showering, drying my hair, straightening my hair, putting makeup on and deciding what it is that I want to wear. Not to mention deciding what it is that I want to eat all day!

Sorry, that all sounds so depressing but it is true! I was joking the other night that my boyfriend puts a lot more attention and care into his appearance than I do. The whole reason why I bring this up is because he doesn’t actually care more about what he looks like. It just appears that he does! All of this is not to say that I don’t enjoy looking good. I always feel better when my hair and makeup is done and I am wearing comfy clothes that make me look and feel good! The whole process of getting myself ready to appear “put together” and successful is what is so painfully hard!

Why did I want to blog about this? I am listening to the ADHD Women’s Palooza and while listening to the session “The Mysterious Paradox of Being a High Achiever With ADHD” with Linda Roggli and Casey Dixon I was inspired to pause and write this post!

There is an illusion that if you look put together you ARE put together and the kicker… everything is easy for you!! What I am trying to say that it is grossly unfair to women and anyone with ADHD who has to try extra hard to do anything and everything to look at them and think that being put-together and outwardly successful means that everything comes easy to them.

Women are just EXPECTED to know what the hell is going on and organize everything “just so”.

The reality is we have trouble with our executive functions (activation, focus, effort, emotion, memory, action) so we end up overcompensating and burning ourselves out trying to keep it all together. It is EXHAUSTING.

As women, there is an internal and external pressure to meet a certain standard all the time throughout every aspect of our lives (work, home, children, spouse/partner, friends, etc.).

I am almost always on time but what you don’t see is what it takes and all the effort that I have to put in so that I am on time.

Anyways, I feel a bit like this has become a b!t#$ fest but if you are a women with ADHD, let me tell you… I get how hard it is to stay afloat!

My biggest advice to you is to be true to who you are and embrace your unique self. This means respecting who you are, your wants, your needs and at the end of the day, fully charge your battery by putting yourself first! I’m just going to repeat that: PUT YOURSELF FIRST… you deserve it! <3