How To Slow Your Brain Down With ADHD & Why You should Pause

Learning how to slow your brain down with ADHD can be tough, and let’s be honest – the ADHD brain moves incredibly fast.

In fact, Ned Hallowell describes people with ADHD as having a Ferrari engine with bicycle breaks.

And I think this description is spot on.

ADHD brain

Now, our speed and impulsivity aren’t inherently problems.

They can fuel our creative idea generation and support our ability to act under pressure.

But in other situations, they also leave us spinning over past events, ruminating in the shoulda woulda couldas…

  • I shouldn’t have said…
  • I would have done that earlier, but I couldn’t stop… 
  • I could have made it on time if I hadn’t… 

So what can we do?

How can we pause that impulse?

Is it even possible to slow our brain down when we have ADHD?

We’re exploring those questions, and so much more in episode 182 of the I’m Busy Being Awesome podcast. 

You can listen to the episode above or stream it on your favorite podcasting app here.   

Prefer to read? No problem! Keep scrolling for the entire podcast transcript. 

In Episode #182, How to Slow Your Brain Down with ADHD, You’ll Discover:

  • What it means to pause (literally slow down our ADHD brain)
  • Why pausing feels especially challenging for the ADHD brain
  • Why we want to strengthen this skill set
  • The areas in our life where practicing the pause can lead to big returns

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Episode #182: How To Slow Your Brain Down With ADHD – Strategies for Impulsivity (Transcript) 

woman relaxing with journal and tea

Hello everybody! How’s it going? I am feeling great; I just got back from a relaxing – surprisingly warm – week in Minnesota with my family, and I’m feeling refreshed and ready to go. I am really looking forward to sharing today’s podcast topic with you, which is all about learning to lean into and practicing the art of the pause. 

Learning to pause and create a bit of space between our feeling and our action is the core foundational skill that supports so much of the work I do with my clients, and I also think it’s the secret to the universe when it comes to working with an ADHD brain.

It’s also one of the most challenging skills to learn and strengthen. It’s one I’m constantly working on as well. Because what we’re really talking about is learning ways to navigate our impulsivity, which literally comes with the territory of ADHD.

We’re certainly not going to rid ourselves of it – nor do I think we should. It can be a really powerful strength at times, too. 

Practicing The Art Of ‘The Pause’

beach with 'slow down' written in the sand

When I say this, I mean learning how to slow down in the moment and think about your future self before acting.

In other words, we are learning ways to help us stop acting on impulse as often, which is – as I mentioned – incredibly difficult for the ADHD brain. 

This is because one of our biggest obstacles is impulsivity, and it touches so many areas of our life.

We can do a lot of reflective work in the beginning to help us:

  • Identify supports that help us slow down
  • Consider the impact of our actions
  • Decide with our prefrontal cortex rather than letting the toddler automatic brain run the show

We can therefore gain so much more awareness of our actions and their impacts.

This reflection ultimately helps us prepare for future scenarios so we can more easily be ready for otherwise impulsive moments and have strategies in place to help us slow down and create more control over how we show up generally.

Here’s the deal. You will hear me say time and time again that building awareness is everything. Episode 147 of the podcast is literally titled the Four Stages of Awareness with ADHD.

We want to learn how to create awareness WITHOUT JUDGEMENT of what we’re thinking about, what we’re feeling, and why we are doing the things that we’re doing. 

This is because most humans – ADHD or not – are running on autopilot. We live in this constant race from one thing to the next, responding to whatever comes our way. 

Now, this isn’t an inherently bad thing, but I can speak for myself when I say that when I’m living on autopilot without intentionality or practicing the pause, I’m not always showing up as my best self.

  • I might say things I didn’t mean to say.
  • I might avoid certain projects that I think will take too long or that I don’t know where to start.
  • I might buy things I don’t need when I intend to save money, etc.

When we learn how to practice the pause and slow our ADHD brain down, however, we bring that intentionality into our decision-making. We learn how to slow down that impulsivity just a bit to help ensure we’re showing up the way we want to more often.

As we will talk about, I tend to think about two different types of pauses.

