5 Powerful Reminders For Adults Living with ADHD

Growing up, many of us heard adages shared by the adults in our lives.

They may have been sayings mentioned in passing… a simple sentence someone repeated often. Or we may have learned familiar phrases from television or books.

living with ADHD example

While some of these statements are now outdated or irrelevant, others offer deeper wisdom, maintaining significance in our lives today.

They offer a fresh perspective on a common obstacle or provide a grounding reminder of a truth we once knew but at some point forgot.

In episode 176 of the I’m Busy Being Awesome podcast, we’re exploring five of these phrases that are powerful reminders when living with ADHD as an adult.

I invite you to tune in and notice what relates to your current experience. 

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 #176: 5 Powerful Reminders For Adults Living With ADHD You’ll Discover

  • The importance of clearly defining your problem
  • The impact of asking for help 
  • The role fences play in our lives
  • Why experience makes the best teacher
  • How getting to the root cause of an obstacle can change everything

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Episode #176: 5 Powerful Reminders For Adults Living With ADHD (Transcript)

Woman looking frustrated

I love thinking about the origin of words, where they came from, what certain phrases mean and why some of them seem to get passed along from generation to generation as these familiar “truths.”

I’m talking about these sayings or phrases like “all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” Or “Don’t count your chickens before they hatch.”

I’ll often be talking with Ryan, and one of us will say some phrase or some saying that we’ve heard growing up, and that curious part of my brain kicks in.

I’ll wonder out loud, where did that phrase come from? What does that word even mean, really? Hold on, is that even true? DOES “all work and no play TRULY make Jack a dull boy?” (I’m sure it’s delightful for my husband to have to listen to.) But I think it’s fun.

What I notice is that some of the phrases and sayings get passed along from one generation to another, but they literally don’t make sense in context any longer…other times, there are phrases that seem to hold up.

There are phrases that either maintain the same messaging for decades or even hundreds of years. Or perhaps they have shifted in their meaning, but they’re no less relevant today.

As I was going down the rabbit hole one day researching some phrase or another, I thought it could be fun to examine some of these statements that I think still offer a powerful lesson within them – especially in regard to the obstacles many of us face as we learn how to work with our distractible brains and get things done.

And I hope that hearing these phrases and the way I like to think about them might be useful reminders for us to lean into depending on the different obstacles we might be navigating in our personal lives.

I know this might sound weird or abstract, but stick with me on this episode. I think you’re going to enjoy it.

Let’s talk through five familiar sayings

5 Helpful Reminders For Women Living With ADHD

I’m going to share what I think each one of them means, and how we can use these concepts in our own lives on a day-to-day basis.

What I invite you to do as you listen is notice the one or two that really resonate with you.

Again, I’m going to share five of them, which might seem like a lot to take in. So notice the one or two that speak specifically to you and your situation right now.

As you hear those specific phrases, make note of them. Ask yourself,

  • How can I apply this wisdom to my life today? This week?
  • How is this applicable to my own personal growth either in my relationships, my career, my ADHD journey, my productivity, my routines and habits, etc?

So lean in, get curious, and listen for what you need to hear today.

I’d love to hear about the one or two that especially stand out to you. Let’s connect over on Instagram. You can let me know on the post for this podcast episode or send me a DM. I can’t wait to hear about it.

All right, let’s dive in. There are of course hundreds of different phrases and sayings and proverbs out there. But I chose five that seemed to stand out most to me based on the coaching topics I’ve been exploring with my clients recently and navigating myself. So hopefully they will resonate with you, too.

1. a problem well-defined is a problem half solved

I really like this phrase and I think it’s such a powerful reminder for many of us.

A problem well-defined is a problem half-solved.

I think for many of us who fall into the problem-solver or fixer role easily (and I can certainly speak for myself here), at the mere hint of a challenge or indication there MIGHT be a potential problem, we want to leap in and solve it immediately.

While there are definitely strengths to this, it can also lead us to solve situations that aren’t actually problems, we’re trying to solve what is actually the wrong problem.

With a slightly extreme and ridiculous example…

It’s kind of like going to the doctor and saying “It’s really hard to write with a pencil. My hand hurts when I hold it.”

The doctor focuses only on your hand and how you’re holding the pencil. Meanwhile, if we go a little bit further into the problem – in this case, if we look at your entire arm – we realize it’s broken.

It’s not actually your hand or the particular pencil, it’s the fact that your arm is broken.

When we slow down to actually assess and figure out the specific problem, it allows us to take much more intentional action.