Intentional Pauses

We have intentional pauses where we step back from the hustle of our every day for an intentional period of time.

We might step back to:

  • Meditate
  • Go for a walk outside without any input in our ears
  • Journal
  • Simply sit in the sun on the deck

When we incorporate these intentional pauses in our life, we give ourselves a frame of reference. We remind ourselves what it’s like to feel grounded and collected and not act at the effect of all the different circumstances happening around us.

Pausing In The Moment

The second type of pause is a pause in the moment. This is a pause that’s often harder for us to catch – it does take practice. In fact, we often begin learning how to catch these moments and opportunities to pause only after they happen.

We learn how to catch these moments when we’re reflecting backward during our intentional pause time.

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Why Is It So Hard To Slow Down and Pause?

Why is this especially challenging for our ADHD brains?

Well, here’s the deal, the ADHD brain is literally not wired for this kind of pace. It is not wired to slow down and pause as easily as a neurotypical brain is.

In fact, doctor Russell Barkley offers a really powerful explanation of why this is in his ADHD expert webinar from 2021.

The key takeaway that I want to highlight for us is…

Our brain’s tendency toward emotional impulsivity.

Almost all of our ADHD brains navigate quick emotions; we might be quick to frustration when we can’t figure something out, or quick to rejection when we consider sharing our ideas at work with someone.

We might try to quickly escape the feeling of boredom by avoiding data entry at work and instead starting a project that seems much more new and exciting.

Or we are quick to act on a sense of urgency, and we buy the thing online because it’s on sale rather than feeling that fear of missing out or the monotony of saving money.

These are all different iterations of emotional impulsivity.

Barkley explains, this emotional impulsivity shows up everywhere in regard to our self-management. It shows up in our self-management of time and not considering future consequences, especially when we have strong emotions involved.

For example: We might blow off a long-term project because we feel a lot of uncertainty and insecurity when we think about it. We instead opt for the quick wins that we can check off the list in one day because they feel more accessible; we’re confident we can do them. Meanwhile, we completely overlook the fact that these long-term projects will take many consecutive days of time to complete.

Emotional Impulsivity can show up in the following ways…

It can show up in regard to self-restraint. As Barkley explains, this can be…

  • Cognitive restraint: Meaning we don’t restrain our negative self-talk and rumination on everything.
  • Behavioral restraint: Where we might think about doing something and act on it immediately rather than pausing to consider the implications.
  • Verbal restraint: Where we find ourselves saying whatever comes to mind in the moment and potentially regretting it later.
  • Emotional restraint: Where we struggle to process our emotions rather than acting on them, which we will talk about much more throughout our work together.
  • Self-organization and problem-solving, and rather than dealing with the discomfort of getting organized or solving a challenging problem, we might shift into self-distraction, which often feels way better in the moment. I know my brain would much prefer the distraction of an Instagram feed than gathering information for my taxes.

Finally, a huge obstacle for many of us is self-motivation. And again, I really want to reinforce that this struggle with self-motivation is due to the way our brain is wired. 

I want to reinforce this for all of these different self-management categories…

The fact that we find them challenging is not a character flaw. It’s not a problem with your personality or a situation where you need to “try harder.”

I’ve mentioned my glasses example before – I need glasses because of the way my eyes work. I don’t need to try and see harder. It’s not a character defect. I just need glasses so I can see. 

The same is true for your ADHD brain. This is literally the way your brain is wired when you have ADHD. And with self-motivation, many of us struggle to literally motivate ourselves to do these more challenging or emotional tasks, which results in this struggle with procrastination or getting started. 


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The good news is that practicing the art of the pause can help with all of this. It can help us strengthen our self-management. But as I mentioned, it can take time, and it can take effort.

So is it really worth it?  

I could simply say yes and move on, but I want to pause here.

I think it can be really empowering to remind us specifically why learning how to slow your brain down when you have ADHD it’s worth the effort.

When we have these concrete reasons why, it can help remind us to keep digging in even when it’s hard. When we have these concrete reasons why, it gives our brain compelling enough evidence to stick with things even if we didn’t get it “right” the first ten times.

So let’s talk about it.

Why do we want to strengthen our pause button?