I know many of us often want to jump to the latest planner or app to solve our struggle with time management or productivity, but we haven’t paused to actually identify the obstacle.

We’re just assuming it’s the tool. Now, sometimes it is. But other times it’s not.

Other times we want to get more nuanced and figure out if we’re struggling with. Perhaps its…

  • Breaking things down and making a plan
  • Task initiation, procrastination, and getting started on things
  • Follow through on specific tasks because perfectionism keeps us stuck

In other words, it’s so impactful to slow down and ask, “What is the actual problem here?” Because when we can clearly define our problem, we’re truly halfway there to solve it.

Again, a problem well-defined is a problem half-solved.

2. A stitch in time saves nine

The next familiar phrase or truth that I want to look at is one of the clever rhyming ones that I heard people say when I was little but never made sense of the actual meaning: a stitch in time saves nine.

As I thought about this phrase recently, I realized how appropriate it is for those of us living with ADHD especially when we think about it through the lens of asking for help or knowing when we’ve reached our limit.

If you’re anything like me, you are a person who loves to take on new projects and new activities. But also, if you’re like me, there’s often this tipping point where we realize our time blindness got the best of us, and we have no way of getting all the things we committed to do done on time.

It’s usually at this time that we enter ADHD crisis mode and rather than slowing down to ask for help or share with someone that we’ve over-committed, we double down determined to get things done, often at the expense of ourselves, and our well-being, and sometimes impacting others, too.

There’s a guy in the ADHD community named ADHD Jesse – if you’re not familiar with his work, I highly recommend giving him a follow – and he talks about ADHD crisis mode as “juggling chainsaws.” I think this is such a brilliant, spot-on analogy. In one of his posts he wrote,

“It’s all one exciting show and I keep adding more chainsaws to up the excitement, but eventually they’re all going to come crashing down and it won’t be pretty.”

ADHD Jesse

So how does this fit in with “a stitch in time saves nine”?

I think it comes with learning to ask for help when we start nearing that crisis mode.

It’s asking for support and putting in a stitch when we’re falling a little bit behind schedule rather than letting things pile up for days.

It’s asking for additional support or a little extra time or feedback from a colleague rather than trying to double down and do it all yourself, struggling to hide the fact that you’re feeling swamped.

When we can learn how to ask for that support earlier, it’s going to ultimately save those nine other stitches later on down the road. Things don’t pile up quite as much because we’ve got the extra support ahead of time.

I can hear some of you thinking to yourself, “sure that’s great, Paula. But I’m too embarrassed to ask for help” or “I feel so much shame that I’m behind, I can’t face what others might think.”

And believe me, I get this too.

So for any of you having similar thoughts, I recommend grabbing a piece of paper…

Write down all the reasons why your brain thinks you can’t ask for help.

Then genuinely ask…

  • Is this reason actually true?
  • Could it be possible it isn’t true? Could it be possible that it’s okay to ask my boss for help on the deliverables due Friday?
  • If I wasn’t thinking this thought, how might I show up?
  • What would I do if I thought it was okay to ask for help?

Allow yourself to really question these beliefs. Because from my experience anyway, that old adage is true. A stitch in time saves nine.

When you can ask for support at that first sign of a tear or rupture in your plan, it almost always saves a remarkable amount of repair on the other side.

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3. Good fences make good neighbors

neighbors talking over fence

The third theme or phrase that I want to look at today comes from a familiar Robert Frost poem, and it’s “good fences make good neighbors.”

Now when you read this poem it talks about two neighbors mending the fence between their land each spring. But I don’t actually want to think about this phrase in the literal sense. I like to think about this phrase when it comes to setting personal boundaries.

A lot of my clients have been doing work on boundaries recently, both in terms of establishing boundaries in relationships as well as setting personal boundaries for themselves around when they work and rest and make time for themselves.

What I really like about this line from the poem in connection to the boundary work I’ve been doing with some of my clients is that fences have gates. Fences can both protect AND they can allow people in.

Robert Frost did not say “impenetrable walls without doors or gates make good neighbors” or “electric fences make good neighbors” or “huge castle walls with moats and crocodiles make good neighbors.” No. He said good fences make good neighbors.

I think when many of us living with ADHD first think about establishing boundaries, it happens when we’ve realized we’ve been living without any boundaries whatsoever.

For example:

maybe at work, you find yourself taking on all the extra projects anytime someone asks you to do something – even when it’s not actually your job – and now you’re completely swamped.

You didn’t really know (or know how) to establish boundaries because saying “yes,” taking on extra work has been your M.O. for as long as you can remember.