5 Reasons To Practice The Art of Pausing - When You Have ADHD

1. Strengthen Decision-Making Skills

I’ve heard from so many clients when we first start working together that they are terrible at making decisions, or they get really stressed when they think they have to make decisions.

They’re worried about making the wrong decision, or they have past experiences where they’ve made impulsive decisions and regretted them.

When you learn the art of the pause, you create space for yourself to implement our strategies and make confident, informed decisions for future you.

2. Improved Restraint

The next area where you’ll see an impact is often improved restraint. So rather than acting impulsively on whatever comes to mind first, you’ll have the tools to slow down, pause, and respond in a way that’s aligned with you and your values.

When you learn how to pause more often, you will also see an improvement in your ability to self-soothe and calm down.

This means that we’re living less on high alert, bouncing from one fire to the next, and we’re living with less stress and anxiety.

When we can pause and slow down, we can think through what’s going on more rationally because we’re able to bring our prefrontal cortex online and think through situations rather than letting our emotions drive us.

3. Strengthen Emotional Intelligence

When we begin slowing down and pausing more often, we have the space to identify what emotions we’re actually feeling.

Were able to notice the emotions were experiencing in our body, name them, and have a much easier time processing and releasing those emotions rather than shoving them down and telling ourselves, “we’re fine,” only to let all of them bubble up and explode and often a rather inopportune time.

When we learn how to slow down and pause, we also learn how to redirect our looping, ruminating thoughts. If you have a brain like mine that loves catastrophizing, or if you navigate a whole lot of negative self-talk. If those stories often play like a soundtrack on repeat in your mind, learning how to pause allows you to question them and release them so that they are not narrating your entire experience. 

4. Redirect Your Focus

Similarly, practicing the pause allows you to redirect your focus, and this is huge. When you can redirect your focus, you help ensure that you tend to the areas you originally planned to focus on.

You’re able to bring yourself back when distraction inevitably happens. And when you pair that with a redirect away from your negative self talk, you’re able to do this refocusing without beating yourself up.

You’re able to bring yourself back, stay focused, and do so with self-compassion, which is so much more enjoyable, sustainable, and effective.

5. Slowing Down And Pausing Feels Empowering

Finally, perhaps most important of all, when we learn how to pause, I’ve found that it helps so many of us feel much more empowered.

We no longer think that we’re out of control or living at the effect of everything else.

Instead, we know that we have the ability to slow down, take a beat, and move forward intentionally. And when we can remember that we get to decide how we want to think and feel and act in whatever situation the world presents us, we feel so much more empowered.

It puts us in the driver’s seat of our experience.

So we know what it means to pause, we know why it is especially challenging for the ADHD brain to do this, and we’ve also talked about why it’s worth strengthening this pause button.

The Power of Slowing Your Brain Down & Pausing

woman taking a break

Now let’s talk about where practicing the art of the pause is especially helpful.

I tend to think about five key areas. So let’s talk about each one of those.

1. Big Emotions

This might happen in relationships with our partner, our children, our friends or our coworkers, etc. Frankly, we can experience these big emotions in any relationship with any human.

But it can also unfold if we hit a brick wall on a project and we’re feeling super frustrated, or if something didn’t go as planned in your talk to the team and you’re feeling embarrassed or disappointed, or if you get an article rejected with some really unkind comments from reader B and you’re feeling hurt or defensive.

In situations when these big emotions arise, it’s really easy for the brain to immediately go into impulse and act on whatever comes up.

And again, this is definitely a skill that takes a lot of practice. It’s not easy.

But when we can uncover the unique signals from our body that tells us it’s shifting into an emotional response, and when we can learn how to back up and identify potential situations where we often experience these big emotions, we can learn how to plan ahead for future situations.

We can also be better at slowing down in the moment and make more intentional decisions on how we show up.

2. RSD Event (Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria)

The second area could be seen as a nuanced version of this, but I do like to separate it.

I categorize this area as an RSD event.

So again, this might be in relationships with other people; it could be getting direct feedback or anticipated negative feedback; it could be in situations where we might experience a failure, or we do experience what think is a failure.