Many of us struggle with people pleasing and not being able to say no because we have this underlying story that we need to “make up for the inconvenience” of our ADHD symptoms.

(Please note the scare quotes here – this is not something we need to make up for, but many of us have learned this messaging in different ways throughout our lives.) So again, maybe you struggle to say no to coworkers’ requests.

Or perhaps you have family members or friends who want to spend a ton of time around you. And this makes sense because you’re busy being awesome all the time; of course, people want to hang around you.

If you’ve been conditioned to say yes to every request, and you don’t want to appear rude or selfish, you may struggle to say no or let people know you need some downtime or alone time to recharge. I find this is especially true for those of us introverts.

Maybe someone asks to borrow your car and you’re not actually comfortable with letting the use it, but you also don’t want to say no so you let them cross your personal boundary.

Similarly, these boundaries could only involve you. Maybe you find yourself working all the time; maybe your brain is on a mission to fill every hour of the day with something productive. You know intellectually that you need rest, you need play, you need downtime, but you can’t seem to slow down. There is no boundary there for yourself.

Well, for most of us who never learned how to establish boundaries, we usually get to a moment where we’ve built up so much resentment or a total feeling of depletion. We might think people are taking advantage of us or don’t appreciate us. We might think we never have time for ourselves. And this can lead to burnout.

When this happens, many of us suddenly think to ourselves, “that’s it! I’m setting some serious boundaries.” And because our brains love all-or-nothing thinking, we go to the other end of the spectrum.

Rather than having no boundaries whatsoever, we set boundaries that are very extreme for everything and everyone.

We set boundaries with impenetrable walls with moats and crocodiles and electricity and ZERO doors or gates. There is no one getting through our boundaries. But then inside it’s just us, and we get pretty lonely.

So again, if we go back to the saying good fences make good neighbors, you’ll notice Frost did not say “good impenetrable walls make good neighbors.” It’s good fences. And fences have gates and doors.

That’s how I think about boundaries. Because when you have your boundaries established, then you can decide when it’s safe to open that gate or that door and when you want to keep it closed in a way that is supportive for you.

Reminder: Having fences – or boundaries – is powerful for relationships with others and ourselves, especially when we create clarity around what that boundary looks like and when we’re willing to open the gates.

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4. Experience makes the best teacher

The fourth phrase I want to talk about today is “experience makes the best teacher.”

I think this is an especially important phrase for those of us who often navigate perfectionism and imposter syndrome.

Many of us in this camp frequently looking for the “best way” or the “right way” to do something. We go down the rabbit trail I’ve learning and consuming information, convinced that we’re going to find the answer in a book or a planner or an app.

Now, while I do think there’s incredible value in learning, the biggest opportunity for aha’s and transformative learning moments learnings is when we’re actually doing the thing. It’s when we’re trying and failing and learning and adjusting and trying again. We gain experience by actually doing.

We, perfectionists, get ourselves stuck by thinking we need to do the thing right the first time. We just want to make sure we have the best process or the best approach before getting started. We just need to do a little more research.

Again, I know this thought process well. I know how compelling the mind is when we hear it, but I also know it’s a thought error and that the truth is we learn most by doing.

For Example:

If you want to learn how to ride a bike, you can watch all the videos and read books about proper biking techniques, but until you get on that bike and practice, you haven’t fully learned how to ride a bike.

Think about driver’s ed. I’m not sure how it’s taught now, but we first had the classroom portion of driver’s ed to get the driver’s permit, and then we had behind-the-wheel training after that. Sure, we learned a few things in the classroom section, and it’s important to learn the rules of the road. But when it comes to actually learning how to drive, we did that by doing. We were behind the wheel with those brave souls who took us out on the road.

So again, familiar truth number four, experience is the best teacher.

And because I can’t help myself, rule number 4.5 builds on this, which is “failure teaches success.”

We can’t learn what not to do until we try and learn what works and what doesn’t. Then once we have that pile of failures underneath us, that’s what leads to success.

And I’m willing to bet that if you look at any success in your life – any success at all – you will find ample evidence to support both of these truths. That experience is the best teacher and failure teaches success.

5. A chain is no stronger than its weakest link

Okay, closing in on familiar truth number five, we have “a chain is no stronger than its weakest link.

I think this is a fascinating phrase to explore through a lot of different lenses. But what stands out most strongly to me right now is the correlation between how we try and solve for obstacles in our day-to-day life.