In situations like this, we can quickly shift into a shame spiral and lots of rumination.

We might begin hiding and avoiding situations. When we can build in a pause point, slow down in those moments and use the tools that we learn in coaching to take care of ourselves by questioning the negative self-talk and releasing the shame, we’ll have an easier time shifting out of that RSD event and thinking in a more supportive way that can help us heal and move forward.

If you’re not super familiar with the concept of RSD, I highly recommend checking out episode 139 of the podcast called What is Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria, which I will also link to below this training.

3. Feeling overwhelmed

The third area where I find practicing the pause especially useful is when we’re feeling super overwhelmed or scattered.

Perhaps you’re looking at a project that your brain thinks is just way too big or too vague, and typically it would want to shut down and ignore that project completely.

Or maybe you have way too many things going on in your life; if we think about ADHD Jesse’s analogy of an ADHD life is like juggling chainsaws, perhaps we have one too many chainsaws in the mix, and because we have so much adrenaline pushing us forward to just get through the next obstacle, we have no time to simplify or streamline or find the most effective way to move forward.

When we learn to pause, we’re able to slow down and gather our thoughts. We can:

  • Prioritize
  • Think more about our long-game goals and values
  • Identify what’s actually most important, and ignore the noise

4. Breaking Habits

The fourth area where I think practicing the pause can be especially helpful is when it comes to breaking habits.

Anytime you want to change your behavior by stopping what’s become almost autopilot, this is where practicing the pause comes in.

Again it allows you to pause and decide more intentionally about your long-game goals, which is so impactful.

Whether it’s cutting out dairy from your diet because it hurts your stomach – even though it tastes SO GOOD. Or not checking your phone so often because it’s creating a lot of attention residue and it’s depleting your focus. Or not shopping on Amazon for things after 8:00 o’clock PM because your meds have worn off and your impulsivity is even higher.

Whatever that habit is that you want to break and replace with something else, learning to pause and make intentional decisions is incredibly impactful.

5. Self-Motivation

Perhaps you want to start something new, or you want to begin and stick with a new habit.

You might set a goal, and you know you might face motivation challenges a couple of weeks in when the novelty inevitably wears off.

Or maybe you have a specific repeated task in your job or business that’s more boring than watching paint dry, and you just can’t make yourself do it.

When we can pause, we can learn to intentionally generate that motivation and commitment to the thing, or create a willingness to get started even when we don’t want to. And I’m telling you, that’s everything.

Final Thoughts

Learning to practice the pause can help you navigate your big emotions, shift out of an RSD spiral, create some clarity when you’re feeling especially scattered or overwhelmed, shift out of habits you don’t want to keep, and generate the motivation to get started and keep following through on new projects, goals, and routines. 

And again, I can’t say this enough. We aren’t handing out new prefrontal cortexes.

There are still going to be times when you experience big emotions and times when you procrastinate. You’ll still feel overwhelmed and that’s OK. This is part of being human. This is part of having ADHD. But when you learn how to use this tool of pausing in your favor, it helps you to shift out of these obstacles much more quickly, in turn helping you feel more empowered in your situation overall. 

How To Slow Your Brain Down With ADHD: Next Steps

Now, if you want to take this work further. If this PAUSE work is resonating with you and it sounds like it’s a tool you want to add to your ADHD tool kit. And if you’re looking for more concrete strategies to learn how to strengthen your pause muscle both during your reflection time AND also in heat of the moment, join us in We’re Busy Being Awesome.

If you’re listening to this in real-time, enrollment for the February cohort is officially open, and I have some fun bonuses for people who sign up before the end of the month, so be sure to check out imbusybeingawesome.com/group for all the information. You can sign up directly on that page, and if you have any questions beforehand, you can snag a time on my calendar to chat with me.

So again, I’d love to have you join us in the February cohort. Just head to imbusybeingawesome.com/group to learn more and grab your spot!


Want To Join Our Group Coaching Program?!

I will be opening the doors for the next cohort of We’re Busy Being Awesome in a couple of weeks!

Add your name to the waitlist so you’ll be the first to know about program dates and times, plus how you can sign up if it’s a great fit for you.


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