Whether it’s managing our time, getting focused, taking action, getting out of procrastination, following through on things, or navigating our emotions in conversations and relationships, a chain is no stronger than its weakest link.

When I think about this saying through this lens, it really speaks to the importance of getting to the root cause of a problem or an obstacle.

Let me explain what I mean here.

So often our brains will make an observation, and we’ll think to ourselves, “I’m always behind on my projects” or we might feel a ton of dread when it comes to going to work each day. Maybe anytime we think about checking our e-mail we feel completely overwhelmed, or when it comes to setting goals, we avoid them entirely.

In any one of these situations, it is natural for the brain to look for a quick fix.

For example:

  • When behind on our work deadlines, we might look for a new daily planner.
  • If we feel dread about work, we might switch jobs.
  • Feeling overwhelmed in our inbox, we might look for a new app to get us organized.
  • If we think we’re terrible with goals, we might search for a new goal setting planner to help us get on track.

Now sometimes this can work. And when that’s the case, it’s amazing! Maybe the weak link really is a lack of a planner, and we can fix the weak link by implementing a planner. I LOVE it when that happens.

However, if you’re anything like me, you have a whole lot of evidence that a new planner isn’t going to solve your obstacles with work project deadlines…because the 15 other planners haven’t.

Or a new e-mail app isn’t going to solve the overwhelm that comes when you think about navigating all of the responses, just like the last 6 haven’t.

Now, this doesn’t mean we can’t find a solution, but it does suggest that we’ve been trying to put a Band-Aid on the weak link, so rather than actually strengthening that link or replacing that link with something stronger, we’re just trying to do a quick fix or a quick patch on the weak link.

Addressing the ACTUAL weak link, rather than simply trying to patch it is something that we do in coaching.

The coaching approach that I was trained in is called causal coaching, which means that we aren’t just treating the symptoms, we’re treating the actual cause of the problem. We’re not fixing a broken arm with a Band-Aid. We’re casting it and healing it. We’re strengthening that weakest link.

What does this actually look like in real life?

It might look like rather than recommending a new planner to help you get your work done, we look at…

  • The beliefs you have about work and managing your time overall.
  • Stories you’ve developed around your ability to complete your work and to do so on time. 
  • Beliefs you have about you and your ADHD.

We challenge the unsupportive beliefs that you’ve likely held on to for years like you’re terrible with time, you always run late, you never get things done, and you’re unreliable. We find these beliefs – these root causes that stick with us regardless of what planner we use – and we challenge them.

We start shifting them and we help you genuinely step into new beliefs that actually support you in moving in the direction of your goals like:

  • I’m in control of my time.
  • I’m a person who can get things done.
  • There’s always enough time for what’s most important.
  • I’m learning to accurately estimate how long I need to complete these tasks.

As we strengthen those beliefs – just as we replace that weak link with a stronger one – we ultimately strengthen the chain.

If you believe genuinely that you are a person who can’t follow through, or you always procrastinate, or is unreliable, your brain is going to go to work toward proving those beliefs true.

It will do this because your brain always wants to be right. In fact, it wants to be right more than it wants to be supportive.

So, if being right and being supportive are in opposition to one another, being right is likely going to win out. Your brain we’ll look for and create all the evidence that possibly can to prove that you’re right, or you do procrastinate, or you don’t follow through.

Once we start shifting those beliefs and find thoughts that genuinely feel believable and are supportive of our growth, our brains will similarly look for that evidence.

Reminders For Living With ADHD: Final Thoughts

When you learn to start practicing these new supportive beliefs like,

  • I’m learning to follow through.
  • There are times when I follow through.
  • I follow through more times than I don’t.
  • Most of the time I follow through.

When you focus your brain on beliefs like this, and you begin gathering evidence here because this is a story you WANT to prove right, you’ll start stepping into that reality, especially when you pair it with effective tools and strategies that are built for an ADHD brain.

Ultimately, you can swap out that weak link for a much stronger one as you strengthen your chain as a whole.

So again, familiar truth #5, a chain is no stronger than its weakest link. When we slow down and figure out what that actual weak link is rather than trying to patch it or put a Band-Aid on it or do a quick fix, that’s when we are able to strengthen the chain and further our growth overall.

If you’re ready to take this work further and learn how to strengthen your overall chain, I’d love to invite you to join us in We’re Busy Being Awesome. It’s my small group coaching program for ADHD brains just like you. Learn how to release perfectionism, strengthen the links, and work with your brain in a way that’s supportive for you. You can learn more here and sign up!

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.

5 Powerful Reminders When Living With ADHD

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